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Articles by Sandwichman

À la recherche du socially necessary labour temps perdu

9 hours ago

How many Trained Marxists™ know there is no "socially necessary labour time" in the Grundrisse? I didn’t. When researching the provenance of the term, I was surprised to discover that it was present in neither the Grundrisse nor Marx’s Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. The latter book had a lot of approximations, though, and a pithy disclaimer about what Marx meant — and didn’t mean — when referring to categories of social labour:From the analysis of exchange-value it follows that the conditions of labour which creates exchange-value are social categories of labour or categories of social labour, social however not in the general sense but in the particular sense, denoting a specific type of society.The specific type of society Marx had in mind was, of course, capitalism.

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Does economic growth cause unemployment?

2 days ago

Does economic growth cause unemployment?, Econospeak, Sandwichman, October 24

Usually, a question in the title of an article is a teaser and the answer is almost always “no.” Not in this case. The standard argument is that economic growth is necessary to create jobs and that unemployment results from the slowing or interruption of growth.

Even advocates of degrowth or a steady-state economy assume a positive connection between growth and employment. Advocates prescribe reduction of working time as a means to mitigate job losses that would otherwise result from productivity gains.

In chapter 25 of Capital, volume one, however, Marx claimed that the same factors that spur economic growth also stimulate an expansion of the population

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Wealth is leisure. Leisure, wealth.

3 days ago

Wealth is leisure. Leisure, wealth.

The three quotes above are from, respectively: 1. William Godwin 2. Charles Wentworth Dilke 3. Karl Marx. There was a very pronounced influence of Godwin on Dilke and of Dilke on Marx (hence indirectly of Godwin on Marx). My research suggests that viewing Marx’s work from the perspective of Dilke’s major influence reveals both hidden strengths and weaknesses in Marx’s critique of political economy. 

The yellowed backgrounds are the title pages of Godwin’s Enquirer (1797), Dilke’s Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties (1821), and a page from Marx’s 1857-58 manuscripts, subsequently published as the Grundrisse. The difficulty of reading the background is my metaphor for the palimpsest of the

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Does economic growth cause unemployment?

3 days ago

Usually, a question in the title of an article is a teaser and the answer is almost always "no." Not in this case. The standard argument is that economic growth is necessary to create jobs and that unemployment results from the slowing or interruption of growth.Even advocates of degrowth or a steady-state economy assume a positive connection between growth and employment. Advocates prescribe reduction of working time as a means to mitigate job losses that would otherwise result from productivity gains.In chapter 25 of Capital, volume one, however, Marx claimed that the same factors that spur economic growth also stimulate an expansion of the population supplying labour power and the "industrial reserve army." He proclaimed the growth of the surplus population relative to employed labour

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Wealth is leisure. Leisure, wealth.

6 days ago

The three quotes above are from, respectively: 1. William Godwin 2. Charles Wentworth Dilke 3. Karl Marx. There was a very pronounced influence of Godwin on Dilke and of Dilke on Marx (hence indirectly of Godwin on Marx). My research suggests that viewing Marx’s work from the perspective of Dilke’s major influence reveals both hidden strengths and weaknesses in Marx’s critique of political economy. The yellowed backgrounds are the title pages of Godwin’s Enquirer (1797), Dilke’s Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties (1821), and a page from Marx’s 1857-58 manuscripts, subsequently published as the Grundrisse. The difficulty of reading the background is my metaphor for the palimpsest of the successive generations of the text about wealth being leisure/disposable time. One of the

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Democratizing Work

21 days ago

Democratizing Work

I was a bit skeptical of the Global Forum on Democratizing Work. It seemed to me that rushing into an online conference was perhaps a bit over ambitious and misdirected for a relatively new initiative that arose out of a collective letter to the editors of newspapers.

Anyway, I attended three-session today, two of them for their entirety and I was not disappointed. I mean my skepticism was not disappointed. A session on working time presented some fascinating accounts from a gig worker, an academic, and an organizer but then simply neglected to open up the hour and a half session to questions and discussion from the audience. Who did they think we were, chopped liver? The session I only attended briefly had an interminable

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Labor as a Common Pool Resource

22 days ago

Labor as a Common Pool Resource

The everyday experience of working people, economic policies of governments, bargaining priorities of trade unions, and theoretical models of economists refute the idealistic maxim that labor is not a commodity.

