Notes on Michel Aglietta, Theory of Capitalist Regulation

Some of this is a conversation I’m not part of – economists’ fight over general equilibrium theory, recuperation of Keynes, all that. I’m just gonna leave all that sorta stuff out.

Aglietta suggests that neoclassical economics is actually unable to understand the real economy, and (in part because) it’s ahistorical. (9.) It’s basically prescriptive or normative, not explanatory. (10.) It “excludes from its ambit economic phenomena identified from observation of real practice as ‘imperfections’ rather than dialectically transforming its concepts” in response to actual phenomena. (10.) (I met someone once who after getting a degree in economics went on to study finance and said that finance helped him understand the real economy while economics didn’t. )

“To speak of reproduction is to show the processes which permit what exists to go on existing (…) to study the way in which innovation appears in the system.” Understanding the regulation of capitalism involves understanding “hierarchy in the constitutive relationships of the system” – what is most fundamental to capitalism. (12.) Aglietta will indicate repeatedly that for him what’s fundamental is waged labor.

Neoclassical economics involves the assumption “of economic subjects defined by a rational conduct that is alleged to be a characteristic of human nature (…) economic relations are then defined as modes of coordination between the predetermined and unalterable behavior of these subjects.” (13)
(See Oskar Lange, Political Economy v1. 1963)

“The study of capitalist regulation (…) is the study of the transformation of social relations as it creates new forms that are both economic and non-economic, that are organized in structures and themselves reproduce a determinant structure, the mode of production.” (16.) Aglietta asks what makes the system cohere, over time, and what changes we can see in the system’s cohering and in the forces that create (ie, the regulation that produces) systemic coherence.

The first part of the book will be about changes in the wage relation, the second half about changes in how capitalists have related to each other.
(Cites Balibar, “Surplus Value and Social Classes”)

Aglietta argues that recourse to the state is a sign of division between capitalists (19). Crises “ruptures in the continuous reproduction of social relations” but “periods of crisis are periods of intense social creation.” So the rupture can produce capitalst innovation as well as breakdown.

Aglietta periodizes US capitalism as involving “transformation of the labour process without major alteration in the conditions of existence of the wage-earning class” followed by “simultaneous revolutionizing of both the labour process and the conditions of existence of the wage-earning class.” (20.) The key issue for Aglietta is reproduction of capital and the capital relation.

“the antagonism of the wage relation and the competition between capitals that follows from it cannot be regulated simply by the laws of exchange. The organization of the capitalist class within the bourgeois state, and the development of the structural forms in which it is expressed, are indispensable for the expanded reproduction of capital across society as a whole.” (22.)

“Production is always the production of social relations as well as material objects.” (24.)

“the wage relation” has a “dual aspect as both a relation of exchange and a relation of production.”
“labour, as the creation of value, profoundly transforms its concrete characteristics as the creation of objects” – the valorization process subordinates the labor process. (25.)

“labour power in the wage system is absorbed in the production of capital”

“capitalism (…) transformed not only the labour process by also the process of reproduction of labour-power.” (25.)

“the state as a mode of social cohesion required by the relations of production that divide society into conflicting groups with heterogeneous objectives and unequal possibilities of action.” (26.)

Aglietta writes that he shares a concept of the state with Negri, Manuel Castells, Joachim Hirsch, and James O’Connor.

“dogmatism has long sterilized theoretical research” (29)

The “wage relation is not a private transaction that can be interpreted in commodity terms. It denotes the dispossession suffered by a class in a society dominated by private property. This is not a commodity relation. It is the logical contrary to a commodity relation, for it does not involve any exchange of equivalents. It is curious that Marx maintained the classical fiction of labour-power as a commodity in his own conceptual system, even though his decisive pages on primitive accumulation abundantly proved that it was the very opposite.” (31)

“the wage-earning class is involved in a mode of access to labour and a condition of life whose continuity goes far beyond the relations of commodity exchange that are reflected in the costs of reproduction borne by capitalist firms. Without a set of social norms, which are always relative and remoulded by class struggle, the conditions of capitalist accumulation would have no regularity.” (31-32.) Part of what states do is secure conditions for capitalist economic activity.