It should be painfully clear to the most casual observer that capitalism is intrinsically a crackpot system. It’s not just that capitalism populates its ruling class with more than a fair share of nutjobs, ambulatory psychotics, cult-multi-serial-mass murderers. It’s that capitalism provides the nutjobs, ambulatory psychotics, cult-multi-serial-mass murderers with a commercial magnification that allows them to appear larger than life; so that these pettiest of men and women exist in and as the delusion of grandeur that is capitalist accumulation. Trump, Macron, Frederiksen, Modi, Orban, Biden, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Lopez-Obrador, Duque, Áñez–always overproduced, always in demand.
It’s not really a surprise that this mode of production, germinating in the dispossession of the direct producers, existing on the expropriation of the time of others, preserved in the subjugation of labor to property, should begin with myth and end with madness. What after all is capitalism about if not (and without) the falsification of history and what is the falsification of history other than the disavowal of reality? What are both except psychopathology on the most grand, and miserable of scales?
Where were we? Before the pandemic expressed the chronic condition of capital, its self-congratulating disregard for the lives of those others in the acute form? Lest we forget, it was 2019, and 2019 was not a very good year. In the world and US markets, exchange was impaired. The economy, both global and US, was slowing down. The question was, would there be a recession, and if so, would the US have a hard or soft landing.
In 2018, US gross private output, which had recovered from the shadow recession of 2016, grew more than 6 percent on a year over year basis. By 2019 that rate of growth had been halved. Growth in retail sales had slowed by one-third. Rail freight tonnage, which grew 8.5 percent in 2018, actually declined by 2 percent in 2019 as US trade sanctions were met with Chinese embargos. And of course, there was and is the continued fall in coal traffic. Truck haul tonnage growth slowed by three quarters in 2019. Growth in corporate profits measured 3.8 percent in 2018, and less than 1 percent in 2019, and…profits obtained from overseas sources actually declined 1.5 percent.
The bourgeoisie lacking imagination are usually nostalgic sorts, but it takes a pandemic to make them long for 2019.
Using data from the US Department of Commerce Economic Census of 2017, and its Annual Survey of Manufacturers for 2018, 2019, we can get a sense, find the indicators of capital’s recovery from the “shadow recession” of 2016, and the transition moment from expansion to contraction prior to the pandemic that began in the second quarter 2020. The ratios derived below are indicators, not causes, of impaired accumulation.
|Year||A (value of shipments per production worker hour, dollars)||B (production worker hourly wage, dollars)||C (value of shipments per production worker hourly wage dollar)||D (net ‘value added’ per production hour, dollars)||E (net ‘value added’ per production worker wage dollar)|
These measures tell us that the expansion in 2018 was accompanied by an increase in production hours, and that the increase in production hours was accompanied by an increase in the hourly wage. The overall expansion, however, ran headlong into the inability of capital to sustain the rate of new value production, to sustain the growth in profitability. Capital reached an apogee without being able to create a trajectory. That’s the reality capital disavows in its political economy, with its “invisible hands,” with its free markets.
In the world of capital accumulation, in its ideology of political economy, oscillation masquerades as movement. Up and down, back and forth present as progress, or regression, as if either notion has any viability in modern capitalism. Playing the oscillations, endorsing the “progressive” moment of capital’s tremors as opposed to the regressive moment, is the abdication of class consciousness, is the trickster’s way of disavowing reality.
So…where does that leave us? Not so much where we were, but where we will always be in the circuits of accumulation, between the rock and the hard place, where “reforms,” “new deals” (green or brown or red), “progress,” are integral to reaction, breakdown, regression; where all are necessary to the barbarism that presents itself as civilization; to the failure that pretends to be success. There is no low that capital cannot, and will not, go.
May 22, 2021