An early rationale for the proposition was given in 1834 by William Longson of Stockport in his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Hand-Loom Weavers:

– …every other commodity when brought to market, if you cannot get the price intended, it may be taken out of the market, and taken home, and brought and sold another day; but if a day’s labour is offered on any day, and is not sold on that day, that day’s labour is lost to the labourer and to the whole community…

Longson concluded

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Democratizing Work

22 days ago

I was a bit skeptical of the Global Forum on Democratizing Work. It seemed to me that rushing into an online conference was perhaps a bit over ambitious and misdirected for a relatively new initiative that arose out of a collective letter to the editors of newspapers.Anyway, I attended three session today, two of them for their entirety and I was not disappointed. I mean my skepticism was not disappointed. A session on working time presented some fascinating accounts from a gig worker, an academic, and an organizer but then simply neglected to open up the hour and a half session to questions and discussion from the audience. Who did they think we were, chopped liver? The session I only attended briefly had an interminable power point slide show, narrated by a coughing, monotone old coot.

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Labor as a Common Pool Resource

22 days ago

The everyday experience of working people, economic policies of governments, bargaining priorities of trade unions and theoretical models of economists refute the idealistic maxim that labor is not a commodity.An early rationale for the proposition was given in 1834 by William Longson of Stockport in his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Hand-Loom Weavers:- …every other commodity when brought to market, if you cannot get the price intended, it may be taken out of the market, and taken home, and brought and sold another day; but if a day’s labour is offered on any day, and is not sold on that day, that day’s labour is lost to the labourer and to the whole community…Longson concluded from these observations of labor’s peculiarities that, "I can only say I should be as

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Thoughts on superfluous disposable time

26 days ago

The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time. The relation of necessary
labour time to the superfluous (such it is,
initially, from the standpoint of necessary labour) changes with the different
stages in the development of the productive forces. … In production resting on
capital, the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation
of superfluous labour time. 398 Grundrisse

It is a law of capital, as we saw, to create surplus
labour, disposable time; it can do this only by
setting necessary labour in motion. – i.e. entering into exchange with
the worker. It is its tendency, therefore, to create as much labour as
possible; just as it is equally its tendency to reduce necessary labour to a
minimum. It is therefore equally a tendency of capital

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Beware of “The Narrative”!

September 12, 2021

Beware of “The Narrative”!

Back in 1979 philosopher Jean-François Lyotard was commissioned to do a report for the province of Quebec that turned into a book, The Postmodern Condition. I remember that book well because I read it during my graduate studies that focused on narrative analysis. A central theme of Lyotard’s book was the “death of metanarratives,” such as the Idea of Progress or Marx’s Class Struggle as the engine of history.

Fast forward to 2021 and “The Narrative” has become a core talking point of right-wing paranoia and propaganda. Whatever they disagree with is framed as a totalitarian Narrative that makes their rebellion against it heroic. Of course, a large part of this anti-narrative narrative is projection. The conformity of

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Beware of “The Narrative”!

September 9, 2021

Back in 1979 philosopher Jean-François Lyotard was commissioned to do a report for the province of Quebec that turned into a book, The Postmodern Condition. I remember that book well because I read it during my graduate studies that focused on narrative analysis. A central theme of Lyotard’s book was the "death of metanarratives," such as the Idea of Progress or Marx’s Class Struggle as the engine of history.Fast forward to 2021 and "The Narrative" has become a core talking point of right-wing paranoia and propaganda. Whatever they disagree with is framed as a totalitarian Narrative that makes their rebellion against it heroic. Of course a large part of this anti-narrative narrative is projection. The conformity of the GOP/Fox talking points is notorious. But that is precisely what makes

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Happy Socially Necessary Labor Day!

September 6, 2021

"The Ambivalence of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties At Two Hundred"Tom Walker, Contributions to Political Economy, Volume 40, Issue 1, June 2021, Pages 80–90, https://t.co/asxJczusCc pic.twitter.com/joEa6ZUdnh— Charles Wentworth Dilke (@Sandwichman_eh) June 22, 2021

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XV: “Chapter Six” from the draft manuscripts of Capital

August 27, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XV: “Chapter Six” from the draft manuscripts of Capital

The draft “Chapter Six” was preceded by an earlier version of the analysis of formal and real subsumption of labour under capital. That earlier version is 28 pages long in volume 34 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works. “Chapter Six,” proper, is 111 pages long. The earlier version contains one mention of the “labour socially necessary.” The later version contains 12 references to: 

socially necessary labour time (3)labour time socially necessarysocially necessary labour (4)objectified labour… socially necessary socially necessary amount of labour timesocially necessary general labour, and quantity of labour socially necessary.Besides “labour socially

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIV: Capital volume III, chapters 38 and 49

August 25, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIV: Capital volume III, chapters 38 and 49

I thought this was going to be the final instalment of my review of Marx’s writing on socially necessary labour time but then I discovered, as I was going through my posts that I haven’t done the draft “chapter six” that contains the fascinating discussion of formal and real subsumption. So there will be either one or two mores posts. Yay!!

