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In These Times - September 9, 2020

"Cap­i­tal­ism forces us into a spi­ral of accu­mu­la­tion for the sake of accu­mu­la­tion. Planned devel­op­ment to improve the qual­i­ty of life for the vast major­i­ty of human­i­ty on the basis of sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion and plan­ning is its polar oppo­site. That is the vision of a social­ist soci­ety..."

The fol­low­ing is an excerpt from A People’s Guide to Cap­i­tal­ism: An Intro­duc­tion to Marx­ist Eco­nom­ics (Hay­mar­ket Books, August 2020).

Com­pe­ti­tion is the beat­ing heart of cap­i­tal­ism. Mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion acts as a dis­ci­pling force, which com­pels cap­i­tal­ists to con­stant­ly ​“accu­mu­late”: to trans­form prof­its into fur­ther investments.

It isn’t the case that each cap­i­tal­ist wants to make a greater prof­it than his neigh­bor so that he’ll feel him­self a big­ger man (though it’s true that most cap­i­tal­ists are men). Nor is the dri­ve for prof­it dri­ven by his insa­tiable thirst for more lux­u­ries. Rather, he des­per­ate­ly needs to accu­mu­late more cap­i­tal in order to get hold of the lat­est, most effi­cient, labor­sav­ing automa­tion. The big­ger the prof­it of an indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ist, the more quick­ly he’ll be able to invest in these tech­nolo­gies, ahead of his com­peti­tors. In the words of Dell Com­put­ers founder and CEO, Michael Dell, cor­po­ra­tions must ​“grow or die.”

As Friedrich Engels explained:

We have seen that the per­fectibil­i­ty of mod­ern machin­ery, devel­oped to the high­est degree, becomes trans­formed by means of the anar­chy of pro­duc­tion in soci­ety into a com­pul­so­ry law for the indi­vid­ual indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ist con­stant­ly to improve his machin­ery, con­stant­ly to increase its pro­duc­tive pow­er. The bare fac­tu­al pos­si­bil­i­ty of extend­ing his sphere of pro­duc­tion, becomes trans­formed, for him, into a sim­i­lar com­pul­so­ry law. The enor­mous expan­sive force of mod­ern indus­try, in com­par­i­son with which that of gas­es is ver­i­ta­ble child’s play, appears now before our eyes as a qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive need to expand which laughs at all resistance.

In the auto indus­try, for instance, the aver­age time between redesigns of new mod­els is five years. Auto­mo­bile tech­nol­o­gy for elec­tric motors, mul­ti­speed auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sions, bat­tery pow­er, and engine pow­er is con­tin­u­al­ly updat­ed to pro­vide ​“more car for your mon­ey.” If a car com­pa­ny comes out with a new vehi­cle that does not sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve upon old­er mod­els, it will spend those years between redesigns los­ing mar­ket share until it can pro­duce a new model.

Read full excerpt at In These Times