There is that Michael Roberts again. Every g...... week he's on with a new post. And all complicated and full of graphs and all sorts of diagrams and complicated arguments. And then I have to read him. And there is me, left school at 16, with a bad memory, and 71 years old, or is it 72, I cannot remember, and as I say I have to read that Mister Roberts. But why you might ask. Can't I just ignore him. But no that would be too easy. I can't ignore him. Why you might ask? Well its because he's just about the only one who makes sense when it comes to the world economy. And that is no small achievement.
I read those who oppose his argument that the main problem in the world economy is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Between them they have more letters after their names than are in the works of James Joyce. But in spite of that they cannot grasp Michael's explanations. Why is this you would think. They cannot be all stupid. And they are not. It is you see something else. And this is where i find Michael's last post so enlightening and exciting. He speaks about laws expressing themselves as tendencies. This is the key to the inability of all those economists who cannot grasp Michael's explanation. They are looking for a set of iron laws to explain things when this is not the way things work.
They approach the world economy seeking to understand it by looking for these set of iron laws, fixed, immovable, set in stone, non dialectical, iron laws. This is their problem. Their problem is a wrong method of thought. The world economy has laws but the key to understanding these laws is to see that they express themselves in the form of tendencies. The tendency towards this, the tendency towards that, this is the way laws express themselves. As Michael explains in relation to the rate of profit it is not an iron law which pushes on uninterruptedly non stop, it is a tendency, it is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. A tendency which is as a tendency permanent, but not uninterrupted. It is this tendency which lies at the heart of the crisis of capitalism.
Why is it important to see that this this law of the fall in the rate of profit expresses itself as a tendency? It is important because unless we do so we can become confused and at times when there are counter tendencies to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and which can even temporarily negate this law for a time and in a specific area or sector, then we can lose sight of the fact that it is this law which is the central reason for the crisis of capitalism.
I was born in rural Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. When I was young I used to poach fish in the river Finn. The waters in this river gathered in the mountains of Donegal and ran down and into Lough Foyle and on out into the North Atlantic Ocean. But the Finn was a tidal river up to about the town of Stranorlar. That is when the tide would come in it would come up the River Finn to that point and when it did so it would push the down coming water back up. Now what has got to to with Michael Roberts and capitalism and iron laws and tendencies.
That river could never have permanently changed direction. The incoming tidal water could push it back somewhat for a time and back up for a certain distance. But again and again the waters that gathered in the mountains would reassert themselves and once again the tendency of the river to flow from the mountains into the sea would reassert itself. The River Finn had the tendency to gather its waters in the Donegal mountains and run into the North Atlantic Ocean. This tendency was and is dominant and unless and until climate change or some other phenomenon changes things it will remain so.
Now back again to the economists who deny Michael's point. I would say that they in the main have the following problem. That is the problem of a wrong method of thought. To switch again to the River Finn. One of these economists could look at it up as far as Stranorlar when the incoming tide was pushing its waters back. He or she could say look it is not right that the Finn runs into the North Atlantic Ocean. See it is running the other way. Of course to make this case stick he or she would have to limit their argument to only looking as far up as Stranorlar and only to the time of the incoming tide. Otherwise the Finn would be running down from the mountains and into the North Atlantic Ocean. This economist or person could also look at the exact moment when the tide was about to turn and when the water was for a moment static and again say look the water does not run into the North Atlantic Ocean, it does not run any way. It is static.
Anybody making these arguments would have to limit their analysis to a very specific time and place. They would have to ignore the overall process of the River Finn. They would have to seek the "iron law" that they could point to when the tide was coming up as far as Stranorlar or when the tide was just turning. They would have to refuse to face up to the over all tendency of the river to gather its waters in the Donegal Mountains and flow down into the North Atlantic Ocean.
This is what the economists do when they argue against Michael Roberts. They seek to take a bit of the world economy either in time or in space or in a specific sector, and isolate this. They then declare what they see there to be an iron law. They refuse to seek out the tendencies in the world economy and the countervailing tendencies but also and most important they fail to identify as Michael Roberts does, they fail to identify the dominant tendency. I feel sorry for these economists. They have not managed to conquer the dialectical method of thought. The dialectical method of thought which not only explains economics but which also opens up to our understanding so many other exciting fields.
By the way and in a partially unconnected comment but related to method of thought. I have found that those who are not able to grasp the dialectic, not able to grasp the reality that all life expresses itself in the form of tendencies tend not to have a genuine sense of humor. I am not talking about a braying laugh, or a crude aggressive joke. am talking about a genuine absorbing expressive sharing sense of humor. This dialectic business, this tendency business, there is no end to it.