By Chris Shaw
The capitalist economy has gone through another shock, and the potential for another, larger one is on the horizon. While it’s seemingly in its death throes, capitalism continues to fuel growth. Under such a system we have seen a vast improvement in general living standards across the globe, despite rigged markets and the omnipresent power of the state. However, who is this growth for? While absolute poverty has been rolled back, and in many Western nations completely eliminated, we still see a large, indebted underclass, a Global South regularly sold out to the interests of capital and a system of vast wealth that only seems accessible to a privileged few. Economists may say that if we look at BRIC countries we see an equalisation of wealth and growth with the West, but these BRIC markets are used as cogs in a hegemonic state-corporate machine. Third World entrepreneurship isn’t encouraged, but rather sidelined for corporate dominance. This is a system that needs to end. The debt economy, big government, the corporate-state partnership and modern globalisation all need to end. In their place we need truly free markets, where cooperation and exchange are paramount and aren’t controlled by corporate or government interests.
Our neoliberal society is composed of corporate hegemony backed by state power. By corporate hegemony I mean the power modern capital has over governance. This isn’t just found within corporations, but within guild-like occupational boards (Lawyers and Doctors and their licencing requirements) and corporate trade unions that support the maintenance of wage labour at the expense of worker independence from the structure of capital. Any markets we see are rigged in favour of corporate interests. The major monopolies of government control make sure that markets are a tool of big business and the ability of workers to break free from this paradigm is limited if not impossible. The entry barriers to markets, the restrictions on self-employment and the continued lobbying of government for patronage and favourable legislation leads to a corrupt, crony system that relies on the indenture of the poor in favour of employers and business.
There are many libertarians who unfortunately see this system as just and fair. They see sweatshop labour as an excellent solution to Third World poverty. The idea of growth is given religious prescience, without realising cultural antecedents and the importance of community within the realm of the individual. They don’t understand the power dynamics at play, and the continued collusion of corporate and state interests. They fail to see the monopolisation of social institutions and the commodification of culture and life. They are blind to the destruction of livelihoods all in the name of GDP growth. This is not a free market, but rather capitalism at work. To move away from this we need to understand that free, or freed, markets are economic organisations free from coercive control, where the individual and the community are the key players and profit is not reliant on its exploitative features, but rather the ability to meet real demand.
We need to look at the current capitalist system from the anarchist perspective that I put forward in this paper. Modern capitalism is a state-based system, reliant on enforced hierarchies and the provision of false choice. Real choice would confer power on individuals and communities, while under today’s system real choice is in the hands of bureaucrats and corporate oligarchies. Chartier’s definitions of capitalism, “capitalism: an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government” and “capitalism: rule—of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state—by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production)” shines light on this conception. Rather than capitalism being a system of free markets as posited by some libertarians (Block, Mises, Hayek, etc.) it is instead a system reliant on big government and its institutions and the control of said institutions via capital.
The vulgar libertarians who view the capitalist economy as some form of free market do not understand the forms of power present. If a worker wants to start a collectively-owned business, can he? Not without huge capital requirements and regulatory hoops to jump through. How about setting up a mutual credit system with a different currency? Well there are legal tender laws that in the United State are enforced with more brutality than the punishments given for heinous crimes. When talking of free markets, we need to understand that freedom is only relative to where the power lies. If it lies with the state and its subsidiaries, then freedom is conferred on large employers and corporate unions whom receive forms of state funding and favourable regulation. If it lay with individuals and communities, we would most likely see a move away from one-size-fits-all regulation, the processes of commodification through rentierism and arbitrary entry barriers.
The Regulatory Apparatus
The regulatory apparatuses found within the economy also benefit the capitalist structure. While generally seen as a bulwark against corporate power, the regulations found in an economy create entry barriers to markets and a form of implicit subsidy to big business, as these businesses rent-seek government for more regulation, allowing for a monopoly within particular economic sectors. We can see in the banking, energy, manufacturing and retail sectors that this is the case. Childs noted this in relation to the development of monopoly power in American business during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He states “this, then, was the basic context of big business; these were the problems that it faced. How did it react? Almost unanimously, it turned to the power of the state to get what it could not get by voluntary means”. In particular Childs saw this occurring in the rail industry in America during the late 19th century. Massive competition had begun in the rail industry, which massively sunk profits for established companies and encouraged many start ups and smaller competitors. As large rail companies weren’t competitive enough in this environment, they came to rely on government intervention, where regulatory boards were created staffed mostly by executives from the large rail companies.
