The future does not, in any way, belong to the wage laborer
Mr. Excess Capital allow me to introduce you to Mr. Excess Population Of Workers.
Indeed, publicly traded European companies had excess cash holdings of €750 billion ($1 trillion) in 2011, close to a 20-year high. Unlocking that cash would give Europe a much larger stimulus package than any government can provide. In 2011, for example, private investment in Europe totaled more than €2 trillion, compared to government investment of less than €300 billion.
And yet, while trends among European economies have varied, private investment was, overall, the hardest-hit component of GDP during the crisis, plunging by more than €350 billion – ten times greater than the fall in private consumption and four times more than the decline in real GDP – between 2007 and 2011. The magnitude of the private-investment downturn was, in fact, unprecedented – and lies at the heart of Europe’s economic malaise.
Likewise, by historical standards, the private-investment recovery is running late. In more than 40 past episodes in which GDP fell and private investment declined by 10%, recovery took an average of five years. Europe is four years removed from the onset of recession, but private investment in 2011 was still lower than its 2007 level in 26 of the European Union’s 27 member states.
It seems only logical to this bourgeois apologist that Europe could bring this excess capital together with a staggering mass of excess labor power Europe now suffers. The problem clearly is not the lack of means nor the lack of workers able and willing to work — Greece, for instance, now suffers upwards of 27% unemployment and youth unemployment is far higher — but the lack of profit for employing either. Labaye argues this mass of frozen capital could be freed up for investment if the proper deregulatory regime were enacted and he proposes some marginal changes. He argues over-regulation is presently stifling profits.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that no one in Europe is starving for lack of means of subsistence — the shelves of stores are full and, if anything, retailers are under pressure to reduce prices. In fact, there is lack of profit not because there is insufficient profit, but because there is too much surplus value seeking to become capital. Employing this surplus value as capital would lead to a fall in profit and this no capitalist will ever do. Capital is employed as capital only to the extent it will increase the mass of profits and no further. Encountering this limit, capital contents itself with adding to a forcibly idled mass of capital that cannot, under any circumstances, be productively employed.
The “rational miser” has become a miser pure and simple.
The function of the state at the point where capital can no longer increase itself by adding to surplus value is to borrow this mass of superfluous capital, not to employ it productively, but to consume it unproductively. If the state were to attempt to employ the capital productively, this would only add to the mass of surplus value that could not become capital and result in a fall in the mass of profits — capital is lent to the state precisely because no increase in capital adds to the mass of surplus value. The real use of the state is to consume the capital as deficit revenue and to pay interest on the consumed capital to the capitalists. In this way a growing mass of excess capital become dependent on public debt interest payments to increase its value.
The fallacy on the Left is that this capital can become real capital if the wages of the working class were increased by full employment and there is a sense in which this is correct: What prevents the productive employment of the capital is not the capital itself but the lack of consumption power of the mass of society. However, concluding from this that the mass of profits can be increased by increasing the consumption power of the working class is wrong, since the argument overlooks the fact that surplus value is increased by constantly reducing the consumption power of the working class. If the consumption power of the mass of society were really increased, the mass of surplus value produced must fall.
The limit imposed on the employment of the surplus value as capital is not a limit on the production of wealth as such. Rather, it is material limit on the production of wealth in its capitalistic form. The capital can be employed to produce material wealth only on condition that it is no longer employed as capital. Which is to say, the aim of the employment of the capital must be to satisfy the needs of the producers, not the self-expansion of capital.
The critics of capitalism face a problem that the excess capital not sitting idle on the ledgers of capitalist firms can only be employed as capital if it is employed unproductively by the state. To employ this capital productively to increase material wealth means precisely it cannot be employed as capital, it can no longer be employed to buy labor power. The Left critics of capitalism don’t want to face this fact and go to great lengths to avoid stating it openly.
The idea that “going beyond capitalism” means actually and really going beyond capitalism fills the Left with dread. The Left wants to go beyond capitalism only so long as nothing of the existing order is actually contested. This, they tell us, is because the working class is not ready to contest existing relations of production. The capitalists may fully intend to get rid of Social Security and workers protections, but the working class cannot challenge capitalism.
In fact it doesn’t matter whether the working class is ready to challenge existing relations or not — the capitalists will challenge existing relations in any case. The capitalists have no choice but to challenge existing relations and will attempt to impose their will on the working class through the state. There are no existing relations to defend by either class — every relation existing is subject to the unrelenting criticism of the movement of capital itself. The only relevant question is this:
“What are the future relations to be established?”
We already know one thing: Those future relations cannot, under any circumstances, be established on the basis of wage labor. This much we know because the capitalists have told us in no uncertain terms by sitting on a huge cache of idled capital. This idled capital bears an unmistakable message to society:
“The future does not in any way belong to the wage laborer.”