Produce capitalism and liberalism degeneracy

"The capital"

Ulrike Herrmann

To person

is a business correspondent for "Taz. Die Tageszeitung" and a book author.

"Das Kapital" has driven millions of well-meaning readers to despair, because even the very first paragraph is an impertinence. [1] Bulky it says there: "The wealth of the societies in which capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of goods', the individual commodity as its elementary form. Our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity." [2] Karl Marx also knew that his first chapter was impossible. In the foreword to the first edition he wrote apologetically: "Every beginning is difficult, applies to every science" (p. 11). To this day, exegetes have asked why Marx started with the subject of "goods" in the first place. For didactically and analytically it would have been more natural to first describe the exploitation of the workers and the history of the class struggles. [3] Then every reader would have found the topic immediately. Engels later chose exactly this reverse structure to explain Marx's theory. [4]

But although the style is so bulky, Marx's main work exerts a tremendous pull. "Das Kapital" is still a bestseller and has reached sales figures that today's economists can only dream of.

Marx continues to fascinate today because he was the first theorist to correctly describe the dynamics of capitalism. The modern economy is a permanent process - and not a state. Income is never guaranteed, it only arises when there is constant investment.

Capital as a process

Marx was the first to define what constitutes capitalism at its core: Money (G) is invested in order to produce goods (W). When they are sold, more money (G ') should jump out, i.e. a profit should be made. "So M - C - M 'is in fact the general formula of capital" (p. 170).

The goal is not the satisfaction of needs, but the accumulation itself. The capitalist must never rest, cannot enjoy what has been achieved, but must always reinvest the profits if he wants to stay in the race. "The circulation of money as capital is (...) an end in itself, because the valorisation of value only exists within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore immeasurable" (p. 167). The individual entrepreneur may believe that he is making important decisions, but in fact he is only an executor of the system and the permanent exploitation: "As the conscious carrier of this movement, the money owner becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the starting point and the return point of money. (...) [The] capitalist [functions] as personified capital endowed with will and consciousness. " This eternal hamster wheel is not about the individual win, "but only [about] the restless movement of winning" (p. 167ff.).

However, money only becomes capital and therefore profit when it is invested. If it remains in the safe, it is still money - but in fact worthless. Marx would have laughed heartily at Dagobert Duck. The stingy drake does believe that he is wealthy when he bathes in his gold coins. But in fact he only owns gold, nothing else. Or as Marx put it: "The ceaseless increase in value that the hoarder strives for by trying to save money from circulation is achieved by the wiser capitalist by constantly relinquishing it to circulation" (p. 168).

By emphasizing the systemic process, the eternal spiral of exploitation, Marx gave the term "capital" a new meaning. Until then, economists had viewed capital as something static. Money and machines were considered assets "in themselves" that could easily be accounted for. With Marx there were no values ​​that were somehow present. Capital was only formed when there was production, when goods were created that could be sold at a profit.

Marx himself was fascinated by technical progress; Apparently the smallest inventions inspired him: "An American machine for the production of paper bags, exhibited at the London industrial exhibition in 1862, cuts the paper, pastes, folds and completes 300 pieces per minute" (p. 399). However, efficiency not only increased in industrial production; agriculture was also technologized. As Marx reported, "the steam engine, with the steam plow, does as much work in an hour at 3d. Or 1/4 shillings as 66 people at 15 shillings per hour" (p. 413). Converted, this meant that productivity had increased 3960 times. That was breathtaking.

But what drove the restless dynamism of capitalism? Why couldn't the capitalists sit comfortably at home and enjoy their profits? In feudalism, the nobles would never have thought of constantly investing in production. Instead, they had built castles, celebrated festivals and acted as patrons of the arts. But the capitalists were insatiable. Even if they were rich, they wanted to get richer and expanded their factories. The accumulation seemed to degenerate into an end in itself, or as Marx put it in one of his most famous quotations: "Accumulated, accumulated! This is Moses and the prophets" (p. 621).

Dialectics of Capital

This permanent pressure to exploit it was in need of explanation, and Marx was the first to recognize that technology plays a central role in this. As soon as it is used systematically, it develops its own logic and dynamics.

It is attractive for every single entrepreneur to purchase new machines that are more productive than the systems of the competition. Because as soon as a manufacturer produces his goods cheaper, he can also sell them cheaper - and generate an extra profit that Marx called "extra added value". However, the competitors have to follow suit immediately if they do not want to go under. So they invest in new machines too, and the extra value disappears again.

Every capitalist is subject to the "compulsory law of competition", is driven by his competitors and expands his production in order not to perish. But at some point most markets are saturated and can no longer take up the additional goods. Cut-throat competition is only survived by those companies that produce the cheapest. These are mostly the large corporations, because they benefit from a phenomenon that economists today call "increasing economies of scale": the larger the number of items, the cheaper the technology used per item.

Marx already implicitly assumed these increasing economies of scale and was therefore the first economist to clearly describe that capitalism tends to oligopoly: small firms are being pushed out until only a few large corporations dominate an entire industry. Or as Marx put it: there is an "expropriation of capitalist by capitalist" and the "transformation of many smaller capitals into less larger ones" (p. 654).

Marx's analysis is still valid today, as current figures from the Federal Statistical Office show: Large corporations only make up one percent of German companies, but in 2012 they generated 68 percent of total sales. At the same time, 81 percent of all companies are small businesses - but together they only made six percent of sales in 2012. [5] The German economy is extremely concentrated, and a few large corporations control the entire value chain, from raw materials to sales. Capitalism is deeply dialectical: competition drives entrepreneurs until there is nothing left of competition.

Marx saw these concentration processes with joy. He hoped that capitalism would perish of its own accord - with capitalists expropriating each other until there were few entrepreneurs left. “One capitalist kills many”, which simplified the revolution: In the end, the “mass of the people” would only have to remove “a few usurpers”. "The expropriators are expropriated" (p. 791). As is well known, things turned out differently. Capitalism has proven to be far more durable than Marx ever thought possible. The corporate oligopoly was remarkably stable. So where were the mistakes in his analysis?