This is what regulation is really about. It isn’t a way of protecting the hapless consumer from the ravages of a free market, but is rather a tool of corporate power that forms entry barriers and enforces particular dichotomies of ownership and organisation in an economy. Capitalism becomes a system of patronage, where corporations gain favour due to their money and power, which itself comes from the state in the first place. As Paul notes “the rich are more than happy to secure for themselves a share of the loot – for example, in the form of subsidised low-interest loans…bailouts when their risky loans go sour, or regulatory schemes that hurt their smaller competitors”. Rifkin shows a similar process, describing how “the critical industries that made up the infrastructure…banded together in a mega lobby to ensure…financial underwriting, as well as industry-friendly codes, regulations, and standards to ensure market success”.
The regulatory apparatuses also have the effect of distorting economies of scale, decoupling supply from demand and favouring largesse in business and ownership models. Thus we see the development of high overhead costs which restrict market entry to best capitalised of entrepreneurs. By limiting competition, we see perverse operations occurring that favour the interests of business over the worker and consumer. Thus things like planned obsolescence, guaranteed markets and a continuation of private gain and socialised loss. As had been noted by Childs, private cartels were difficult to maintain. Even the rail trusts, themselves built in contrived, government-produced markets, were ravaged by competition from smaller rail providers that favoured more local economies of scale. So these corporations looked to the government, who enshrined their demands into acts and legislation which created cartels that were much more easily enforced. We just need to look where wage laws, licensure laws and planning/zoning laws are coming from and who lobbies for them. Invariably its dome by corporations and their lobbying arms. We also forms of legal privilege, as in the case of limited liability and corporate personhood, which are really only accessible with very high capital costs and a developed shareholder clientele. These systems are purely artificial, and whether they would work voluntarily is not the question. Rather it is, if they are efficient, why do they need the government to provide these privileges and apparatuses. The answer is simple, they aren’t efficient.
Even when there are laws supposedly to ameliorate the effects of marketisation, as in the case of welfare and government-provided services, they are usually built on the back of resilient communities who developed their own systems, and usually end up allowing employers to pay subpar wages and benefits and lessen the strength of community relations. It builds layers onto a poor foundation. Or to put it another way, the corporate-state nexus is putting a cinderblock on toothpicks. Bureaucrats don’t fully understand the problem with this but realise it is unstable. So to stabilise it, they put more toothpicks under the cinderblock, thinking it will stabilise. However, the system is inherently unstable and propping it up denies the inevitable.
This assurance of market success shows that under a truly free market they wouldn’t exist, or if they did it would be on a much smaller scale. The regulatory web is just another power dynamic that allows for capture and control. To describe this as a free market is laughable. These processes are completely involuntary, reliant on extortion through taxation and allow for the redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich and privileged.
The Money Monopoly
While regulation, which “far from coming against the wishes of the regulated interests, was openly welcomed by them in nearly every case”, is an important part of the corporate state, the original four legal monopolies (as identified by Tucker), money, land, tariffs and patents, allowed for the development of rent-seeking corporations. These four monopolies, or as I see them structural monopolies as they create the structure of the socio-economic paradigm, are fundamentals of capitalism.
The money monopoly allows for the restriction of credit and the development of debt-based models that destroy stores of value and make individuals slaves to the desires of governments and banks through modern forms of debt peonage. As Dowd notes, over the 20th century “the US dollar has lost almost 85 per cent of its purchasing power even by official government statistics; for its part, sterling has lost 98 per cent of its value over the last century”. The restriction of credit coupled with the inflationary tendencies of modern fiat currencies mean the poorest are effectively forced into wage labour, as they rely on pitiable increases in nominal wages and are unable to gain any real credit for self-employment or collective worker-owned enterprises. What happens is a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest. Long shows that “inflationary monetary policies on the part of central banks also tend to benefit those businesses that receive the inflated money first in the form of loans and investments, when they are still facing the old, lower prices”. The pre-inflation money allows investors and banks to capitalise on new production and investment while the poorer elements of a society receive minimal benefits as the inflationary course makes its run, with prices rising and wages following later.
This also leads to massive levels of debt found currently throughout the globe, as credit instruments are used to make up for stagnant wages that can’t afford increasing land prices and subsequently rent prices, as well as an increase in the price of consumer goods that are a significant chunk of working people’s wages. The process of rent extraction via high interest rates follows from this, as “the money monopoly also includes entry barriers against cooperative banks and prohibitions against private issuance of banknotes, by which access to finance capital is restricted and interest rates are kept artificially high”. Carson notes further that the elimination of controlled interest rates would lead to “significant numbers (of workers) retiring in their forties or fifties, cutting back to part-time, or starting businesses; with jobs competing for workers, the effect on bargaining power would be revolutionary”. The current banking system leads to the necessitation of wage labour through restricted credit dissemination and debt-based forms of finance.
