Skint Part 1: Wages and Productivity

i-didnt-go-to-work-today
I Didn’t Go to Work Today | Fifth Estate. Detroit, MI. (1987)

Wage growth in Australia is in a pitiful state. Both the frequency and size of wage growth is at historic lows (Bishop and Cassidy 2017). The recent rise in inflation means that not only are wages growing at a lower rate than any time since the Second World War, they are now growing slower than the rate of inflation. This means that real wage growth is now negative.

Figure 1Figure 2

(Fig. 1 & 2 Bagshaw 2017)

This is a grim situation for the vast mass of people as it means the effective stalling or decline in the material conditions of our lives. It also presents Australian capitalism with several complex and interlocking problems. First, while the overall share of national income shifted in capital’s favour throughout the late neoliberal period of the mining boom, the secret to social cohesion was the growth in the majority of households’ wealth as consumables became cheaper and incomes grew, as wages rose alongside the amount of people working and total hours worked. The disintegration of this deal poses the spectre of social and political disturbances, framed as ‘populism’ by spruikers of the political class. However, low wage growth threatens not just political stability in Australia, but the process of capital accumulation and the reproduction of capitalist society more directly.

While individual firms may wish to pay their workers with air, capitalism as a whole needs wages to be high enough to ensure there is enough money in people’s pockets and that people are willing to spend it. This is often called ‘aggregate effective demand’. The reproduction of capitalism requires that a sufficiently high level of commodities is sold to generate a profit that can be reinvested and so on. Declining wage growth directly threatens the profitability of retail businesses, and because retail businesses are part of a broader chain of capitalist firms, the health of the economy more broadly. The Reserve Bank of Australia are particularly worried about the impact the combination of low wage growth and high indebtedness could have on spending and Australian capitalism (Lowe 2017).

Another specific problem is that even as wage growth has stalled, house prices have soared, facilitated by the continual rise in household debt. Increasingly thinkers for capital are concerned that the capacity to pay this debt is faltering and that the prices of real estate assets are shaky. There is growing concern that a collapse in residential prices could hit the banks and destabilise the financial architecture of capitalism in Australia (Shapiro and Greber 2017) . Thus, the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority has acted to reduce the percentage of interest-only loans that can be offered in an attempt to ‘address risks that continue to build within the mortgage lending market’ whilst ‘balancing the need to continue to moderate new investor lending with the increasing supply of newly completed construction which must be absorbed in the year ahead’(2017). APRA aims to slow down the risk of rising mortgage debt whilst simultaneously allowing the housing market to continue functioning.  Is it likely that such activity can both reduce the exposure of the banks whilst facilitating the continual accumulation of capital?

Low wage growth, continued housing price growth and high household debt all take place in the context of low investment in Australia. This is despite a rise in profits and in the context of a global situation that the World Bank describes as a ‘fragile recovery’ (Potter 2017, World Bank Group 2017).

This problem cannot be solved – for capital – just by raising wages. This would shrink profits and thus, accumulation.[i] Rather the challenge for thinkers for capital is to work out a way to increase aggregate effective demand and profits: to increase incomes in a way that ensures the continual accumulation of capital and thus the enlarged reproduction of the capital-relation. For us (meaning both those of us with nothing but our labour-power to sell and self-declared antagonists to capital) the problem is radically different – to work out ways of asserting our interests for a good life irrespective of capital’s requirements and to do this inside-against-and-beyond the whole totality of capitalism as a society and a way of living.

  Continue reading “Skint Part 1: Wages and Productivity”

Advertisements

Easy Money: The Reserve Bank of Australia and the tremors in capital accumulation

NAA- A12111, 1:1967:16:89
NAA: A12111, 1/1967/16/89

On the 2nd of August the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) reduced the cash rate to the historic low of 1.5%. The actions of the central bank often seem either arcane or uninteresting to the vast majority of us – except perhaps for those playing the markets and various gold-bugs, currency cranks and other tin-foil hat aficionados. However we should pay attention to the RBA. The RBA’s action was an attempt to intervene on the level of money in a way to forestall a further decline in the prospects for the capitalist mode of production in Australia and thus dampen any intensification in social conflict or malfunctioning such a decline might contribute to. Therefore it also tells us much about the health of capitalism in Australia on a whole and gives us an insight into the terrain on which our efforts for emancipation play out.

 

It is important to place an understanding of money right in the centre of radical critiques of capitalist society. Money is a coagulant that holds together so much of capitalist society as well as the form in which capital finds its clearest expression. Money dominates our lives. ‘The individual carries his social power, as well as his bonds with society, in his pocket’ (Marx 1993, 157). In our world money is incredibly heavy: ‘the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an “immense collection of commodities”…’ and it is our access to money which allows us to access this wealth which is the collective product of our vast creative capacities and their metabolism with the world (Marx 1990, 127). There are very few moments of the day when the amount of money in my pocket, in my bank account and the level of debt on my credit card isn’t on my mind. Yet on the other hand money is now incredibly insubstantial: since the end of the direct linkage of the US dollar to gold and all other currencies to the US dollar money no longer has any other references than itself. This has facilitated a vast and dizzying explosion of liquidity. This contradiction was seen so starkly in the response to the crisis when vast sums of money were either willed into existence by states or appeared as state debts as the financial system was bailed out whilst money for many people evaporated and plunged them into poverty.

 

Anti-capitalists in Australia have not been very good at making sense of money and finance nor popularising this critique. We rely too much on very general arguments about the madness of markets or robotic interpretations of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. We haven’t been very good at explaining the specifics of this crisis or why crises and malfunctions that appear on the level of money are actually products and expressions of much deeper systemic dynamics. This space has been filled by less savoury types: currency cranks, Larouchites, anti-Semites and other species of reactionaries. Part of our collective self-emancipation is demystifying the operations of capital on all levels.

Continue reading “Easy Money: The Reserve Bank of Australia and the tremors in capital accumulation”

Is that it for the Plan A for Capital?

It’s now pretty clear the Campbell Newman’s LNP  has lost the Queensland election due to opposition to the ‘leasing’ (the effective sale) of state assets to raise funds to pay down debt and stimulate accumulation through investment in infrastructure. These two things are key parts of what I have argued is the Plan A to ensure the accumulation of capital in Australia as the mining boom fizzles out.
How many other state governments will proceed with asset sales now? And the Federal legislation to encourage this asset recycle remains stalled and unable to pass the senate.
How then can the investment in infrastructure be financed? And what are any of the alternatives for capitalism in Australia?
Whilst elections have little to do with our struggle for emancipation this result makes it clear that the current malaise of bourgeoisie politics and the general soft refusal of large sections of the population to sacrifice for capital means the state seems unable to act effectively  for the best interest of capital – and all this in the context of a bleak global economy.
As the end of the mining boom begins to bite will this layer of refusal hold? Can vast expenditure on infrastructure be financed any other way? What could possibly be a Plan B for capital? And what shape will our struggles take in this period of crisis, decline and malaise?

Debt in the Banana Republic

( Originally published in, and wonderfully edited by, the good people at Mutiny)
Since their election Queensland’s LNP government has unleashed a wave of attacks on the conditions of workers and communities. These attacks include at least, the planned reduction of 20,000 public servant staff and the capping of wages, defunding of NGOs in the community sector, the intensification of the government’s power to ban strikes and restrict industrial action and notably homophobic policy that targets Queer organisations and has seen the watering down of civil unions and the removal of surrogacy rights for Queer parents (and unmarried heterosexual relationship shorter than two years). This constitutes a profound reorganisation of what we could call social reproduction.

Continue reading “Debt in the Banana Republic”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