Background notes for the EuroMemo conference 2012 in Poznan
In the discussion of growth we face some fundamental problems, emerging from principle tensions.
* We are living in a capitalist system which is ultimate point of reference and its functioning basic condition when it comes today to searching security and improvement of living conditions.
* However, exactly this ‘productive order’ is for many of us questionable – one of the reasons that is at this point of special relevance is the structural limitation of a one-sided understanding of the goal: it is the concern with living conditions in a limited, individualised understanding, not allowing a wider understanding of social conditions of life. Perhaps we should go a step further by simply speaking of social life itself.
* Accumulation is against this background a double-edged sword: on the one hand it is a ‘structural condition and goal’ of the capitalist order;
* on the other hand, however, it is the permanent accumulation that causes a move away from the actual process of production although it remains depending on production as ultimate condition.
* Development and growth finds within this system its primary goal in the means of production as means of accumulation – independent of the meaning for the life of producers (working and living conditions). As such, accumulation becomes an empty shell, having lost all substance. Most visible signs are the process by which the different elements of the overall productive process, in particular the emergence of a seemingly independent financial sector are gaining independence from each other; and the disentanglement of productive processes out of the ‘core economic process’ (housework, DIY, SLEA …)
* However, as consequence of this depletion
[t]his type of development of productivity necessarily approaches a limit. This is reached when the expenditure in past labour wholly compensates economy of living labour and the overall productivity of the system ceases to progress. The resulting evolution of productive forces leads to overdevelopment of the material means used, reduction in living labour and increased unemployment.
(Fontvieille, Louis: 1992: Rate of Profit and its Determining Factors; in: New Findings in Long-Wave Research; Kleinknecht, A./Mandel, E./Wallerstein, I. (eds.); New York: St. Martins Press: 203-224; here: 219 f.)
Both aspects culminate in one aspect that has to be added to the statement in the quotation: This reduction in living labour is to some extent real; however, at the same time it is only shifting living labour into external spheres, thus not least reducing the labour costs while the value of price of the labour force remains unchanged.
This constellation poses a fundamental challenge which can be put forward by the following outline:
1 It has to be analysed if capitalism has predominantly sufficient resources for reaching a new level of self-regulation and -stabilisation or if such ‘inner-capitalist development’ is unlikely (see: Mandel, Ernest, 1992: The International Debate on Long Waves; in: ibid.: 316-338; here: 332).
2 A ‘non-capitalist perspective’, however, does not necessarily mean a socialist perspective – on another occasion I sketched some issues of a possible re-feudalisation (Herrmann, Peter, 2010: Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter, ed.: World’s New Princedoms Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers: 17-75). And I think (or should I say: I am afraid) that this needs further elaboration. On the other hand, we should follow strictly the proposal put forward by Ernst Bloch who speaks
of four different kinds of possibilities, allowing us with this an informed approach to understanding them in their objectivity. He points on (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.
(Herrmann, Peter, 2010: Human Rights, Health and Social Quality – Realisations and Realities; in: Laurinkari, Juhani (Ed.) Health, Wellness and Social Policy. Essays in honour of Guy Bäckman; Bremen: Europaeischer Hochschulverlag; with reference to Bloch, Ernst, 1959: Prinzip Hoffnung; Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp [written in 1938-1947; reviewed 1953 and 1959]: 258-288)
3 Looking then at growth, it seems to be more appropriate to look at development rather than maintaining the orientation on growth. It is unlikely that the latter allows capturing qualitative moments rather than limiting matters on quantified aggregations. Not least important is the fact that elaborating an understanding of development requires inevitably to outline a systemic understanding of what we re actually talking about – as such we are very much offering a positive contribution to the various debates around ‘Going Beyond GDP’. Furthermore, it allows a qualified critique of ‘New Green Deal’ arguments.
It should be noted with special interest that we find in the literature presentations that do not even consider the need of defining growth. It appears as a ‘given fiat’, something that does not need any definition or conceptualisation, let alone questioning. Furthermore, it is light-heartedly confused with development. Looking for instance at the work on the Diversity of Growth (McMahon, Gary/Esfahani, Hadi Salehi/Suire, Lyn [eds.], 2009: Diversity in Economic Growth. Global Insights and Explanations; Cheltenham: Edward Elgar), we see a striking divergence of the lack of conceptualisation of growth and the eagerness towards a differentiated analysis of the conditions of growth.
In particular with reference to IV j it is suggested to see growth as an in principle static concept. The main orientation is on a ‘soft-landing’ (Mandel), i.e. the maintenance of the accumulation for its own sake. We may see the historical patterns of inner-capitalist development as characterised by the well-known cyclical patterns of three overlapping moments:
- business cycles – reflecting supply and demand
- conjunctural cycles – reflecting the aggregate fluctuation as reflection of capacities (and the move between departments and sectors), and
- major cycles – as matter of major changes of the framework for and basis of accumulation.