The Land Monopoly
The land monopoly is another lynchpin of capitalism. Most modern land is either nationalised or corporatised through state structures, leading to massive land centralisation and the process of land expropriation that is visible in much of the Third World. Alternative land arrangements, such as those organised by tribes and local networks, are swallowed up in this process. Many commons regimes that have existed for centuries are being eliminated in favour of the interests of capital. This process of enclosure of common lands began at “the end of the Medieval Age, when royal and feudal landowners began to enclose common lands, especially in Tudor England and Trastamara Spain. Through legal and political manoeuvres, wealthy landowners marked and hedged off sections of the commons for their own profits, impoverishing many villagers and ultimately destroying their communitarian way of life”. The enclosures have continued into the 20th century, where “common lands have suffered a third, global wave of commodification and enclosure, ‘land grabbing’ spurred by the dominant neoliberal doctrine and competition for non-renewable natural resources and supported now by the evolutionary theory of land rights”. The modern enclosures of land occur most noticeably in Africa and South America. We see the elimination of common land owned by native tribes and the raping of natural resources. The Niger Delta and its oil reserves show this acutely, with oil spills being common and almost no compensation to the farmers and workers who rely on the Delta for their livelihoods.
In effect this is a process of neo-colonialism pushed through via the Washington Consensus that is epitomised in international groups like the IMF and WTO. The plight of Bangladeshi workers is caused by this problem of neocolonial practices. In Bangladesh “wealthy and influential people have encroached on public lands…, often with help of officials in land-administration and management departments” which has led to a result of “Many of the rural poor in Bangladesh are landless, have only small plots of land, are depending on tenancy, or sharecropping”. What follows is a continuation of the development of a landless mass of cheap labour as a result of the nationalisation and corporatisation of land.
Then there are planning and zoning laws and property laws which act as a form of implicit land nationalisation in many Western countries. Among their many effects, they artificially inflate land prices which have a knock on effect of making housing unaffordable and making the purchase of land extremely difficult for small businesses. This further encourages the process of rentierism and indebtedness as individuals have to get out mortgages or rent accommodation, and individuals looking to start a business are priced out, thus favouring large corporations. If you want to self-build a home or business, it becomes impossible. Instead a series of state-favoured land developers are able to land bank and rent out at extortionate rates. They aren’t subject to competition and making new land isn’t possible, so you create a system of patronage and favouritism, simply adding to the enforced necessitation of wage labour.
These processes of land appropriation lead to the development of land speculation via government-favoured industries, creating artificially high land prices which price out small businesses, community groups and anyone who isn’t able seek rent from the state. This speculation also fuels boom-bust cycles, with much of the credit used by investors and businesses being put into the easy investments of land and housing. This creates economic bubbles through the wide diffusion of mortgages and an increase in house and infrastructure building that isn’t necessarily needed. In London, we see this playing out with high-price apartments and high-rises that don’t address the needs of the wider population and are fuelled, at least partially, via QE-induced credit. The development of a rentier society occurs. With land prices held artificially high, rich landowners are able to rent out their properties at high prices, creating economic precarity and stimulating the larger wage labour monopoly that is caused by a combination of this monopoly and the money monopoly.
The Larger Wage Labour Monopoly
As previously mentioned, credit is restricted thus funding options are limited for workers. Add to this high land prices, and the ability to buy a house or develop a business are severely restricted, developing the large pool of wage labour seen today. This obviously favours large-scale employers such as corporations who are able develop to their current size due to this wage labour monopoly. It leads to a means of surplus value, or rent, extraction. As Solow notes “one important reason for the failure of real wages to keep up with productivity is that the division of rent in industry has been shifting against the labor side for several decades”.
Alongside the two monopolies, the increase in precarious wage labour is compounded by the restriction of collective action and the development of monopolist unions that complement the centralised economic actors. The legislation governing strikes and the ability to make a union add to this problem, making it difficult for freelance workers to unionise and stopping the development of radical trade unions and company unions. Thatcher’s trade union reforms in the UK created such a problem as the majority of private sector unions are part of the corporate system of economic centralisation. The final nail in the coffin is the minimum wage. This creates a wage ceiling and simply allows corporations to price smaller competitors out of the market while subsequently limiting the hours and benefits workers receive. As most minimum wages aren’t enough to live on, many workers rely on debt-based credit which pushes individuals further into wage labour, creating debt-led wage slavery and maintaining a massive, centralising economic monopoly on the choice of workers.
