Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4: Changes in the Amount of Capital - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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4: Changes in the Amount of Capital - 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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Changes in the Amount of Capital
The capital goods employed in production are sooner or later used up. This is true, not only of those goods which constitute circulating capital, but also of those which constitute fixed capital. Those, too, sooner or later are consumed in production. In order that capital may be maintained in the same proportions, or that it may be increased, constant effort is necessary on the part of those who supervise production. Care must be taken that the capital goods used up in the process of production are replaced; and, beyond that, that new capital is created. Capital does not reproduce itself.
In a completely stationary economic system, this operation demands no particular foresight. Where everything remains unchanged, it is not very difficult to ascertain what becomes used up, and what must therefore be put aside to replace it. Under changing conditions, it is quite otherwise. Here the direction of production and the different processes involved are continually changing. Here it is not enough to replace the used-up plant and the semi-manufactured products consumed in similar qualities and quantities: others—better or at least better corresponding to the new conditions of demand—have to take their place; or the replacement of capital goods used in one branch of production has to be restricted in order that another branch of production may be extended or commenced. In order to carry out such complicated operations, it is necessary to calculate. Without economic calculations capital calculations are impossible. Thus in the face of one of the most fundamental problems of economic activity, the socialist community—which has no means of economic calculation—must be quite helpless. With the best will in the world it will be quite unable to carry out the operations necessary to bring production and consumption into such a balance, that value of capital is at least maintained and only what is obtained over and above this is consumed.
But apart from this, in itself quite unsurmountable difficulty, the carrying out of a rational economic policy in a socialist community would encounter other difficulties.
To maintain and accumulate capital involves costs. It involves sacrificing present satisfactions in order that greater satisfactions may be obtained in the future. Under Capitalism the sacrifice that has to be made by the possessors of the means of production, and those who, by limiting consumption, are on the way to being possessors of the means of production. The advantage which they thereby procure for the future does indeed not entirely accrue to them. They are obliged to share it with those whose incomes are derived from work, since other things being equal, the accumulation of capital increases the marginal productivity of labour and therewith wages. But the fact that, in the main, the gain of not living beyond their means (i.e. not consuming capital) and saving (i.e. increasing capital) does pay them is a sufficient stimulus to incite them to maintain and extend it. And this stimulus is the stronger the more completely their immediate needs are satisfied. For the less urgent are those present needs, which are not satisfied when provision is made for the future, the easier it is to make the sacrifice. Under Capitalism the maintenance and accumulation of capital is one of the functions of the unequal distribution of property and income.
Under Socialism the maintenance and accumulation of capital are tasks for the organized community—the State. The utility of a rational policy is the same here as under Capitalism. The advantages will be the same for all members of the community: the costs will be the same also. Decisions upon matters of capital policy will be made by the community—immediately by the economic administration, ultimately by all the citizens. They will have to decide whether more production goods or more consumption goods shall be produced—whether methods of production which are shorter but which yield a smaller product or whether methods of production which are longer but which yield a greater product shall be employed. It is impossible to say how these majority decisions will work out. It would be senseless to conjecture. The conditions under which decisions will have to be made are different from what they are under Capitalism. Under Capitalism the decision whether saving shall take place is the concern of the thrifty and the well-to-do. Under Socialism it is the concern of everybody, without distinction-therefore also of the idler and the spendthrift. Moreover, it must be remembered that here the incentive which provides a higher standard of life in return for saving will not be present. The door would therefore be open to demagogues. The opposition will always be ready to prove that more could be assigned to immediate satisfactions, and the government will not be disinclined to maintain itself longer in power by lavish spending. Après nous le déluge (After us, the deluge) is an old maxim of government.
Experience of the capital policy of public bodies does not inspire much hope of the thriftiness of future socialist governments. In general, new capital is created only when the necessary sums have been raised by loans—that is from the savings of private citizens. It is very seldom that capital is accumulated out of taxes or special public income. On the other hand, numerous examples can be adduced of cases in which the means of production owned by public bodies have depreciated in value, because in order that present costs may be relieved as much as possible, insufficient care has been taken for the maintenance of capital.
It is true that the governments of the socialist or half-socialist communities existing today are anxious to restrict consumption for the sake of an expenditure which is generally considered as investment and formation of new capital. Both the Soviet Government in Russia and the Nazi Government in Germany are spending great sums for the construction of works of a military character and for the construction of industrial plants whose purpose it is to make the country independent of foreign imports. A part of the capital wanted for this purpose has been provided by foreign loans; but the greater part has been provided by a restriction both of home consumption and of investment of such a type which could serve for the production of consumption goods wanted by the people. Whether we may consider this policy as a policy of saving and forming new capital, or not, depends on the way in which we judge a policy whose aim it is to increase a country’s military equipment and to make its economic system independent of foreign imports. The fact alone that consumption is restricted for the sake of constructing big plants of different kinds is not evidence that new capital is created. These plants will have to prove in the future whether they will contribute to the better supply of commodities wanted for the improvement of the economic situation of the country.