There is one achievement the capitalist mode of production can count on making a good impression with, or at least commanding respect: unstoppable technological progress, seen in all kinds of consumer goods along with the means for producing them. It is popularly illustrated by sophisticated equipment in fashion at the moment. On suitable occasions it is measured in the few hours and minutes of working time required for producing a certain product nowadays as compared with the past. “Downsides” are not ignored: the oversized “footprint” left by the consumption of resources, destruction of the environment, loss of jobs due to “rationalization” — all this is recognized as problematic. But “rationalization” is still called by that name; and the solution of choice for the excessive load on “nature” is considered to be — alongside a personal willingness to do without things — more technological progress. Yet it is quite clear that neither free choice nor rationality is the reason for the unstoppable technological progress the capitalist mode of production impresses with. It is caused by a practical constraint that industrialists actually create for themselves.
In the market economy, growth is an officially and quite generally recognized necessity. It is taken for granted that the growth of the economy is the precondition for prosperity; when growth slows down or actually stops altogether, there is a risk of want and need. Those who warn that continuous economic growth is an absurdity go more or less unheard in the culture section. Critics who maintain that a growth geared solely to immediate economic performance is too narrow a focus for society’s well-being and who call for broader criteria and values to be included are suspected of being anti-consumerist or anti-progress, or accused of ultimately having no idea of human nature and inherent human needs. Even the most sober reference to “natural limits of growth” will face the accusation of being divorced from reality. And indeed it is — reality being that those in charge of business definitely do not know or recognize any ‘natural limit’ that could thwart the economic purpose that is in effect and being practiced: a market economy needs growth. The only question is why? Where does this absolute necessity come from?
Those who run businesses are said to have certain tasks, expected to achieve this and that, and sometimes accused of neglecting their duties. However, the members of this profession don’t perform any of the positive or negative functions attributed to them unless they do their job. And that is to increase the wealth at their disposal — regardless of whether a nation’s public credits them with creating jobs or blames them for destroying jobs, whether public opinion says they are protecting the environment or damaging it, contributing to growth or jeopardizing it…
In our articles on the financial crisis and the concept of finance capital, we have written down a few basic determinations of the extensive business that finance capital undertakes beyond providing agriculture and industry with loan capital. We ourselves sorted out in our own minds, and challenged our readers with insights like the following: that the securities trade brings about a unique sort and magnitude of growth (that always but only gets called a “bubble” when something goes wrong); that, in the process, finance capital gains manifold responsibilities in the “real economy,” but its profits are not paid out of surplus value; that its economic position is the basis for its extraordinary power to decide with its own successes and failures the weal and woe of all the interests and efforts that make up the charm of the market economy, etc. The fact of the matter is that the finance trade accumulates securitized, tradable legal claims to proceeds that could never possibly be paid out of the production of surplus value — from which it obviously follows that this is not what securities are all about. It is also a fact that the widespread devaluation of such claims places the entire money economy in danger, which is therefore averted with massive guarantees of value by the political authorities on their own account, which even calls their own guarantee power into question — an all-too-obvious indication that these peculiar objects of value are not actually uncovered and “ultimately” no more than empty claims, but rather the “core” of wealth in a market economy, which cannot be allowed to suffer a “meltdown” (as experts like to express it using terms from an ultimate ‘maximal credible accident’ in the nuclear industry). Finally, it is also a fact that, since the beginning of the crisis, economic experts have been bombarding the public with information about the design of securities, and assessments of the significance and dangers of repeatedly repackaging them, which doesn’t explain anything . So we have concluded that we should counter all this useless information with an explanation of the political economy of the financial sector.
Noam Chomsky is a rare bird indeed. On the one hand, he is an established intellectual, a member of the respected academic elite; on the other hand, he is a world-famous, radical leftist critic — especially of the U.S. On the one hand, he is a professed anarchist and socialist whose critical views lie far outside the mainstream, having nothing to do with the typically constructive proposals usually offered to business and the state. On the other hand, he insists that his anarchist and “libertarian socialist” views are anything but extreme, but rather merely express the natural desire of all mankind: the desire for freedom. Chomsky regards himself as part of an intellectual tradition that is as humanistic as Europe and as American as apple pie, a tradition that includes intellectual luminaries such as Humboldt, Schelling, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Jefferson, J.J. Rousseau or Michael Bakunin. For Chomsky, regardless of the theoretical and practical disputes between these thinkers, as ardent advocates of freedom they agree on the most important point of all: “‘Man is in his essence a free, searching, self-perfecting being…’ [whose] true end [consists in] the full harmonious development of human potential in its richest diversity.”
If Marx and Engels’ old agitational publication had not turned 150 years old this year, nobody would give a hoot about it. But the critical intellects of free public opinion simply couldn’t resist the fascination of the big round number : a look back was in order, along with a critical assessment of the early work of the “founders of communism.” Their late effects are of course deplored more than ever: since the Soviet power disbanded, its system is increasingly regarded only as a crime. But westerners, as the victors of history, can now find something interesting that until recently they felt threatened by and therefore had to take more seriously than they would have liked.
It is well known that in this world “competition prevails”; it is ubiquitous as the principle of the way people deal with each other and as an imperative, anonymous law shaping the behavior of modern individuals.
Politicians show their respect for this fact when providing their citizens with equal opportunities, whether in education or in the economic world, where an antitrust law and an antitrust office make sure that the power of money is competed for properly. But they also do so when they decree reforms to the nation they govern and justify them as a service to their business location, which is facing the challenge presented by other business locations. And they do so especially in all their decisions aimed at security — i.e., in the questions that states and their leadership are so intent on because they face a trial of strength that must be won with the will and ability to use force.
In the economy, which sees to the production and distribution of wealth — not only within nationally delimited societies but, in the age of globalization, all over the world — there is nothing at all that the people in charge do without regard for competition. Setting prices and wages, calculating costs and surpluses, creating and eliminating jobs, introducing new production methods — in short, all aspects of investing are both reactions to the course of competition and actions aimed at succeeding in the contest of businessmen and business spheres. Businessmen or managers are always concerned with their company’s competitiveness; the lack of it is what’s to blame for any failure, unless government obstacles or other adverse business conditions have made it utterly impossible to be competitive. A competitor’s success is of course often evidence that it has violated the principle of genuine, free competition. Putting the comparison of products and prices, productivity figures and returns into practice is the reason for and the purpose of the decisions that management makes in banks and companies large and small; and the current market-economy theorists also regard any real or supposed limitation of this business practice as a harmful restriction of freedom.