Saturday, June 28, 2014

Supply Creates Its Own Demon II: You Don't, Say!

Karl Marx could hardly bring himself to utter the name of J. B. Say without affixing to it some contemptuous description or sarcastic remark:
"Say’s earth-shaking discovery…" 
"…adopted by Ricardo from the tedious Say (and to which we shall return when we discuss that miserable individual)…" 
"…his authority, Say, is playing a trick on him here... " 
"…we shall criticise Say’s theories later, when we deal with this humbug himself." 
"The constant recurrence of crises has in fact reduced the rigmarole of Say and others to a phraseology which is now only used in times of prosperity but is cast aside in times of crises." 
"This is the childish babble of a Say…" 
"Say, who tries to hide his dull superficiality by repeating in absolute general phrases Smith’s inconsistencies and blunders…" 
"Storch says of this trash of Say’s… 
"After Garnier appeared the inane Jean-Baptiste Say’s Trait√© d’√©conomie politique." 
"This is his kind of originality, his kind of productivity and way of making discoveries, And with his customary logic, he refutes himself again…" 
"Say replies with his characteristic profundity…"  
"…the absurdity of J. B. Say, who pretends to account…" 
"…as it does to J. B. Say in the vulgarisation of Adam Smith." 
"The result he arrives at, is precisely that proposition of Ricardo that he aimed at disproving. After this mighty effort of thought, he triumphantly apostrophises Malthus…" 
"A disciple of Ricardo, in reply to the insipid nonsense uttered by J. B. Say…"
Curiously, in "The compensation theory, with regard to the workers displaced by machinery," Section 6, Chapter 15, Volume 1 of Capital, Marx performed the ultimate insult by snubbing Say, almost entirely. The first sentence includes "James Mill, McCulloch, Torrens, Senior and John Stuart Mill" among those bourgeois political economists claiming that machinery sets free enough capital to reabsorb the workers displaced by it. Say is relegated to a footnote citing the anonymous pamphlet in which the author refutes "the insipid nonsense uttered by J. B. Say" by pointing out:
Where division of labour is well developed, the skill of the labourer is available only in that particular branch in which it has been acquired; he himself is a sort of machine. It does not therefore help matters one jot, to repeat in parrot fashion, that things have a tendency to find their level. On looking around us we cannot but see, that they are unable to find their level for a long time; and that when they do find it, the level is always lower than at the commencement of the process.
Thus, the anonymous author of An Inquiry into Those Principles Respecting the Nature of Demand, and the Necessity of Consumption, Lately Advocated by Mr. Malthus, neatly summed up in a paragraph the rebuttal to the so-called compensation theory. This succinct reply makes a mystery of Marx's exclusion of Say from his listing, at the start of the section, of bourgeois political economists.

The mystery is solved in Chapter 20 of Theories of Surplus Value, "Disintegration of the Ricardian School," where Marx discussed the pamphlet he described as "one of the best of the polemical works of the decade." "What the author writes about Say is very true," Marx observed. Following a quotation from the pamphlet about the hazard arising from the difference in timing between consumption by workers and their production, Marx exclaimed that this was, "indeed the secret basis of glut." Several paragraphs later, Marx concluded:
Over-production, the credit system, etc., are means by which capitalist production seeks to break through its own barriers and to produce over and above its own limits. Capitalist production, on the one hand, has this driving force; on the other hand, it only tolerates production commensurate with the profitable employment of existing capital.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

William Morris
From _News From Nowhere_ (1890)

Said he, settling himself in his chair again for a long talk: "It is
clear from all that we hear and read, that in the last age of
civilization men had got into a vicious circle in the matter of
production of wares. They had reached a wonderful facility of
production, and in order to make the most of that facility they had
gradually created (or allowed to grow, rather) a most elaborate system
of buying and selling, which has been called the World-Market; and that
World-Market, once set a-going, forced them to go on making more and
more of these wares, whether they needed them or not. So that while (of
course) they could not free themselves from the toil of making real
necessaries, they created in a never-ending series sham or artificial
necessaries, which became, under the iron rule of the aforesaid
World-Market, of equal importance to them with the real necessaries
which supported life. by all this they burdened themselves with a
prodigious mass of work merely for the sake of keeping their wretched
system going."

"Yes--and then?" said I

"Why then, since they had forced themselves to stagger along under this
horrible burden of unnecesssary production, it became impossible for
them to look upon labour and its results from any other point of view
than one--to wit, the ceaseless endeavour to expend the least possible
amount of labour on any article made, and yet at the same time to make
as many articles as possible. To this 'cheapening of production', as it
was called, everything was sacrificed: the happiness of the workman at
his work, nay, his most elementary comfort and bare health, his food,
his clothes, his dwelling, his leisure, his amusement, his
education--his life, in short--did not weigh a grain of sand in the
balance against this dire necessity of 'cheap production' of things, a
great part of which were not worth producing at all. Nay, we are told,
so overwhelming is the evidence, though many of our people scarcely CAN
believe it, that even rich and powerful men, the masters of the poor
devils aforesaid, submitted to live amidst sights and sounds and smells
which it is in the very nature of man to abhor and flee from, in order
that their riches might bolster up this supreme folly. The whole
community, in fact, was cast into the jaws of this ravening monster,
'the cheap production' forced upon it by the World-Market."

"Dear me!" said I. "But what happened? Did not their cleverness and
facility in production master this chaos of misery at last? Couldn't
they catch up with the World-Market, and then set to work to devise
means for relieving themselves from this fearful task of extra labour?"

He smiled bitterly. "Did they even try to?" said he. "I am not sure. You
know that according to the old saw the beetle gets used to living in
dung; and these people, whether they found the dung sweet or not,
certainly lived in it."