Kapitalist (ir)rationality?

Paul W. Cockshott cockshpw at wfu.edu
Mon Sep 26 06:46:41 MDT 1994

On Fri, 23 Sep 1994, donna jones wrote:

> In explaining British capital disinvestment, Paul Cockshott wrote the
> following:
> >British figures going back to the last half of the 19th
> >century seem to indicate that the capitalists would prefer
> >to consume their profits rather than invest it in means of
> >production. Perhaps as the bourgois class becomes more and
> >more rentier in character it is just unashamedly parasitic.
> As the assault on labor has not brought on an investment boom, it may seem
> that capital is dying from within, from subjective weaknesses.

I did not mention subjective weakness. I said that as it becomes
more rentier in character. A rentier has a different relation to the
means of production vis/a vis a capitalist who both owns and manages
a firm. There is objectively no means by which a rentier can foster
capital accumulation. The most that he can do is defer consumption,
but the effect of this is actually to depress profits in sector III
and thus accentuate any existing trend towards under accumulation.

At the same time, as an increasing portion of a firms profits have
to paid out in dividend and interest payments to the rentiers,
industrial capital has a diminishing rate of profit of enterprise
from which to fund its own accumulation.

Far from being a subjective phenomenon, the tendancy towards under
accumulation is the result of specific form of socialisation of
property ownership under conditions of private appropriation.

> However, marxism, in a word, does not only look at the rate of surplus
> value and thus conclude that if it is high and investment still low, the
> bourgeoisie must be subjectively weak.  It looks at the objective status of
> the  organic composition of capital for capital as a whole; that is, even a
> high rate of surplus value may not be enough to produce the mass of surplus
> value necessary for capital accumulation at a late stage. Of course Fred
> Moseley  can explain all this with much more conceptual clarity than me
> (for whom I shall soon have some questions--I have very much enjoyed his
> work and the exchanges in Science and Society and RRPE).
The point is to explain why such a small portion of disposable surplus value
i.e., surplus value minus uproductive expenses, should be accumulated.
There existed in Britain in the mid 1970s a situation similar to what
you describe above - the growth of unproductive expenditure threatened
the mass of surplus value. But during the last 50 years of the 19th
century and the last decade and a half of this century, the problem
was not an inadequate mass of surplus value but a low accumulation out
of a large mass of surplus value.

>  Marxism demonstrates that it is the production relations--the difficulties
> in producing surplus value and worker resistance--that is at the base of
> capitalist crisis.
This over simplifies marxism. It is not just production relations but
also property relations that are at issue. The change from directly owned
to joint stock companies is an instance of this.

In general one can not understand the accumulation process without
taking into account the specific property forms associated with it.
In addition to the rate of profit one has to look at the rate of interest
which determines the division of surplus value between rentier and
industrial capital.


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