An index page of all the posts so far — both numbered and unnumbered — is here. 

Chapter 38, “Differential rent: general remarks,” contains an interested recapitulation of the relationship between market price and value, specifying the “socially necessary quantity of commodity varieties” as part of the determination of socially

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XV: “Chapter Six” from the draft manuscripts of Capital

August 24, 2021

The draft "Chapter Six" was preceded by an earlier version of the analysis of formal and real subsumption of labour under capital. That earlier version is 28 pages long in volume 34 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works. "Chapter Six," proper, is 111 pages long. The earlier version contains one mention of the "labour socially necessary." The later version contains 12 references to: socially necessary labour time (3)labour time socially necessarysocially necessary labour (4)objectified labour… socially necessary socially necessary amount of labour timesocially necessary general labour, and quantity of labour socially necessary.Besides "labour socially necessary," the earlier version had one reference to "average labour time necessary" and one to "general social labour time," which by

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIV: Capital volume III, chapters 38 and 49

August 24, 2021

I thought this was going to be the final installment of my review of Marx’s writing on socially necessary labour time but then I discovered, as I was going through my posts that I haven’t done the draft "chapter six" that contains the fascinating discussion of formal and real subsumption. So there will be either one or two mores posts. Yay!!An index page of all the posts so far — both numbered and unnumbered — is here. Chapter 38, "Differential rent: general remarks," contains an interested recapitulation of the relationship between market price and value, specifying the "socially necessary quantity of commodity varieties" as part of the determination of socially necessary labour time:It is in general in the form of the market-price, and, furthermore, in the form of the regulating

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XI, Capital, volume II

August 22, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XI, Capital, volume II

Aside from a comment on the “labour socially necessary” in Engels’s preface, there is no other mention of socially necessary labour time in volume II of Capital. That preface is where Engels wrote of Marx saving The Source and Remedy from oblivion, albeit with only a single, short innocuous quotation (see also this earlier post). 

In the early post, I related how Anton Menger had doubted Engels’s story of the pamphlet’s influence on Marx. Menger’s book was first published in German in 1886, long before Marx’s notebooks from 1857-58 and 1861-63 were published. The evidence in those notebooks is that the pamphlet’s influence on Marx was greater than Engels had claimed. Because I have already

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIII: Capital volume III, chapter 15

August 21, 2021

Chapter 15 of volume III, "Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law [of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall] is iconic. Sensationalists and contrarians will no doubt be drawn to the chapter on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. But true aficionados know that the real meat is in the counter-tendencies (chapter 14) and contradictions. One of the counter-tendencies was relative over-population of workers. It plays an even larger role in the contradictions of the tendency.The paragraph immediately preceding section III of chapter 15, "Excess Capital and Excess Population," has a familiar ring to it:The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XII: Capital volume III, chapters 5 & 10

August 20, 2021

In chapter five of volume III, Engels made a blunder by referring to socially necessary labour time as necessary labour time. Presumably, the error originated in Marx’s notes and Engels didn’t notice and correct it:If it is the necessary labour-time which determines the value of commodities, instead of all the labour-time contained in them, so it is the capital which realises this determination and, at the same time, continually reduces the labour-time socially necessary to produce a given commodity.This may seem like nitpicking except that, for Marx, necessary labour time is defined as the time required to recover the cost of labour power and is explicitly differentiated from surplus labour time. The error was not introduced by the translation, the original German also uses notwendige

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XI, Capital, volume II

August 20, 2021

Aside from a comment on the "labour socially necessary" in Engels’s preface, there is no other mention of socially necessary labour time in volume II of Capital. That preface is where Engels wrote of Marx saving The Source and Remedy from oblivion, albeit with only a single, short innocuous quotation (see also this earlier post). In the early post, I related how Anton Menger had doubted Engels’s story of the pamphlet’s influence on Marx. Menger’s book was first published in German in 1886, long before Marx’s notebooks from 1857-58 and 1861-63 were published. The evidence in those notebooks is that the pamphlet’s influence on Marx was greater than Engels had claimed. Because I have already discussed the "saved from oblivion" passage, I will say no more at this time.The passage from the

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Three “Fragment[s] on Machines”: überflüssig ist notwendig

August 19, 2021

Three “Fragment[s] on Machines”: überflüssig ist notwendig

An excerpt of a passage from the Grundrisse, in the notorious “fragment on machines,” has become iconic in contemporary Marx studies:

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time X (part one): Chapters 15 and 25 Capital, volume one.