As Solow explains, in the US “in the past 10 years productivity has increased 12.3 percent in the non-farm business sector of our economy while real compensation of labor has increased by only 5.1 percent”. So what we see is a form of surplus value extraction, whereby the excess product of labour is captured by the interests of capital and removed from the compensation of labour. This can’t simply be explained away by using the marginalist critique. The value of a product is at least partially informed by its labour input. Marshall’s analysis shows that “price was determined, at any given time, by the balance between the demand and supply that actually existed at that moment. As the time factor came into play…price approached closer and closer to cost” thus showing that the equilibrium of supply to demand moves from subjective criteria of value toward the input of labour in that value. Again looking at Solow’s productivity figures, the compensation of labour isn’t in proportion to production.
Hodgskin’s idea of a market artificially privileged with rents, profits and interest becomes a reality in the modern context. The increase in freelancing and labour market individuation means the expropriation of rent and the limitation of choice, particularly as unions are simply a representation of the corporate interest, particularly since the Wagner Act in America and the trade union reforms in Britain. The individualisation of labour serves to increase these artificial privileges, meaning can be paid less and thus become more reliant on debt instruments such as mortgages and credit cards to simply earn a living and have a roof over their head. This system is even more acute in the Global South, with the restriction of choice via the structural monopolies being almost explicitly enforced via the government as land in enclosed and regulations used to restrict microeconomic activity that doesn’t serve the interests of global value chains. Their human capital is monopolised, wages restricted, collective action completely banned and working conditions extremely poor. The main profit garnered from this is simply the mark-up created by internal tariffs and intellectual property (to be discussed later in this paper), which limits domestic market production and serves only the interests of capital and big business, as both the workers and consumers are given low wages and higher prices respectively.
What happens then is the construction of a monopsony situation in wages and labour, where the product of labour isn’t adequately paid, becoming widespread due to companies paying below this level. This is compounded by wage laws favoured by corporate interests, and an inability for the worker to capture this value through collective bargaining or through the means of owning one’s productive capacities due to market entry barriers that restrict self-employment and worker or community ownership. It constrains the real choice of workers and puts the power dynamics upon employers and bureaucrats.
The next two monopolies that Tucker highlighted further the centralisation of economic power toward corporations. Tariffs are simply a form of direct state intervention to favour domestic industry over foreign competitors. There are arguments favourable to this position, such as those by List and Chang. However, there is a significant time limit on the ability of tariffs to produce any sort of growth (usually artificially induced by state policies), and eventually many of the protected industries become bloated and begin to rely on further government subsidy.
The use of tariffs today is much more limited than it was during the mercantile years of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, one area where tariffs are still largely used is modern agriculture in the West, particularly the US and the EU. The Farm Bill in the US creates price distortions within food markets that favours large agribusiness over small, family farms. As Reitzig explains “the farm bill perpetuates the myth of cheap food. It subsidizes Big Ag so that BA can sell its food to the market cheap and you find it at the grocery store for less than you’d pay for it from your local farmer”. However as “it costs the small local farmer about the same to produce the same food as the Big Ag farmer”, all the Farm Bill does is redistribute tax money toward large agricultural firms. The economies of scale thus get changed, with farmers forced into retail sector bulk sell offs that are increasingly inefficient and perpetuate the agricultural tariffs and subsidies.
There also forms of internal tariffs that protect large industry through direct subsidisation. For example “between 1973 and 2003, the US government paid out $74 billion in energy subsidies to promote R&D in fossil fuels and nuclear power”. This was despite these companies having huge profit margins, which shows the actual profitability of these industries. They are reliant on institutions of theft to simply develop critical infrastructure as a result of their internal unproductiveness and their falling foul of the economic calculation problem. It creates a system of perverse incentives as these firms aren’t induced to work and develop in smarter, cleaner ways and instead produce the same limited output. This is corporatism at its finest, with government purposefully favouring large firms over small firms, and thus encouraging wasteful practices. Returning to farming, the EU holds similar policies, which in many ways restrict crop diversification and mean that certain farmers are favoured over others. This leads to artificially low prices which allows for retail monopolisation due to farmers being unable to sell their own product due to EU regulations which create this system. It is a continuation of the obstinate incentives that leads to overproduction, false demand and the entrenchment of economic disadvantages and inefficiencies.
Patents act in a similar way. They privilege large businesses in rigged markets and allow for centralisation and monopolisation. “The patent privilege has been used on a massive scale to promote concentration of capital, erect entry barriers, and maintain a monopoly of advanced technology in the hands of western corporations. It is hard even to imagine how much more decentralized the economy would be without it”. Patents act to lock up innovation in a legal quagmire. It puts new technology into the hands of capital, limiting its distribution and creating a rentier system, where the privilege to use new technology and even knowledge is commodified by large corporations in collusion with the state.
