The Great Recession and cutting the denominator

If anybody doubts that the slump in the major capitalist economies of 2008-9 really was the Great Recession, just look at this graph describing the percentage fall in overall US employment in each of the major economic recessions since the 1950s.

The Great Recession saw a fall of over 6% in US  employment from early 2008 to early 2010.  That compares with less than half that in each of the previous recessions going back to the 1960s.  It demonstrates that capitalism really needed to make major inroads into the denominator of the formula for the rate of profit, namely reducing the value of constant capital (plant, machinery and stocks) and variable capital (the cost of employing labour).  It has done the former to some extent through bankruptcies of weaker firms, the closing down of old plant and by ceasing to invest in new capital.  But it has also done the latter with a vengeance by laying off labour and by holding down wages and cutting benefits.  The sheer reduction of the labour force to create what Marx called a reserve army of labour available for cheaper employment is truly staggering.

The graph also shows that in the Golden Age of post-war capitalism, the recessions of the 1960s were less damaging to employment, while in the downward phase of profitability in the 1970s, employment suffered more.  Again in the upward phase of profitability since 1982, the hit to employment in the 1990s recession was relatively low.  In the new downphase since 1997, the employment reduction got larger, culminating in the 6% fall in the Great Recession. Expect something similar in the next recession to come.

2 Responses to “The Great Recession and cutting the denominator”

  1. Trev Says:

    Hello Michael, we probably come at economics from a different quarter but I respect your article because too many do not see the significance of the GFC or Great Recession as you refer to it.

  2. Mike B) Says:

    It’s not that workers have suddenly lost the ability to produce wealth, it’s just that the capos won’t hire us to do so because they can’t sell all we can produce. Shorter work time would create more market share. I mean who can sell cars to the unemployed?

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