August 17, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time X (part one): Chapters 15 and 25 Capital, volume one.

I started this series with the intention of comparing Dilke’s “plain leveling principle” consumption-based conception of socially necessary labour time with Marx’s theory of value founded on a production-based concept of socially necessary labour time. Two episodes and a digression later, that original plan was upended by my encounter with the section in the Grundrisse titled Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital, which made me rethink the scope and span of Marx’s concept.

The text of Capital would seem to offer evidence against my hypothesis that relative surplus population is already implicated in the concept of socially

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Three “Fragment[s] on Machines”: überflüssig ist notwendig

August 16, 2021

An excerpt of a passage from the Grundrisse, in the notorious "fragment on machines," has become iconic in contemporary Marx studies:Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time X (part two): The palimpsest of Capital

August 15, 2021

The law of supply and demand for labour power is perverse in that the more fertile labour power’s use value as a source of surplus value becomes, the lower its value and, consequently, its exchange value. Clearly such a perverse law is difficult to explain. It is paradoxical and counter-intuitive.Perhaps Marx was wary of repeating himself or of giving explanations that confuse the reader because they are so damned convoluted. Whatever the reason, he held back from closing the deal. His discussion of relative surplus population does not drill down to the bedrock of his value theory — abstract average socially necessary labour time. Instead, he railed against Political Economy for its apologetic and opportunistic dogma of supply and demand:The action of the law of supply and demand of

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time X (part one): Chapters 15 and 25 Capital, volume one.

August 14, 2021

I started this series with the intention of comparing Dilke’s "plain leveling principle" consumption-based conception of socially necessary labour time with Marx’s theory of value founded on a production-based concept of socially necessary labour time. Two episodes and a digression later, that original plan was upended by my encounter with the section in the Grundrisse titled Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population. Surplus capital, which made me rethink the scope and span of Marx’s concept.The text of Capital would seem to offer evidence against my hypothesis that relative surplus population is already implicated in the concept of socially necessary labour time. Nowhere in the three volumes of Capital do the terms socially necessary labour time and relative surplus

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Disposable forces, disposable class

August 14, 2021

Disposable forces, disposable class

Thomas Chalmers undoubtedly cribbed his “disposable population” from Turgot’s classe disponible. Turgot’s meaning seems to be different from Chalmers’s. Turgot uses the term to refer to the class’s revenue coming from a surplus of produce and thus being available for use however the proprietor wishes. That is the revenue could be used for luxury consumption or it could be used for the improvement of lands, purchase of machines, etc. I would take Turgot’s classe disponible to be roughly equivalent to rentier.

The disposability of Chalmers’s disposable population, on the other hand, has to do with the facility with which they could be reassigned to different occupations — such as the military. That latter usage

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Disposable forces, disposable class

August 11, 2021

Thomas Chalmers undoubtedly cribbed his "disposable population" from Turgot’s classe disponible. Turgot’s meaning seems to be different from Chalmers’s. Turgot uses the term to refer to the class’s revenue coming from a surplus of produce and thus being available for use however the proprietor wishes. That is the revenue could be used for luxury consumption or it could be used for improvement of lands, purchase of machines, etc. I would take Turgot’s classe disponible to be roughly equivalent to rentier.The disposability of Chalmers’s disposable population, on the other hand, has to do with the facility with which they could be reassigned to different occupations — such as the military. That latter usage brings to mind that "disposable forces" was a term of military strategy that

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Socially Ambivalent Labour Time IX: Chapters 12, 13, 14, 21 & 22 of Capital, vol. one.

August 9, 2021

There is nothing significant in these chapters regarding socially necessary labour time. Chapter 12, the concept of relative surplus value, would be a good place for Marx to tell readers that socially necessary labour time, per capital, entails the production of a relative surplus population. Instead, we get only an anodyne definition of the productiveness of labour:By increase in the productiveness of labour, we mean, generally, an alteration in the labour-process, of such a kind as to shorten the labour-time socially necessary for the production of a commodity, and to endow a given quantity of labour with the power of producing a greater quantity of use value.Chapter 13, co-operation, gives a slightly confusing discussion of what happens when one worker exceeds the time socially

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