This inability to access new technologies and knowledge creates a form of entry barrier, with smaller competitors being unable to afford this access. Most modern tech companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft) are in effect monopolists of knowledge and technology, limiting its accessibility and collecting the rent they charge on these products. Their market position becomes entrenched with restrictive data laws and copyrights that mean the passage of information is blocked by virtual, artificial toll gates that wouldn’t exist if not for coercive legislation.
Then there is the direct government subsidisation of research and development (R&D) spending that allows for large companies to reap “monopoly profits from technology it didn’t spend a penny to develop”. Modern tech companies then are not only monopolists of patented of knowledge but also rentiers of technology they had no real part in developing. So while small inventors and start ups toil away trying to create a product that can only be sold on a rigged market, large firms benefit purely because of their power and the revolving door of government benefaction. Similar processes occur in military-based R&D spending, where corporations are given large grants and procurement contracts to develop military hardware and weaponry that on a freed market would not even necessarily be required by any customer or business. As Chomsky notes, in the US “the Pentagon system has long been the country’s biggest welfare program, transferring massive public funds to high-tech industry on the pretext of defense and security”. These companies’ profits and growth are not then created in a market mechanism of competition and demand-led supply, but rather in a bubble of government-led protection, where they ride on the coattails of stolen innovation and forms of theft AKA patents and taxation respectively. “If they had to face the market, they’d be out selling rags or something, but they need a nanny state, a powerful nanny state to pour money into their pockets”.
Further, this process of patenting becomes a pure form of commodification as they remove products and ideas from their cultural origins. For example, the Human Genome Diversity Project used DNA from certain indigenous tribes in Central and South America. Some of this DNA was patented, and thus removed from the culture it came from without any sort of compensation by the HGDP and the beneficiaries of this knowledge. Biocolonialism and biopiracy are the best terms for this occurrence. By extracting culturally sensitive information and knowledge, a process of commodification occurs, and the whole concept of property, that of the sovereign ownership of the individual or collective, becomes redundant. Further the innovative capacities that supposedly come from intellectual property are limited if not completely negative. In fact the information that was patented was found to be 30% less innovative than the information released for full public use.
This analysis is backed by evidence from Scherer, who showed “a survey of 91 companies in which only seven ‘accorded high significance to patent protection as a factor in their R & D investments.’ Most of them described patents as “the least important of considerations.’ Most companies considered their chief motivation in R & D decisions to be ‘the necessity of remaining competitive, the desire for efficient production, and the desire to expand and diversify their sales”. Thus patents and intellectual property “eliminate ‘the competitive spur for further research’ because incremental innovation based on others’ patents is prohibited, and because the holder can ‘rest on his laurels for the entire period of the patent.’ with no fear of a competitor improving his invention”.
The fifth monopoly, transport subsidies, is one that has been identified by Carson. As Carson describes, “spending on transportation and communications networks from general revenues, rather than from taxes and user fees, allows big business to ‘externalize its costs’ on the public, and conceal its true operating expenses”. These transportation subsidies allow for the development of large business operations, particularly in the retail and manufacturing sectors. By subsidising the movement of goods by heavy duty vehicles, it means they are given a state-based competitive advantage against smaller, local competitors.
Companies like Wal-Mart and Tesco are able to price their goods artificially cheaply as a result of not adding the transportation costs. Many of these companies actively lobbied for such infrastructure projects. When the interstate system was being built, it “had both an immediate stimulus effect on the industries that participated…oil companies, general contractors, cement manufacturers, steel companies…were among the dozens of industries involved in the building of the great interstate highway system” showing the degree of corporate-state cooperation. It was because these infrastructure projects benefitted their products and models that they lobbied for them.
Of course Carson’s view of this quite US-centric. In much of Europe, particularly the UK, we see other regulations that create a very different kind of transport subsidy. While these nations do subsidise transport via taxation to pay for roads rather than using user fees or road pricing, they also have high fuel duties and regulation on forms of transport, such as regulations on truck design and usage. The fuel duties act as a subsidy in the sense that they destroy small transport firms and simply monopolise the transport industry as only larger companies can afford the higher prices. The forms of regulation mentioned mean that innovation into new vehicle design and competition between firms is limited and simply continues the dominance of particular transport and production companies that aren’t subject to market competition. Thus what we see are two different types of transport subsidies that both act to continue the current economic paradigm.
