[OPE-L:1622] Re: Do capitalists accumulate?

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Thu, 28 Mar 1996 15:00:34 -0800

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Paul (1580) questions whether the capitalists actually do accumulate.
But, when they stop accumulating, they stop being capitalists.

So they go on owning the means of production, employing and
exploiting wage labour, but just because they chose to spend
it on luxuries they are not capitalists? What class are
they then?

may be driven to do this for short periods but if they do it for any
period, capitalism ceases to exist.
Who is going to buy shares in
a shrinking company? Neither old nor young capitalists do that.
Capitalists who shrink their capital are quickly competed out of
If capital in general were to shrink indefinitely, capitalism as a whole
would die.


Simple reproduction is possible, and moreover, simple reproduction
in value terms is compatible with technical progress.
Failure to accumulate does not necessarily mean a running down
of capital stock. But with capital saving inventions, this too
can occur without eliminating capitalism. It is likely to lead
to prolonged high levels of unemployment, but so what, we know
that that is characteristic of capitalism in its decadent phase.

As a general historical point we can accept that capitalism as a
whole will die once it becomes decadent, but that is the famous
long run, and many of us will be dead before then.

The real empirical question to ask is: does the capital stock of the
nation rise secularly? The empirical evidence that it does so, is
overwhelming. This is interrupted only by crisis. Indeed, that is
what a crisis consists of. What Paul has indicated, is simply that
there are capitalist crises.

In that case British capitalism has been in crisis the last decade
and a half. Meantime the employing class is laughing all the way
to the bank. Since Thatcher came to power some 16 years ago, the
value of the capital stock has declined, but at the same time
the capitalist class is enjoying a level of income, the like of
which they had not seen in 50 years.

However, capitalist crises confirm the temporal paradigm.
My (and Marx's) argument establishes simply that if the capitalists
the profit rate falls. The simultaneous paradigm produces the absurd
result that they can accumulate with a rising rate of profit. It is not a
refutation of the temporal approach to establish that if they stop
accumulating, the profit rate rises. On the contrary, it is a
So long as you formulate it as a conditional argument expressed at the
level of the economy as a whole you are right. But this has
nothing whatever to do with simultaneity or the TSS. The whole
argument becomes orthogonal to such disputes.

One can accept that if capital
accumulates more rapidly than the workforce, then in the long
run the rate of profit tends to fall without accepting the TSS.
I think that the TSS is just pointless confusion, but have
no difficulty in accepting this conditional arguement, and
indeed, have been arguing it in this form for some 20 years.

So long as you recognise that the tendancy is conditional on
accumulation, there is no reason to get upset about the Okishio
theorem, since implicit in this is that capitalists may decide
not to accumulate.

Any serious theory of accumulation would of course ignore the
general rate of profit as a benchmark for investment decisions,
and take into account the interest rate as the benchmark. Then,
so long as the interest rate is lower than the general rate,
there is an incentive to accumulate. But to debate accumulation
without a theory of interest rates is pointless.