Saturday, December 20, 2008

Capitalism Hits the Fan - Richard Wolff's look at the collapse




JCD posted this video, but I found a less grainy version of it. This is Richard Wolff, economist at UMass Amherst.

In Understanding Marx, a book by a another Marxian professor at Amherst, Robert Wolff, says that the economics faculty at Amherst are the finest of American radical and Marxian theorists...

"... the entire university is virtually unique in this country as a center of serious radical thought."

One way to study Marx is to learn linear algebra and differential calculus, he notes. In Understanding Marx Robert Wolff offers a less formulaic and more of an annotated walkthrough of Das Kapital. Here is a good excerpt from his chapter on Marx's theory of natural price, something JCD is discussing over on his blog.

"The truth, Marx asserted, is this: profit, ground rent, and interest, all originate as surplus value extracted from workers in the process of production. The total amount of surplus value generated in the eocnomy as a whole in a single cycle of production is deteremined by the difference between the number of hours of labor performed by the wage laborers and the number of hours of socially necessary labor directly or indirectly required to reproduce the work force (to feed, clothe, and house them and their families) for another time period. Competition moves capital around in search of the highest rate of return on the total money value of invested capital, with the result that natural prices in general deviate from labor values."


After that, a slew of managerial types - the bankers, landowners, retail merchants, and financiers, etc. - appropriate another chunk of the total surplus value generated by workers in the form of rent, profits, and interest. I think this is the point Richard Wolff is getting at in this video above when he talks about the American working class. More financial tools were created in this "bonanza" of capital accumulation and worker exploitation. These tools and tricks made it easier for Americans to take debt out on everything. But their wages, flat. So the overworked American takes on more debt to finance real wage stagnation, and then eventually a bubble came out of this. And we know, of course now, that the bubble is bursting.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

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de.borea said...

Well thanks for dropping in :) there's a few pedagogical-leftist blogs that I read time to time. Check out Lumpenprofessoriat who has a stream of networks.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Good lecture. The first 30 minutes are golden but he gets a little too preachy about socialism in the last 5.
Another thing, this is Rick Wolff, not Robert Wolff. Different guys, I think.

de.borea said...

Daniel, I wasn't expecting them to be different people. Too many similarities...

de.borea said...

by the way, Daniel, are you still reading Capital - or part of the Yahoo group?

Justin George said...

Is it just me, or is there a heavy dose of irony in ivory-tower marxist thought?

I mean, this is not exactly a guy who labors in the fields or factories for a living.

Nor, I suppose, was Marx himself.

Still, I always get a chuckle that the people suggesting that the proletariat are oppressed are, well, bourgeois.

And if you asked the proletariat what they wanted, it'd be something along the lines of cheap beer, nascar, and wal-mart.

Db0 said...

And if you asked the proletariat what they wanted, it'd be something along the lines of cheap beer, nascar, and wal-mart

And of course that's why worker revolutions happen. Because those dumb fucks don't have enough beer, nascar and wal-mart...

Yet another person who think he knows better the workers than the workers themselves.

de.borea said...

I mean, this is not exactly a guy who labors in the fields or factories for a living.

It's a mistake to think that the only opposition to capitalism can come from the agricultural and industrial sectors.

What's your point? You don't have one. "Irony" is a weak observation.

And if you asked the proletariat what they wanted,

First, who is the proletariat? It's a larger category of people whose relationship to the means of production does not include owning capital and participating in the decision-making process.

Second, you're talking about 'false consciousness'. This is something Situationism and Marxian theory talks a lot about, so ah, you obviously don't know how bad your critique of Marxism is here.

de.borea said...

... Justin,

How could there be an ivory tower Marxist thought without an ivory tower capitalist thought? I don't see how your critique of this professor teaching Marxism is any different from a critique of any professor teaching capitalism.

JCD said...

I mean, this is not exactly a guy who labors in the fields or factories for a living.

Nor, I suppose, was Marx himself.


1/ Where one labors doesn't really matter so much as the fact that his labor is being exploited. Telephone call center clerks are not working in the fields either, and they have a reason to gripe as much as do coal miners.

2/ Marx was anything but an academic. He fought in the streets in 1848; was a founding member of various radical workers' organizations; and lived in variously states of abjection because he couldn't land a cushy professorial job--on account of his political views!

Not that Marx's personal situation matters all that much in relation to his political and economic views.

marcus (ireland) said...

first of all thank you for posting this most enjoyable lecture.

secondly to justin (above) - your generalization of the workers as beer swilling nascar fans is both lazy and trite. the fact that while feeling superior you fail to realize the meaning of irony is just brilliant. so in answer to you your question "Is it just me, or is there a heavy dose of irony in ivory-tower marxist thought?" Thats not ironic , it's just someone who can see the bigger picture.

de.borea said...

JCD, good points, although when I see bullshit I wonder why I even respond. Youtube is the worst.

Marcus, no problem I like using my blog for that.