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PART III.: THE LAW OF THE FALLING TENDENCY OF THE RATE OF PROFIT. - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole 
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, by Karl Marx. Ed. Federick Engels. Trans. from the 1st German edition by Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co. Cooperative, 1909).
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THE LAW OF THE FALLING TENDENCY OF THE RATE OF PROFIT.
THE THEORY OF THE LAW.
WITH a given wage and working day, a certain variable capital, for instance of 100, represents a certain number of employed laborers. It is the index of this number. For instance, let 100 p.st. be the wages of 100 laborers for one week. If these laborers perform the same amount of necessary as of surplus-labor, in other words, if they work daily as much time for themselves as they do for the capitalist, or, in still other words, if they require as much time for the reproduction of their wages as they do for the production of surplus-value for the capitalist, then they would produce a total value of 200 p.st., and the surplus-value would amount to 100 p.st. The rate of surplus-value, s/V, would be 100%. But we have seen that this rate of surplus-value would express itself in considerably different rates of profit, according to the different volumes of constant capitals c and consequently of total capitals C. For the rate of profit is calculated by the formula s/C.
Take it that the rate of surplus-value is 100%. Now, if
In this way, the same rate of surplus-value, with the same degree of labor exploitation, would express itself in a falling rate of profit, because the material growth of the constant capital, and consequently of the total capital, implies their growth in value, although not in the same proportion.
If it is furthermore assumed that this gradual change in the composition of capital is not confined to some individual spheres of production, but occurs more or less in all, or at least in the most important ones, so that they imply changes in the organic average composition of the total capital of a certain society, then the gradual and relative growth of the constant over the variable capital must necessarily lead to a gradual fall of the average rate of profit, so long as the rate of surplus-value, or the intensity of exploitation of labor by capital, remain the same. Now we have seen that it is one of the laws of capitalist production that its development carries with it a relative decrease of variable as compared with constant capital, and consequently as compared to the total capital, which it sets in motion. This is only another way of saying that the same number of laborers, the same quantity of labor-power set in motion by a variable capital of a given value, consume in production an ever increasing quantity of means of production, such as machinery and all sorts of fixed capital, raw and auxiliary materials, and consequently a constant capital of ever increasing value and volume, during the same period of time, owing to the peculiar methods of production developing within the capitalist system. This progressive relative decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant, and consequently to the total, capital is identical with the progressive higher organic composition of the average social capital. It is, in another way, but an expression of the progressive development of the productive powers of society, which is manifested by the fact that the same number of laborers, in the same time, convert an ever growing quantity of raw and auxiliary materials into products, thanks to the growing application of machinery and fixed capital in general, so that less labor is needed for the production of the same, or of more, commodities. This growing value and volume of constant capital corresponds to a progressive cheapening of products, although the increase in the value of the constant capital indicates but imperfectly the growth in the actual mass of use-values represented by the material of the constant capital. Every individual product, taken by itself, contains a smaller quantity of labor than the same product did on a lower scale of production, in which the capital invested in wages occupies a far greater space compared to the capital invested in means of production. The hypothetical series placed at the beginning of this chapter expresses, therefore, the actual tendency of capitalist production. This mode of production produces a progressive decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant capital, and consequently a continuously rising organic composition of the total capital. The immediate result of this is that the rate of surplus-value, at the same degree of labor-exploitation, expresses itself in a continually falling average rate of profit. (We shall see later why this fall does not manifest itself in an absolute form, but rather as a tendency toward a progressive fall.) This progressive tendency of the average rate of profit to fall is, therefore, but a peculiar expression of capitalist production for the fact that the social productivity of labor is progressively increasing. This is not saying that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But it demonstrates at least that it is the nature of the capitalist mode of production, and a logical necessity of its development, to give expression to the average rate of surplus-value by a falling rate of average profit. Since the mass of the employed living labor is continually on the decline compared to the mass of materialised labor incorporated in productively consumed means of production, it follows that that portion of living labor, which is unpaid and represents surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the volume and value of the invested total capital. Seeing that the proportion of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must fall continuously.
Simple as this law appears from the foregoing statements, all of political economy has so far tried in vain to discover it, as we shall see later on. The economists saw the problem and cudgeled their brains in tortuous attempts to interpret it. Since this law is of great importance for capitalist production, it may be said to be that mystery whose solution has been the goal of the entire political economy since Adam Smith. The difference between the various schools since Adam Smith consists in their different attempts to solve this riddle. If we consider, on the other hand, that political economy up to the present has been tinkering with the distinction between constant and variable capital without ever defining it accurately; that it never separated surplus-value from profit, and never even considered profit in its purely theoretical form, that is, separated from its different subdivisions, such as industrial profit, commercial profit, interest, ground rent; that it never thoroughly analyzed the differences in the organic composition of capital, and for this reason never thought of analyzing the formation of an average rate of profit; if we consider all this, we no longer wonder at its failure to solve the riddle.