These subsidies serve to amplify economies of scale, creating national and international markets largely in the control of corporate interests. These large markets create systems of disequilibrium, with monopoly interests being able to develop oligopoly markets from which rents can be extracted. A modern example of this is the creation of HS2 in the UK. It serves as a vanity project for political and bureaucratic elites, who can gain well-paying jobs as political advisors and construction directors. It also allows for the continuation of the North-South divide, with large London-centric firms sucking out talent from the North and Midlands, at little expense to themselves. As Wellings describes it, it’s an example of externalised costs and internalised benefits, with vested interests serving to gain. Economies of scale are created artificially, with competition in local markets suffering due to a project only favourable to London-based businesses. Local economies of scale, which are more natural and more open to individual considerations and supply and demand, are priced out by government intervention. Local transport projects, like roads linking market towns and local rail infrastructure, are ignored due to a lack of political prestige for politicians and their donors and lobbyists.
Road and rail subsidised by the state leads to the current economies of scale that favour large, centralised business entities. It also prices out and discourages private infrastructure projects that could actually make an economic difference by increasing competition and lowering prices, while maintaining local economies of scale which benefit large swathes of areas that currently don’t benefit from the subsidised corporate model. These three monopolies further the wage labour monopoly, by erecting entry barriers against small business and self-employment and by creating feudalistic patent regimes and transport systems that create favourable economies of scale. National markets serve larger companies and hierarchical organisation, and international markets continue to serve and enlarge this. It pushes real costs onto the consumer/taxpayer, and further creates illegitimate profits taken from oligopoly markets.
The Corporate Infrastructure
This wage labour monopoly, with the five structural monopolies feeding it, is the basis of the modern corporate dominated economy. As a result, modern corporations act as oppressive actors on the world stage, using wage slaves and forms of indebtedness to develop the massive growth seen in the 20th and 21st centuries. As Carson states “in a very real sense, every subsidy and privilege described above is a form of slavery. Slavery, simply put, is the use of coercion to live off of someone else’s labor. For example, consider the worker who pays $300 a month for a drug under patent, that would cost $30 in a free market. If he is paid $15 an hour, the eighteen hours he works every month to pay the difference are slavery. Every hour worked to pay usury on a credit card or mortgage is slavery. The hours worked to pay unnecessary distribution and marketing costs (comprising half of retail prices), because of subsidies to economic centralization, is slavery. Every additional hour someone works to meet his basic needs, because the state tilts the field in favor of the bosses and forces him to sell his labor for less than it is worth, is slavery”.
Then there is the system of incentives created by this corporate-state monopoly. Infrastructures are developed that maintain the inefficiencies. Rifkin’s analysis of a series of Industrial Revolutions shows this to be the case. The Second Industrial Revolution, the current economic system we live in according to Rifkin, is reliant on state-invested infrastructure and subsidisation. The subsidisation of natural capital is one example of this. Roberts shows that “the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP”. The term natural capital is obviously a broad, all-encompassing term. The specifics are those of the production of pollutants that is subsidised by specific tax breaks and forms of limited liability. These follow from elements of the land monopoly which means pollution becomes an externalised cost upon taxpayers, furthering the inefficiencies of a particular economic paradigm, which Rifkin calls the Second Industrial Revolution but what I would call capitalism.
The maintenance of this system means most companies that are reliant on fossil fuels and the energy and transport infrastructures that follow from them have no incentive to divest into new market ventures, but instead have an interest in resource and capital accumulation. It creates ‘revolving door’ government, where lobbyists persist in convincing policy makers for subsidies here and tax breaks there all the while relying on the rent extraction they gain from state intervention.
This process within resource extraction and energy use is more widely seen in the general production processes of capitalism. The levels of overproduction and continued consumption are fed by the structural monopolies, as well as justifying the wage labour monopoly. To fund the levels of consumption needed to continue production means people are put into a paradigm of working longer to buy more things to enjoy. Its paradoxical as you spend more time at work, thus limiting the amount of time you have to actually enjoy consumer goods. Further, as goods become more expensive due to increasing cost mark-ups and inflationary policies, and housing prices and rents go up due to land speculation and monopoly ownership, more people become reliant on debt instruments to fund their everyday lives and their increasing consumer spending. This has created a precipitous debt bubble as Steve Keen’s work has shown. It has also meant that much of the current growth seen since the Great Recession has been on the back of consumer spending, as Blanchflower has documented.
