Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts works in the City of London as an economist. He has closely observed the machinations of the global financial system from the dragon’s den. He has been a follower of the Marxist view of society for over 40 years.

46 Responses to “Michael Roberts”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    Found this place as a result of one of your posts being linked to on Naked Capitalism’s blog site. I’m agnostic when it comes to politics; just seeking a world where truth and integrity are more highly valued than at present.

    Anyway, a Brit living in Oregon has no chance of understanding American politics! 😉

  2. Jim Brash Says:

    Michael, I really enjoy your blog comrade. I need a favor to ask of you: In the US McDonald’s workers are fighting for $15 per hour. The city of Seattle just announced a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15. Can you possibly do a blog post on where the minimum wage should be nationally and regionally in the United States? Also, can you do one on he differences or lack of differences between what unionized and non-unionized wages are? Thank you

  3. tom tesoro Says:

    JIM Brash: I too enjoy Michael’s Blog! BUT have you seen the “inequality.org” site which has a great deal of US data and debate on exactly that topic… may be helpful to you.

  4. SWBee Says:

    Michael, all,

    I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask this question or not. Michael, or anyone else, do you have the data from which you extract surplus value, constant and variable capital that you use in your book ? Is it easily available somewhere ?

    Thanks,
    Adam.

    • michael roberts Says:

      The data you are referring is related to the US, I think. The data sources are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis website. The Marxist categories are based on data from the NIPA accounts there and the net fixed assets data. Several authors explain how they have used these data but I provide an explanation of the various different ways adopted to measure the categories in a paper http://gesd.free.fr/mrobprof.pdf Also in the joint paper with G Carchedi, we provide sources and methods, http://gesd.free.fr/robcarch13.pdf Then there is the very thorough paper by Basu and Vasu http://gesd.free.fr/basuvasu.pdf who provide all their sources and methods. And so does Kalogerakos here http://gesd.free.fr/kalogerakos13.pdf Finally, of course, Andrew Kliman’s book, The failure of capitalist production, considers all the pitfalls of measurement, reaching his own conclusion on how to measure the US rate.

      As for other countries, I have done work on the UK and the world (10 countries) using national styats, the Extended Penn World Tables and the Eurostat AMECO database http://gesd.free.fr/mrwrate.pdf. I can provide an excel file for my data on this.

      The most comprehensive and recent study for 14 countries is that by Esteban Maito see http://gesd.free.fr/maito14.pdf His data are also available on excel.

      Good luck with all this!

  5. joellazarus Says:

    Hi Michael
    Avid follower of the blog. Absolutely invaluable resource. Thank you.
    Can I ask you if you ever consider a ROP for the UK net of the artificially inflated ROPs for firms benefiting from state subsidies (either direct e.g. rail firms or indirect e.g. workers getting benefits to supplement wages) and outsourcing contracts (e.g. Serco, G4S, Capita and the like which get ridiculous long-term protected returns as part of PFI deals)?
    I think that if this stuff was stripped out then we’d see a significantly reduced ROP. I think this is significant because it’s definitely increased over the past decade or so.
    Thanks
    Joel

  6. Bastien Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Follower of you blog for about a year now and am always excited when new articles are posted. The 3-part article on AI and robots was very enlightening.

    I was wondering if you’d be interested in tranlating your work into french? I’m willing to do that. Contact me. (Didn’t find another way to contact you !)

  7. Jim Kincaid Says:

    Hi Michael – I’m reading your San Francisco paper with great interest – you mention that the data for your figures is available in Excel on request – I’d very much welcome a copy – best wishes – Jim Kincaid

  8. Jose' Wilkins Says:

    Hi Michael Where can I find a chart that shows annual annual profits and your YOY% profitability. I really like your chart but I am getting pushback because people keep confusing with annual profits are up and I am having a hard time arguing that point. Also, can I get tis data in excel?

    I am trying to use this chart to clearly show that companies have are actually losing profits because they are not following thru with continuous programs. This could do the trick. Any other guidance or words cold also be helpful….

    Thanks Jose’

  9. Rameen Says:

    Michael , you are a true inspiration to young economists world wide . I hope one day to follow in your footsteps .

  10. Ecodeathmarch on Twitter Says:

    “Japanization of the economy” is a term used with increasing frequency. What is your take on all that? I think many of us would find your thoughts helpful. Thank you.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/07/the-world-economy-is-turning-japanese/

  11. Ben Kunkler Says:

    Hi Michael,

    I follow your blog closely. I am having a disagreement with a friend over the labour theory of value, which my friend says is thoroughly discredited Just wondering if you could shed some light on some aspects of our email exchange.