Although we are concerned with far-reaching changes, they are only a matter of changes of the capitalist accumulation regime itself. Consequently they do not question the capitalist character of accumulation itself. In other words, the main point of reference is profitability of capital, and with this the rate of profit. Again in other words, the dynamic as presented with these different modes of business, conjunctural and major cycles is nothing else than the capitalist mechanism to counteract the tendency of the profit rate to fall.
This requires to look for a more differentiated view on accumulation regimes. As reference, Lipietz’ definition is helpful, seeing
the regime of accumulation [as] stabilization over a long period of the allocation of the net product between consumption and accumulation’ which ‘implies some correspondence between the transformation of both the conditions of production and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners.
(Lipietz, Alain, 1986: New Tendencies in the International Division of Labor: Regimes of Accumulation and Modes of Regulation; in: Scott/Allen J./Storper, Michael [eds.]: Production, Work, Territory. The Geographical Anatomy of Industrial Capitalism; Boston/London/Sidney: Allen&Unwin: 16-40; here: 19)
1 Crises are well-known as points of change – and we can specify: changes are not only but as well very much concerned with changes of the accumulation regime. The French theory of regulation (Aglietta et altera) refers fundamentally to only two different regimes, namely the Fordist and the Post-Fordist regime. This is in the present author’s view extremely limited, being based on a limited understanding of capitalism and thus failing to realise a much wider potential of the analysis.
A hint for a wider understanding can be taken from the following presentation:
As capital accumulation becomes more intensive capital tends to become more concentrated , and the relative power of capital vis-à-vis labour … is changing. All this is occurring while the forms of competition, and therefore the industrial and financial structures, evolve. This is the history of contemporary capitalism. The ‘passage’ from a relatively competitive capitalism to one that is often called ‘monopolistic’ took place essentially during the ‘Great Depression’ at the end of the nineteenth century for reasons that were not only economic (economies of scale, market power) but even more social (the centralisation of capital is also the centralisation of capital is also the centralisation of labour, a process intended to heighten the possibility of social control given the rise to trade unionism). ‘Monopoly’ capitalism is thus the product of a stressful long-wave downturn, in which economic conflicts criss-cross with social and political conflicts, and as a result of which a new socio-economic paradigm is put in place.
(Dockès, Pierre/Rosier, Bernard, 1992: Long Waves. The Dialectic of Innovation and Conflict; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 301-315; here: 309)
2 Tentatively, the following dimensions may be suggested as reference points for a differentiated view on accumulation regimes:
a capital intensity
b (raw-)material dependency
c labour intensity
d indigeneity/international dependencye relative strength of department I, II, and III respectivelyf class relations and regulatory mechanisms
3 Again only tentative, the following regimes are proposed:
a merchant capitalism/industrialising
b early industrialist capitalism
d state monopolist capitalism
e service-regulationist capitalism
f post-Fordist capitalism
g ‘supra-national state-monopoly capitalism’ (Thomas Kuczynski)
This is surely not an exhaustive classification. One point that springs immediately to mind is concerned with the usefulness of a separate monopolist stage.
4 The perspectives presented under 2 and 3 can now be combined by transferring them into a matrix.
relative strength of department I, II, and III respectively
class relations and regulatory mechanisms
early industrialist capitalism
state monopolist capitalism
‘supra-national state-monopoly capitalism’
5 It can now be asked if accumulation is actually also an issue in non-capitalist, here: socialist formations. If we give an affirmative answer we are required to reconceptualise both, the understanding of accumulation and of accumulation regimes. The ultimate point of reference has to be clearly defined by the genuine orientation of an immediate link between human practice (as [re-]production of and in everyday’s life] and the economic process. The mediation based in the capitalist form of commodities must be overcome. Paul Boccara contends for the capitalist formation that
[r]egulation concerns the inciting of progress in material productive forces (and in labour productivity) and the fighting of obstacles to such progress.
(Boccara, Paul, 1973: Etudes sur le capitalisme monopoliste d’Etat, sa crise et son issue ; Paris : Editions Sociales; qouted in Fonvieille, Louis, 1992: Rate of Profite and its Determining Factors; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 203-224; here: 204)
Under non-capitalist conditions this should be translated into a concern with the means needed for (re-)producing and improving everyday’s life. ‘The economy’ is now decisively only a means to an end which can be considered as ‘external’, an annex in which social practice finds one and only one expression, as far as it is concerned with the production of the social itself. In actual fact it is more precise to see here the true socialisation of production, i.e. the emphasis of the social character of production.
6 From here we can return to the question of growth as part of development. The two main lines are about growth in capitalist societies and in non-capitalist formations.