Incentives are created which lead to increasing, unnatural growth and increasing levels of debt. In particular, levels of corporate debt have skyrocketed during the recession of 2008. This is due to systemic overproduction and waste that has developed due to mass production systems used by most multinationals. The structural subsidies create this system where large production facilities with forms of guaranteed profit are needed for massive market areas, usually on a national or international level. Carson has pointed out that modern markets are hardly an example of spontaneous order and aren’t reliant on supply and demand. Rather the system is reliant on a system of planning, with codified relations between suppliers and distributors and systems of guaranteed consumption through external market control in the form of internal sales tariffs and the financialisation of the economy.
Internal sales tariffs limit what stores/areas products can be sold in, and are only viable as a result of intellectual property regimes that allow for increased costs and a further disconnect between production and consumption. Financialisation on the other hand simply maintains the production systems as well as processes of commodification. It makes corporate debt a commodity, and puts value into meaningless products, which allows for more accumulation and overproduction as business isn’t rewarded for genuine wealth production and creation, which comes from artificial processes, but is rewarded rather by debt financialisation, unsustainable growth in bureaucracy and the continued expropriation of surplus value, or human capital. This also represents a commodification process, as the social relation of debt, as identified by Graeber and Martin, is put into an economistic context, with debt serving the purposes of profit and capital. The debt relationship, that’s shaped by community relations and gift-giving and receiving, is taken as a value of capital. And this debt is allowed to build up and shape other economic activity. Consumer purchase after consumer purchase represents this. It is encouraged, and when it slows the government takes over and funds through quantitative easing programs, allowing for the construction of bigger, more complex bubbles. It shows that corporation and government are two sides of the same coin.
We have to remember that as much as governments, corporations are just as likely to be effected by the knowledge problem. To get around, every relationship and process is effectively planned. Business to business relations, as seen in distribution and supply chains, are maintained for decades by large manufacturers so as to continue guaranteed buyers of their products. In other cases, the supply and warehousing operations are subsumed by the manufacturer, owning every process from production to sale. Global value chains are an outgrowth of this hierarchalised control and planning, with much of their success being guaranteed by government. It is dictatorial governments in the Global South (who usually have the backing of the US government and its interests) that ban collective action among labourers through extraordinarily harsh measures, it is trade agreements with their backing by Western governments that maintain artificial property rights such as patents and it is government that externalises the cost of global transportation of these goods onto the taxpayer, thus distorting economies of scale to favour the large corporations and forms of state-corporate economic planning. In other words, the commodification and Sovietisation of the economy.
Culture Under Capitalism
A paradigm that enforces this economic hierarchy is created, where life is work and your main identity is around the soul-crushing job you inhabit. Social relations are commodified and local economic activity is strangled. The whole idea of community in the 21st century is being replaced by a centralised state and economic activity that has no interest in that community, but is inward looking, determining profit margins rather building strong societal relations. The ability to escape this paradigm is extremely limited by the coercive hand of the state. It restricts collective organising, eliminates common and private property and develops extremely insufficient systems of economic organisation.
What we’ve seen is the disembedding of markets from their cultural and social origins. Relations of debt and consumption, which were as much in political institutions and based around social relations, have been expropriated by capital. Thus instead of markets forming one of many different idea of economic organisation of which it could complement, we see the neoliberal discourse of praising markets and even seeing marketisation in what have been social relations up to this day. Thus public services such as health and energy are wrapped in discourses of competition and corporate ownership. However, markets aren’t actually like this. If we look to genuinely free markets, which are few and far between, we don’t see large production and corporate ownership. Instead we see markets crafted around local institutions and genuine demand for certain goods and services. Ownership is much more decentralised. However, due to government-based price and scale distortions, culture and its institutions are brought into the marketised economy, creating the marketised society.
It leads to the development of modern consumerism, creating warped identities based around products. It kills culture and intelligence in favour of an advertised individual. Carson shows that “mass production divorces production from consumption. The rate of production is driven by the imperative of keeping the machines running at full capacity so as to minimize unit costs, rather than by customer orders. So in addition to contractual control of inputs, mass-production industry faces the imperative of guaranteeing consumption of its output by managing the consumer”. The consumer is separated from the producer. Mass production means a consumer culture. Rather than supply meeting demand, demand is made to compensate for oversupply. It also creates forms of consumer inequality that mean Third World workers have almost no access to the products they help produce. The development of domestic markets in consumer goods is massively restricted via patents and tariffs.