    I noted (among other things):

    In his enquiry into the source of surplus value in Capital, Marx showed how the accumulation of wealth rested on the lengthening of the working day beyond what a worker needs to work to produce their own needs. In doing so, he also demonstrated that this constituted a form of exploitation, that is to say, that the profit a capitalist makes for themself by means of wage labour is acquired unjustly.) With regard to the pushing down of wages, lower wages means less disposable income in the general population, which means less demand, which leads to a crisis of overproduction.

    He responded:

    Marx didn’t demonstrate anything, because “the accumulation of wealth rested on the lengthening of the working day beyond what a worker needs to work to produce their own needs” is patently false. There’s a million ways to discredit it. Here’s Habermas’s: reflexive labour, i.e. labour to train up more productive labour. There’s just no productivity variable in Marx’s maths. Only time. His idea would be directly contradicted if we saw technology and other developments lead to cutting labour hours in order for companies to be more productive and profitable. Not cutting wages – cutting hours, as the Austrian wants to do. We shouldn’t be in a world now where Mark Zuckerburg can become a billionaire using private property = his computer and the labour hours = his spare time after school to make profit = fuckload if Marx was right. According to Marx, things should have unravelled long ago as the world became more mechanized.

    Any thoughts, or just hints of where I can go in Marx’s oeuvre to develop a response to this would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Ben

    • michael roberts Says:

      Your friend does not recognise that Marx was perfectly aware that the productivity of labour can be increased and so he makes a distinction between absolute surplus value and relative surplus value.
      According to Marx, absolute surplus value is obtained by increasing the amount of time worked per worker in an accounting period. Relative surplus value is obtained mainly by
      increasing the productivity and intensity of labour generally, through mechanisation and rationalisation, yielding a bigger output per hour worked. If value is determined by the hours worked, the number of workers and the average productivity of each worker, then the issue becomes on how that value (measured in money) is divided up between the labour employed and the owners of the means of production. As labour has no control over the means of production, they must sell their labour power in wages for less that total value in hours worked (as measured in money). The difference is the origin of what Marx called surplus value (over and above what labour gets in value to live in wages). The contradiction under capitalism then becomes between the drive to raise the productivity of labour to meet social needs and the requirement that the owners of capital get a surplus on their cost of investment in labour and technology etc. But that’s next story.

      For more reading, try these for a start:
      http://www.marxist.com/marx-marxist-labour-theory-value.htm
      http://www.marxist.com/marx-marxist-labour-theory-value2.htm

      http://www.marxist.com/in-defence-of-ltv.htm

  12. Max Says:

    Dear Michael,

    Thanks a lot for this wonderful blog. I heavily rely on it. Currently reading “The Long Depression.”

    I am also a co-organizer of a Marx reading club. I wonder if you could give us some references to answer the following questions on the labor theory of value that keep emerging during our meetings:

    1. Marx often uses phrases like “20 yards of linen = 1 coat” to motivate the labor theory of value. However, these ratios appear to be mere illustrations. In Marx’s (or perhaps Ricardo’s) time, was somebody trying to empirically investigate the theory?

    2. Are there subsequent empirical studies of the theory?

    3. How did people exchange in pre-capitalist and early capitalist economies?

  13. bassplaysdave Says:

    Hello Mr Roberts —

    I thoroughly enjoyed your newest book, The Long Depression. I’m curious to know a bit more about your calculations for ROP. I’ve only delved into Marxist theory in the past two years, but my understanding is that surplus value is not just ‘profit’ but also the share of value that is redistributed to unproductive/subsumed/noncapitalist sectors like finance/advertising/taxes/etc.

    You say in Appendix I of your book that you can calculate ROP by excluding wages of noncapitalist sectors and even by excluding unproductive positions (middle management) of the productive sector. But in doing so, do you add these values back into the ROP numerator (s) since that’s where these values originate? Or do these values end up as (c) because the productive sector relies on them as an investment to increase sales/rate of exploitation? How do you account for this?

    I apologize if this is a stupid question. Just trying to gain a fuller understanding. It’s just been my understanding — perhaps from a different school of Marxism — that profit is only a fraction of surplus value. The rest of which goes to unproductive/subsumed/noncapitalist sectors in order to perpetuate the status quo.

    All the best,
    Dave

    • michael roberts Says:

      Hi Dave

      Yes, profit is just part of surplus value – a key point made by Marx against that of Smith and Ricardo, the classical economists and the modern mainstream. There are various ways to measure profit a la Marx. I prefer to measure it as close to a measure of surplus value as possible so I do include the wages of the unproductive sectors in the numerator for ROP. So they are in s. Actually it is also important to identify the size of the unproductive sectors as a guide to the slowdown in accumulation and reproduction of new value and capital which can only come from the productive sector.

