by Cathal Haughian
250,000 capitalists read the Financial Times, and it has been our undertaking, since 2010, to chronicle our understanding of capitalism via our book The Philosophy of Capitalism. We were curious as to the underlying nature of the system which endows us, the owners of capital, with so many favours. The Saker has asked me to explain our somewhat crude statement ‘Capitalism Requires World War’.
The present showdown between West, Russia and China is the culmination of a long running saga that began with World War One. Prior to which, Capitalism was governed by the gold standard system which was international, very solid, with clear rules and had brought great prosperity: for banking Capital was scarce and so allocated carefully. World War One required debt-capitalism of the FIAT kind, a bankrupt Britain began to pass the Imperial baton to the US, which had profited by financing the war and selling munitions.
The Weimar Republic, suffering a continuation of hostilities via economic means, tried to inflate away its debts in 1919-1923 with disastrous results—hyperinflation. Then, the reintroduction of the gold standard into a world poisoned by war, reparation and debt was fated to fail and ended with a deflationary bust in the early 1930’s and WW2.
The US government gained a lot of credibility after WW2 by outlawing offensive war and funding many construction projects that helped transfer private debt to the public book. The US government’s debt exploded during the war, but it also shifted the power game away from creditors to a big debtor that had a lot of political capital. The US used her power to define the new rules of the monetary system at Bretton Woods in 1944 and to keep physical hold of gold owned by other nations.
The US jacked up tax rates on the wealthy and had a period of elevated inflation in the late 40s and into the 1950s – all of which wiped out creditors, but also ushered in a unique middle class era in the West. The US also reformed extraction centric institutions in Europe and Japan to make sure an extractive-creditor class did not hobble growth, which was easy to do because the war had wiped them out (same as in Korea).
Capital destruction in WW2 reversed the Marxist rule that the rate of profit always falls. Take any given market – say jeans. At first, all the companies make these jeans using a great deal of human labour so all the jeans are priced around the average of total social labour time required for production (some companies will charge more, some companies less).
One company then introduces a machine (costed at $n) that makes jeans using a lot less labour time. Each of these robot assisted workers is paid the same hourly rate but the production process is now far more productive. This company, ignoring the capital outlay in the machinery, will now have a much higher profit rate than the others. This will attract capital, as capital is always on the lookout for higher rates of profit. The result will be a generalisation of this new mode of production. The robot or machine will be adopted by all the other companies, as it is a more efficient way of producing jeans.
As a consequence the price of the jeans will fall, as there is an increased margin within which each market actor can undercut his fellows. One company will lower prices so as to increase market share. This new price-point will become generalised as competing companies cut their prices to defend their market share. A further n$ was invested but per unit profit margin is put under constant downward pressure, so the rate of return in productive assets tends to fall over time in a competitive market place.
Interest rates have been falling for decades in the West because interest rates must always be below the rate of return on productive investments. If interest rates are higher than the risk adjusted rate of return then the capitalist might as well keep his money in a savings account. If there is real deflation his purchasing power increases for free and if there is inflation he will park his money (plus debt) in an unproductive asset that’s price inflating, E.G. Housing. Sound familiar? Sure, there has been plenty of profit generated since 2008 but it has not been recovered from productive investments in a competitive free market place. All that profit came from bubbles in asset classes and financial schemes abetted by money printing and zero interest rates.
Thus, we know that the underlying rate of return is near zero in the West. The rate of return falls naturally, due to capital accumulation and market competition. The system is called capitalism because capital accumulates: high income economies are those with the greatest accumulation of capital per worker. The robot assisted worker enjoys a higher income as he is highly productive, partly because the robotics made some of the workers redundant and there are fewer workers to share the profit. All the high income economies have had near zero interest rates for seven years. Interest rates in Europe are even negative. How has the system remained stable for so long?
All economic growth depends on energy gain. It takes energy (drilling the oil well) to gain energy. Unlike our everyday experience whereby energy acquisition and energy expenditure can be balanced, capitalism requires an absolute net energy gain. That gain, by way of energy exchange, takes the form of tools and machines that permit an increase in productivity per work hour. Thus GDP increases, living standards improve and the debts can be repaid. Thus, oil is a strategic capitalistic resource.
US net energy gain production peaked in 1974, to be replaced by production from Saudi Arabia, which made the USA a net importer of oil for the first time. US dependence on foreign oil rose from 26% to 47% between 1985 and 1989 to hit a peak of 60% in 2006. And, tellingly, real wages peaked in 1974, levelled-off and then began to fall for most US workers. Wages have never recovered. (The decline is more severe if you don’t believe government reported inflation figures that don’t count the costof housing.)
What was the economic and political result of this decline? During the 20 years 1965-85, there were 4 recessions, 2 energy crises and wage and price controls. These were unprecedented in peacetime and The Gulf of Tonkin event led to the Vietnam War which finally required Nixon to move away from the Gold-Exchange Standard in 1971, opening the next degenerate chapter of FIAT finance up until 2008. Cutting this link to gold was cutting the external anchor impeding war and deficit spending. The promise of gold for dollars was revoked.
GDP in the US increased after 1974 but a portion of end use buying power was transferred to Saudi Arabia. They were supplying the net energy gain that was powering the US GDP increase. The working class in the US began to experience a slow real decline in living standards, as ‘their share’ of the economic pie was squeezed by the ever increasing transfer of buying power to Saudi Arabia.
The US banking and government elite responded by creating and cutting back legal and behavioral rules of a fiat based monetary system. The Chinese appreciated the long term opportunity that this presented and agreed to play ball. The USA over-produced credit money and China over-produced manufactured goods which cushioned the real decline in the buying power of America’s working class. Power relations between China and the US began to change: The Communist Party transferred value to the American consumer whilst Wall Street transferred most of the US industrial base to China. They didn’t ship the military industrial complex.
Large scale leverage meant that US consumers and businesses had the means to purchase increasingly with debt so the class war was deferred. This is how over production occurs: more is produced that is paid for not with money that represents actual realized labour time, but from future wealth, to be realised from future labour time. The Chinese labour force was producing more than it consumed.
full article at source: http://thesaker.is/capitalism-requires-world-war/