Within the Western world there is similar consumer inequality, with a creation of an underclass who desire consumer goods that their limited wages can hardly afford. Bauman’s analysis of the London Riots in 2011 saw an element of this consumer yearning, with products like high-end trainers and flat-screen TVs being taken. Bauman notes that “from cradle to coffin we are trained and drilled to treat shops as pharmacies filled with drugs to cure or at least mitigate all illnesses and afflictions of our lives and lives in common. Shops and shopping acquire thereby a fully and truly eschatological dimension”. The cultural backwater caused by modern consumerism creates a form of stigmatisation and symbol status, with haves and have nots developing into distinct classes in a consumer culture. As Bauman states “for defective consumers, those contemporary have-nots, non-shopping is the jarring and festering stigma of a life un-fulfilled – and of own nonentity and good-for-nothingness. Not just the absence of pleasure: absence of human dignity. Of life meaning”.
The processes of commodification amplify this systemic crisis. The divorcing of production from consumption leads to the most atomistic forms of individualism. It becomes a process of overconsumption and hoarding, without any appreciation of the product development. Cultural and societal obligations and considerations get uprooted by what is wanted and what can be bought. It puts value squarely into the hands of capital, with the determination of worth being decided in social hierarchies that follow from the enforced economic hierarchies of modern capitalism. It is a symptom of the false choice of employment or death, of work creating one’s value in life and of a market shaped not by workers, communities and cultures but by the interests capital and the state that props it up.
This system is massively unsustainable, and becomes more and more reliant on tax revenues to make it profitable. The price system becomes distorted, encouraging the mass production that “leads to ever-increasing demands on state services”. This then shows the inefficiency of large corporations. They are as much subject to the economic calculation problem as the state. Their reliance on the theft of individual income via the taxation system means in anarchist society they are completely unviable. As a system of economic organisation “capitalism could not have survived at any point in its history without state intervention. Coercive state measures at every step have denied workers access to capital, forced them to sell their labor in a buyer’s market, and protected the centers of economic power from the dangers of the free market”.
In systems of anarchy, there would be an end to corporate dominance due to their inability to seek state rent and thus collapsing in their inefficiencies. As noted by Carson, there were two paths that could have been taken to organise industry and the economy. The one that was followed was “centralized production using expensive, product-specific machinery in large batches on a supply-push basis”. However a better system was possible. One of “decentralized production for local markets, integrating general-purpose machinery into craft production and governed on a demand-pull basis with short production runs and frequent shifts between product lines”. This would have required localised industry, networked communities and what Rifkin calls lateral, distributional, collaborative markets. Workers would be independent of capital, and have an ability to take back their surplus value. It would involve voluntary governance structures and self-organised communities. It would be an end to the corporate-state nexus.
By having this centralised system, we open the floodgates to the continuation of boom-bust cycles through monopoly government control. Since the delinking of production from consumption, there has been a development of mass production and the apparatuses that prop it up. Marx noted this particular phenomenon, with “the birth of large-scale industry this true proportion had to come to an end, and production is inevitably compelled to pass in continuous succession through vicissitudes of prosperity, depression, crisis, stagnation, renewed prosperity, and so on”. This process in the end favours the capitalists. It destroys real value in an economy and allows for more government involvement. Further, it leads to capital accumulation through government subsidisation and the monopoly position many modern corporations hold within their respective markets.
It’s a process of artificial wealth accumulation and creation, backed by the five monopolies previously mentioned. High land prices, restrictive credit access and the use of interest rates to effectively distort the value of currency, the use of market entry barriers through regulations and patents and the use of transport subsidies all favour the main monopoly, that of wage labour. Because of the diminishing returns that many of these companies are finding, they are becoming increasingly reliant on the extraction of surplus value from their workers. As mentioned earlier, wage laws allow them to eliminate smaller competitors and the development of varied, precarious work contracts mean a diversification of their workforce, which allows them to reduce hours paid and thus reduce their labour costs. However, the compensation of a worker’s product isn’t necessarily met. Thus the accruing of capital simply means the extraction of rent from workers, which is enforced by the limitation of worker’s to pool their labour value and capital and develop their own industry in a truly free market.
Government is the glue which holds capitalism together. Without it, the economies of scale, the appropriation and centralisation of land and the distortion of inputs and outputs would be impossible. Without a central bank, the destructive tax of inflation wouldn’t be feasible in a competitive currency market. The redistribution of wealth and malinvestment couldn’t occur on the same scale as markets would act as a corrective against these activities. The use of tariffs and patents to lock up technology and create artificial wealth couldn’t happen without the state’s coercive power. Economic organisation is a fluid concept, that changes from place to place and people to people. What is right for one community or tribe is not what is necessarily right for another. A freed market would reflect this, as it would embed markets in pre-existing cultural/social structures and stop the developments of commodification and neo-colonialism that persist presently. This is a world free of state-action and corporate control. This is anarchism.
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Categories: Economics/Class Relations