  14. Jeff Powell Says:

    Dear Michael,

    You might be interested in an upcoming talk at the University of Greenwich by Fred Moseley about his new book, Money and Totality (details below). Please share with anyone you think might be interested.

    It would be great to have you come and give a talk at Greenwich at some point – could we tempt you?

    Best wishes,

    Jeff

    ***
    Professor Fred Moseley
    Thursday 10 November, 5pm
    University of Greenwich, Queen Anne Building 065

    Organised by the Greenwich Political Economy Research Centre

    Admission free – all welcome. Please share with interested friends, colleagues and networks.

    http://www.brill.com/products/book/money-and-totality

  15. Harris Says:

    Hey Michael, I had a question.

    I’ve been recently getting into Marxian economics and am reading the first volume of Capital. I’m planning on studying economics in university.

    I’m been trying to decipher a certain “inconsistency” in Marx’s theory – which I’m sure I just don’t understand. Namely, how complex labour produces more absolute value than simple labour, and is reducible to an hour of labour time despite an hour of labour time clearly being much more cut and dry in simple labour than in complex labour. I read Andrew Kliman’s response to this in http://www.criticalglobalisation.com/Issue4/61_92_VALUE_CRISIS_JCGS4.pdf, and how the necessary labour time for engineering obtains a higher value makes sense, but not how engineering creates more value.

    My only explanation I can figure out for this is truly being an example of regular supply and demand. Namely, society decides engineering work is worth “X amount of Y”, i.e. an hour of engineering is worth 10 of Y which take 4 hours to produce, and then the LTV determines how the necessary labour and the surplus labour is divided between capitalist and worker. In other words, the magnitude of simple labour it’s creating is based more on marginalism, and the LTV determines how value is divided and subsequently whether the capitalist deems it economical to hire an engineer or invest in simple labour.

    Am I getting this right or?

  16. Harris Says:

    Hey Michael,

    I’m not sure if I completely understand this. In Andrew Kliman’s post, he implied that the “value created by engineering” was not proportionate to the value needed to produce the labour power for engineering.

    “Assume that an hour of the engineer’s work creates only 50% more value than an hour of simple labour, i.e., $30. Firms would not hire engineers unless they could pay them less than $30 an hour. But if they did so, engineers wouldn’t recoup the cost of going to engineering school, since $30 is much less than the $40 needed to reproduce engineering labour-power. So the supply of engineers would quickly evaporate….

    More costly engineering schools would shut down. Since those that continued to operate would be cheaper, the cost of reproducing engineering labour-power would fall…

    Marx’s proportionality would hold true exactly.” (Kliman)

    This is confusing me, but it may just be a matter of language. In the first paragraph, it seems there is a presupposition that the value engineering creates could be disproportionate to the necessary labour time for engineering as explained in the Kapitalism links and the Carchedi book, but this disproportionality will “even out” and become proportionate due to the SNLT for engineering.

    My question is, where does this disproportionality arise from? In a case where the value engineering creates is less than the SNLT, is the value created by engineering decided by supply and demand?

    This is the only thing that makes sense to me, that commodities produced by complex labour have their value decided by supply and demand, but the LTV dictates the SNLT and morphs that value to maintain a relative proportionality.

    The other option is that SNLT is the determinate for the value of complex labour. Based on the assumptions made in Volume 1 of Capital (perfect competition, commodities trading at their full value) the value created by complex labour should always be proportionally larger or smaller in relation to the larger or smaller SNLT. But this is clearly not what Kliman is implying.

  17. Harris Says:

    I’m beginning to think that my reading of Marx is a bit too rigid…. Would I be correct in saying that the value of a commodity is not determined solely by SNLT, but SNLT and Supply and Demand. However “the law of value” dictates changes in supply and demand. Supply and Demand are subordinate to the law of value, but can still act as an independent force?

    Appreciate the book a lot.
    Thanks

  18. Harris Says:

    Hi Michael, I’ve become even more confused.

    I’m now starting to fully grasp the concept of “abstract labour”, but still struggling with simple complex. Now on this github guide to Capital they describe Complex labour as NOT being due to training, but simply being harder to replace. https://readingcapital.github.io/volume-1/chapter-01-commentary/

    They cite this passage from Marx in support of this interpretation:

    “The distinction between skilled and unskilled labour rests in part on pure illusion, or, to say the least, on distinctions that have long since ceased to be real, and that survive only by virtue of a traditional convention; in part on the helpless condition of some groups of the working-class, a condition that prevents them from exacting equally with the rest the value of their labour-power. Accidental circumstances here play so great a part, that these two forms of labour sometimes change places. Where, for instance, the physique of the working-class has deteriorated, and is, relatively speaking, exhausted, which is the case in all countries with a well developed capitalist production, the lower forms of labour, which demand great expenditure of muscle, are in general considered as skilled, compared with much more delicate forms of labour; the latter sink down to the level of unskilled labour.”

