Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5: Profitability and Productivity - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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5: Profitability and Productivity - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Profitability and Productivity
The economic activity of the socialist community is subject to the same external conditions as govern an economic system based on private property in the means of production or indeed any conceivable economic system. The economic principle applies to it in the same way as to any and to all economic systems: that is to say it recognizes an hierarchy of ends, and must therefore strive to achieve the more important before the less important. This is the essence of economic activity.
lt is obvious that the production activities of the socialist community will involve not only labour but also material instruments of production. According to a very widespread custom, these material instruments of production are called capital. Capitalist production is that which adopts wise roundabout methods in contrast with a non-capitalistic production which goes directly to its end in a hand to mouth manner.24 If we adhere to this terminology, we must admit that the socialist community must also work with capital and will therefore produce capitalistically. Capital conceived as the intermediate products, which arise at the different stages of production by indirect methods, would not, at any rate at first25 be abolished by Socialism. It would merely be transferred from individual to common possession.
But if, as we have suggested above, we wish to understand by capitalistic production that economic system in which money-calculation is employed, so that we can summarize under the term capital a set of goods devoted to production and evaluated in terms of money, and can attempt to estimate the results of economic activity by the variations in the value of capital, then it is clear that socialist methods of production cannot be termed capitalistic. In quite another sense than the Marxians we can distinguish between socialistic and capitalistic methods of production, and between Socialism and Capitalism.
The characteristic feature of the capitalistic method of production, as it appears to socialists, is that the producer works to obtain a profit. Capitalistic production is production for profit, socialist production will be production for the satisfaction of needs. That capitalistic production aims at profit is quite true. But to achieve a profit, that is a result greater in value than the costs, must also be the aim of the socialist community. If economic activity is rationally directed, that is if it satisfies more urgent before less urgent needs, it has already achieved profits, since the cost, i.e. the value of the most important of the unsatisfied needs, is less than the result attained. In the capitalistic system profits can only be obtained if production meets a comparatively urgent demand. Whoever produces without attending to the relation between supply and demand fails to achieve the result at which he is aiming. To direct production towards profit simply means to direct it to satisfy other people’s demand: in this sense it may be contrasted with isolated man’s production for personal needs. But he also is working for profit in the sense used above. Between production for profit and production for needs there is no contrast.26
The contrasting of production for profit and production for needs is closely connected with the common practice of contrasting productivity and profitability or the “social” and “private” economic point of view. An economic action is said to be profitable if in the capitalist system it yields an excess of receipts over costs. An economic action is said to be productive when, seen from the point of view of a hypothetical socialist community, the yield exceeds the cost involved. Now in some cases productivity and profitability do not coincide. Some economic acts which are profitable are not productive and, vice versa, some are productive but not profitable. For those naively biased in favour of Socialism, as is the case even with most economists, this fact is sufficient to condemn the capitalistic order of society. Whatever a socialist community would do seems to them undisputably good and reasonable: that anything different can happen in a capitalistic society is, in their opinion, an abuse which cannot be tolerated. But an examination of the cases in which profitability and productivity are alleged not to coincide will show that this judgment is purely subjective, and that the scientific cloak with which it is invested is a sham.27
In the majority of cases in which it is usually assumed that there is a contrast between profitability and productivity no such contrast exists. This is true, for example, of profits from speculation. Speculation in the capitalist system performs a function which must be performed in any economic system however organized: it provides for the adjustment of supply and demand over time and space. The source of the profit of speculation is enhanced value which is independent of any particular form of economic organization. When the speculator purchases at a low price products which come on the market in comparatively large quantities and sells them at a higher price when the demand has again increased, his gains represent, from a business and from the economic point of view, an increase of value. That in a socialist order the community and not the individual would get this much grudged and maligned profit we do not deny. But that is not the significance of the problem in which we are interested. The point which concerns us here is that the alleged contrast between profitability and productivity does not exist in this case. Speculation performs an economic service which cannot conceivably be eliminated from any economic system. If it is eliminated, as socialists intend to do, then some other organization must take over its functions: the community itself must become a speculator. Without speculation there can be no economic activity reaching beyond the immediate present.
A contrast between profitability and productivity is sometimes supposed to be discovered by picking out a particular process and considering it by itself. People may perhaps characterize as unproductive certain features peculiar to the constitution of the capitalistic organization of industry, e.g. selling expenses, advertising costs and the like are characterized as unproductive. This is not legitimate. We must consider the result of the complete process, not the individual stages. We must not consider the constituent expenses without setting against them the result to which they contribute.28
[24. ]Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, Vol. II, 3rd ed. (Innsbruck, 1912), p. 21. Publisher’s Note: The page in the English (Sennholz/Huncke) translation of Böhm-Bawerk, referred to here is page 14 in Volume II. Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen von. Capital and Interest. 3 volumes. South Holland, Illinois: Libertarian Press, 1959. [Information re Vol. I above.] Volume II. Positive Theory of Capital. Translated by George D. Huncke; Hans F. Sennholz, Consulting Economist. Volume III. Further Essays on Capital and Interest. Translated by Hans F. Sennholz.
[25. ]The limitation comprised in the words “at first” is not intended to mean that Socialism will later on, say after attaining a “higher stage of the communist society,” intentionally set about abolishing capital in the sense used here. Socialism can never plan the return to the life from hand to mouth. Rather do I want to point out here that Socialism must, by inner necessity, lead to the gradual consumption of capital.
[26. ]Pohle-Halm, Kapitalismus und Sozialismus, pp. 12 ff.
[27. ]On Monopoly see pp. 344 ff. and on “uneconomic” consumption see p. 401 ff.
[28. ]See pp. 140 ff., 160 ff.