Monday, August 20, 2018

Samir Amin (1931-2018)

Despite the label at the bottom of this post, this is not really a profile of Amin. I happen to have started reading Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx's Law of Value (Monthly Review Press, 2018) last month. Here are a couple of quotations:

"Vulgar economics is obsessed with the false concept of 'true prices,' whether for ordinary commodities, for labor, for money, for time, or for natural resources. There are no 'true prices' to be 'revealed' by the genius of the 'market.' Prices are the combined products of rates of exploitation of labor (rates of surplus-value), of competition among fragmented capitals, and the deduction levied in the form of 'oligopoly rents,' and of the political and social conditions that govern the division of surplus-value among profits, interest, ground rents, and extractive rents." -- Amin, p. 99.

"Marx's criticism of the classic bourgeois political economy of Smith and Ricardo concluded by shifting from analysis centered on 'the market' ... to one centered on the depths of production where value and the extraction of on surplus value are determined. Without this shifting of the analysis from the superficial to the essential, from the apparent to the concealed, no radical critique of capitalism is possible...

The law of value formulated by Marx, based on the concept of abstract labor, expresses the rationality of the social utility (the utility for society) of a defined use value. This rationality transcends that which governs the reproduction of a particular mode of production (in this case, the capitalist mode of production). Under capitalism, rationality demands the accumulation of capital, itself based on the extraction of surplus value. The price system frames the operation of this rationality. Economic decisions in this framework ... will be different from those that might be made on the basis of the law of value that would define, in the socialism to come, the mode of social governance over economic decision making.

Bourgeois economic theory attempts to prove that the mode of decision making in the framework of its system of prices and incomes produces a rational allocation of labor and capital resources synonymous with an optimal pattern of output. But it can reach that goal only through cascading tautological arguments. To do so it artificially slices productivity into 'components' attributed to 'factors of production.'

Although this pattern of slices has no scientific value and rests on tautological argument, it is 'useful' because it is the only way to legitimize capital's profits. The operative method of this bourgeois economics to determine 'the wage' by the marginal productivity of 'the last employee hired' stems from the same tautology and breaks up the unity of the collective, the sole creator of value. Moreover, contrary to the unproven affirmations of conventional economics, employers do not make decisions by using such 'marginal calculations.'" -- Amin, pp. 232-234.

I have several other books by Amin on my bookshelf:

  • Samir Amin (2006). Samir Amin: A Life Looking Forward: Memoirs of an Independent Marxist. Zed Books.
  • Samir Amin (1998). Spectres of Capitalism: A Critique of Current Intellectual Fashions. Monthly Review Press.
  • Samir Amin (1997). Capitalism in the Age of Globalization: The Management of Contemporary Society. Zed Books.

As I understand Amin is most well known for inventing the word "Eurocentrism" and for extending the law of value to the law of worldwide value.

Amin builds on the concept of the "surplus", as developed in the work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy. One can formalize this notion in a model of a developed country with three departments, for producing capital goods, consumption goods, and luxuries. The last department is not in Marx's models of simple and expanded reproduction. This department is needed to address the problem of realization in an age of monopoly capital.

When it comes to realization problems, there is a long tradition among Marxists of looking at open economies, with advanced industrial capitalist economies trading with less developed peripheral regions or countries. Amin, an Egyptian trained in Paris and working in Dakar, was well positioned to develop these ideas of North-South trade. In the book mentioned above, he often talks about extending Marx's law of value to the law of worldwide value. I gather his ideas are partly the result of a critical engagement with Andre Gunder Frank's work, which I do not know.

To my mind, you can find similar ideas, about monopoly and finance capital and imperialism, going back to the time of the Second International. Amin mentions Rosa Luxembourg, but, as I recall, is critical of her. By the way, he groups Sraffa with bourgeois economists.

I was hoping to find Amin providing an exposition of a mathematical model in Modern Imperialism. He does provide some, but mostly he sticks with numerical examples and historical analysis. He says that this is, partly, to make his work accessible to a larger audience. Also, I am not sure that a mathematical model of the whole is appropriate for monopoly capital. I guess if I want to explore more, I should look at his 1974 book, Accumulation on a World Scale.


Blissex said...

BTW, there is an interesting (but the terminology is as opaque as that of the original) series of re-expositions of "Theories of surplus value" by that bearded fiend here and in other posts in the same log:

Also M Hudson in this very engaging, very enlightening interview about his "Life & Thought" mentions several times how central was thinking about "Theories of surplus value":

Hedlund said...

For more Marxist authors considering worldwide value, important recent works include Zak Cope's "Divided World, Divided Class" and John Smith's "Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century." Plus there's the always-interesting world-system theory set -- Immanuel Wallerstein and those who've walked along his path, such as Minqi Li, whose recent work on China has been very provocative.