Thursday, February 27, 2020

Michael Roberts — Marx’s law of profitability at SOAS

Last week I gave a lecture in the seminar series on Marxist political economy organised by the Department of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The Marxist Political Economy series is a course mainly for post-graduates and has several lecturers on different aspects of Marxian economics. Course Handbook – Marxist Political Economy 2019-20 (8)
Mine was on Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Not surprisingly, the department team has noticed that I am apparently ‘obsessed’ by this law, at least according to critics of it.
Anyway, I thought it might be useful to go through my lecture in a post, with the accompanying slides referred to. So here goes....
Michael Roberts Blog — blogging from a marxist economist
Marx’s law of profitability at SOAS
Michael Roberts

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Short summary of Karl Marx's view of property relations.

Most interesting:
 Karl Marx sought to further distinguish between the personal possession of (mainly) consumer goods, which he termed “personal property”, and the absentee ownership of capital goods, which he somewhat confusingly termed “private property”. Marx then went on to critique the exploitation that arises structurally when the means of production are privatised.
Hence we arrive at the first problem with private property, in that there exist two conflicting interpretations, neither of which has gained universal acceptance. That said the broader Lockean take tends to prevail in common usage, which can be somewhat problematic when discussing the abolition of exploitative arrangements arising from private property.... 
The phrase "private property" is ambiguous. In the terminology of John Locke it includes personal property. In the terminology of Karl Marx it doesn't. When Marx spoke of the need to abolish private property to put an end to capitalist expropriation of surplus value from workers, he meant changing the relations of production. He excluded personal property from the category of private property and he was not advocating collectivizing a tradesperson's tools, for example.

Here, Marx was making a connection between capitalists as absentee owners and the landlords of feudalism that either owned slaves or collected rents.

In the industrial age under capitalism, factories and machines became the dominant mode of production rather than agricultural land, which was the dominant mode of production in the agricultural age that was characterized politically by feudalism. 

Marx sought to show how surplus value was the "rent" that capitalists extracted from hired workers and not having contributed to production.

Thus, in this view both feudalism and capitalism are related forms of oligarchy that stand in opposition to liberal democracy. Under capitalism, land was simply folded in to capital.

Black Cat Workers Collective
The problem with private property

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