    However, Chapter 1 of Capital implies that complex labour is complex as a result of depreciation of past training, acting as a sort of complex capital. Having more muscle does not require training – it’s a matter of being difficult to replace. This isn’t the interpretation supported by the Carchedi book or Kilman.

    What do you think? Is he claiming that since the labour power is harder on the body, it requires more compensation to reproduce itself and is valued as being skilled? This “hard to replace” theory certainly supports positions like actors which can require little training if you are naturally gifted, and if they require training usually an inconsistent amount producing more value.

    Any help?

    Harris.

  19. godfrey rubens Says:

    I know future forecasting is not your patch but I think Paul Mason’s Post Capitalism deserves a more thorough review than you gave it. It’s the only rational piece about a future that I’ve read for a very long time indeed

  20. Harry Says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’m a long time reader and fan of your blog. This is the only way I’ve found to contact you. I’m a young UK economist and have decided out of curiosity to explore the decline in the average ROP in UK and its impact on specific industry sectors. The ONS website has gross rate of profit only from 1997. I notice you use UK gross ROP data from 1987, is this data available online? Do you know of any annual gross ROP figures (online and/or in a book that you can recommend) that go back to say the early 1970s for either UK or Great Britain companies?

  21. Harry Says:

    Following my last post, I notice you use data going back to the 1970s in the paper “UK rate of profit and British economic history”. I wonder if you kindly provide me with that excel sheet and your workings unless you think there is more reliable data that covers 1970-2000s than that used by the BOE? Sorry for my many requests to you for information.

  22. thewalkerview Says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve been reading your fantastic paper on UK rate of profit and you specific toward the end of the paper that excel sheets with workings and calculations of the statistics for the rate of profit are available on request, would you be able to provide me with these excel sheets?

    Thank you,
    Kindest regards,

    Daniel Walker

  23. Farooq Sulehria Says:

    Great blog.

  24. Gabriel Oyhantcabal Says:

    Dear Michael.

    I am Gabriel Oyhantcabal, member of the editorial committee of the electronic journal Hemisferio Izquierdo (http://hemisferioizquierdo.uy/) (“left hemisphere”).

    We are preparing for our next number an special issue on geopolitics, crisis and wars, and we wanted to interview you.

    You can answer us in English and we translate the answers. We can receive your answers until June 10.

    These are the questions:

    1. It seems that the global capitalist economy is in crisis, at times manifest, at times latent. The huge mass of fictitious capital and the growing geopolitical tensions are an indicator of this. What is the nature of the current capitalist stage and to what extent is the idea of ​​”general crisis” capable of explaining it?

    2. What are the central axes of the main geopolitical trends of the stage? What force has the hypothesis of a return of the war as a way to solve the contradictions accumulated between the different poles of capitalist accumulation?

    3. Is there room for a geopolitics from a class perspective?

  25. Dieter Kuckelkorn Says:

    Hi Michael,
    perhaps you have heard about the book “Killing the Host” by economist Michael Hudson. It has met quite some interest everywhere. Based on in classical macroeconomics it presents a rent extraction theory that a “bad” FIRE sector drains the “good” industrial capitalists and the 99 prercent of capital, income etc. I guess Marx would count that as a battle of distrubution of wealtg inside the capitalist sector. I would like to read your opinion about this quite interesting book on tour blog. Thanks.
    Best regards
    Dieter from Frankfurt

    • michael roberts Says:

      Hi Dieter. yes i did see it but have not read it yet. Your guess about its message is probably right. I shall try to deal with Hudson’s book along with others of this ‘Minsky-Kalecki’ school of crisis theory that have just come out in an upcoming post.

      • Dieter Kuckelkorn Says:

        Well, Hudson mentions Minsky with a positive attitude towards him. You probably won’t need to study every page of Hudson’s book as he tends to repeat his main thesis very often in the book.
        Dieter

  26. Steve Hudson Says:

    Hi Michael, currently in London making campaigning material for Momentum / Labour in the GE. Understand you have serious issues re their Keynesian slant / failure to account falling rate of profit etc.. Would you nonetheless be willing to chat? Looking for inside voices from the City / finance who might actually agree on proposals such as FTT, redistributive taxation etc.

  27. Yuriy Nurmeev Says:

    Hello Mr. Roberts
    I’ve been a follower for some time and am very fond of your theoretical work here. Is there any way to contact you about a possible Russian translation of your book?

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