Within capitalist societies we have the different contexts in which growth has to be seen: as cyclical movement aiming on short-term equilibration and as cyclical movement creating new areas fro accumulation after principle breaks in socio-technical respects. A first useful reference can be drawn from Menshikov’s view on ‘overall capital’, i.e.
not only capital materialised in new production equipment and research facilities, but also capital embodied in the whole new economic structure. This includes:
1. New industries and plants which are built in the course of the technological revolution;
2. Capital invested in producing new products – producing equipment, consumer and producer goods, new materials and types of energy;
3. Capital invested in new infrastructure installed to serve new industries;
4. Capital invested in creating new kinds of business organisation;
5. Capital in new government institutions and activities which are set up or expanded to support the new economic structure.
(Menshikov, Stanislav, 1992: The Long Wave as Endogenous Mechanism; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 233-256; here: 246)
Important is also to investigate thoroughly the many parts of the overall actual social and societal production that are not commonly part of the GDP-calculations. Exploring this in detail requires a major empirical effort – even if we take an approach simply to growth as accumulation of capital, we have to consider its multifaceted character by way of itemising the existing GDP and those parts that are systematically left out.
This is a commonly recognised problem, however the readiness to take up the challenge in an integrating way is by and large missing. A telling example is the work of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, chaired by Jospeh Stiglitz, Amartya Sen acting as chair-advisor and Jean-Paul Fitoussi acting as coordinator (see for the work and also for the report http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr – 25/12/2010 10:56 a.m.). Although they criticise the GDP for its limitations, they do not offer a sound solution. Instead we find a kind of crib: if a coherently consolidated (system of) indicators is not in sight, a solution is suggested by running three indicator sets in parallel, concerned with the ‘Classical GDP-Issues’, ‘Quality of Life’ and ‘Sustainable Development and Environment’. This may be seen as progress. But it may also be seen as locking up of disintegration. Such parallelisation misses that a sound elaboration of indicators depends on an integrated approach. Cost-benefit analysis, properly understood, cannot be sufficiently undertaken in a ‘treble-entry accounting’. Rather it has to search for a way that allows fully integrating the different factors rather than setting them side-by-side. The latter results in such paradoxes as the ‘positive value’ of work that is undertaken in order to repair environmental damage (and already the ‘positive value’ of activities that damage the environment); or taking another – typical – example is the loss of GDP-contribution by non-employment-based activities which may contribute to ‘Quality of Life’ or ‘Sustainable Development and Environment’. I discussed relevant issues already in an article on ‘Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality’ (see Herrmann, Peter, 2012: Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality; in: International Journal of Social Quality 2(1), Summer 2012; © Zhejiang University, European Foundation on Social Quality and Berghahn Journals: 43–57 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2011.010204). Whereas I discussed on that occasion more the conceptual perspective in the light of the lack of a sound understanding of the ‘quality of life’, it is at present of interest to emphasise that we have to look even in an affirmative perspective at more or less simple mechanisms of cost-benefit analysis. The to main factors that are needed for such an analysis are
- the offset of private and societal costs/benefits and
- the inclusion of the time perspective.
There are no clear criteria for the length of the latter – for pragmatic reasons it is suggested to refer to one generation the substantial reasoning behind this is rather simple: it can suggest a span of sustainability which then is permanently perpetuated. The overlapping of generations means that under the condition of ‘one-generation-sustainability’ sustainability is secured in the long run.
It is of crucial importance that this is immediately linked to the value of labour power. This is a matter that needs much more exploration, not least as we have to look at both sides: the pressure on the value of labour power, the push in terms of covering the costs of the value of labour power (towards social benefits, ‘low cost provisions’ and ‘outlets’ but also the actual increase of the value of labour power as matter new groups as bearers of new qualifications etc. (see in this context Fontvieille; op.cit.: 210/12).
To some extent this opens also a connection between micro and macro-perspective. It is the contradiction – as requirement to permanently balance the profit rates, looking at the variable and the constant capital on the level of the enterprise level and the level of the macro-economy.
To clarify and gauge patterns of growth, the following questions will be useful as guideline.
1 What grows?
2 What is the purpose of this growth?
3 Who is the direct beneficiary?
Who is the indirect beneficiary? – Differentiated according to individuals, classes, society, state
4 What are the means of growth?
Differentiated according to different ‘factor inputs’ and kinds of capital/‘capital sections’
5 What are the costs of growth?
6 Who actually bears them?
Differentiated according to individuals, classes, society, state
Different capitalist forces and interests and the contradictions between different sections and fractions of the capital should not be neglected. They play a huge role not least in connection with the determination of the cost of labour and the question who actually pays them (see already the statement at the end of VI.)
 In part this can be explained by the origin of the research, namely Aglietta’s empirical study (Aglietta, Michel, 1976: A theory of capitalist regulation. London: Verso) which had been by its own claim limited.
 See already VI. 4
 The differentiation between society and state may be important as in several cases the state will be used as means of distribution or also as means of ‘real cover by societal’
 The differentiation between society and state may be important as in several cases the state will be used as means of distribution or also as means of ‘real cover by societal’