We intentionally analyze first this law, before we pass on to a consideration of the different independent categories into which profit is subdivided. The fact that this analysis is made independently of the subdivisions of profit, which fall to the share of different categories of persons, shows in itself that this law, in its general workings, is independent of those subdivisions and of the mutual relations of the resulting categories of profit. The profit to which we are here referring is but another name for surplus-value itself, which is merely observed in its relation to the total capital, instead of its relation to the variable capital from which it arises. The fall in the rate of profit therefore expresses the falling relation of surplus-value itself to the total capital, and is for this reason independent of any division of this profit among various participants.
We have seen that a certain stage of capitalist development, in which the organic composition of capital, c : v shows the proportion of 50 : 100, expresses a rate of surplus-value of 100% by a rate of profit of 66 2/3%, and that a higher stage, in which c : v shows the proportion 400:100, expresses the same rate of surplus-value by a rate of profit of only 20%. What is true of different successive stages in the same country, is also true of different contemporaneous stages of development in different countries. In an undeveloped country, in which the first-named composition of capital is the rule, the average rate of profit would be 66 2/3%, while in a country with the other, higher, stage of development, the average rate of profit would be 20%.
The difference between two national rates of profit might be eliminated, or even reversed, if labor were less productive in the less developed country, so that a larger quantity of labor would be incorporated in a smaller quantity of the same commodities, a larger exchange-value represented by a smaller use-value, so that the laborer would consume a larger portion of his time in the reproduction of his own means of subsistence, or of their value, and have less time to spare for the production of surplus-value, and consequently would perform less surplus-labor, so that the rate of surplus-value would be lower. For instance, if the laborer of the less developed country were to work two-thirds of the working day for himself, and one-third for the capitalist, then, referring to the above illustration, the same labor-power would be paid with 133 1/3 and would furnish a surplus of only 66 2/3. A constant capital of 50 would correspond to a variable capital of 133 1/3. The rate of surplus-value would then amount to 133 1/3 : 66 2/3 = 50%, and the rate of profit to 183 1/3 : 66 2/3 = about 36½%.
Since we have not analysed the different subdivisions of profit, so that they do not exist for the present so far as we are here concerned, we make the following preliminary remarks merely in order to prevent misunderstanding: It would be a mistake to measure the level of the national rate of profit by, say, the level of the national rate of interest, when comparing countries in different stages of development, especially when comparing countries with a developed capitalist production to countries, in which labor has not yet been fully subjected to capital, although the laborer may already be exploited by the capitalist, as happens, for instance, in India, where the ryot manages his farm as an independent producer, whose production, strictly so called, is not yet under the complete sway of capital, although the usurer may not only rob him of his entire surplus-labor by means of interest, but also curtail his wages, to use a capitalist term. For the interest of such stages comprises all of the profit, and more than the profit, instead of merely expressing an aliquot part of the produced surplus-value, or profit, as it does in countries with a developed capitalist production. On the other hand, the rate of interest in capitalist countries is overwhelmingly determined by conditions (loans granted by usurers to owners of large estates who draw ground-rent) which have nothing to do with profit, but which merely indicate to what extent usury appropriates ground-rent.
In countries with capitalist production in different stages of development, and consequently with capitals of different organic composition, a country with a short normal working day may have a higher rate of surplus-value (the one factor which determines the rate of profit) than a country with a long normal working day. In the first place, if the English working day of 10 hours, on account of its higher intensity, is equal to an Austrian working day of 14 hours, then dividing the working day equally in both instances, 5 hours of English surplus-labor may represent a greater value on the world-market than 7 hours of Austrian surplus-labor. In the second place, a larger portion of the English working day may represent surplus-labor than of the Austrian working day.
The law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, which is the expression of the same, or even of a higher, rate of surplus-value, says in so many words: If you take any quantity of the average social capital, say a capital of 100, you will find that an ever larger portion of it is invested in means of production, and an ever smaller portion in living labor. Since, then, the aggregate mass of the living labor operating the means of production decreases in comparison to the value of these means of production, it follows that the unpaid labor, and that portion of value in which it is expressed, must decline as compared to the value of the advanced total capital. Or, an ever smaller aliquot part of the invested total capital is converted into living labor, and this capital absorbs in proportion to its magnitude less and less surplus-labor, although the proportion of the unpaid part of the employed labor may simultaneously grow as compared with the paid part. The relative decrease of the variable, and the relative increase of the constant, capital, while both parts may grow absolutely in magnitude, is but another expression for the increased productivity of labor.
Let a capital of 100 consist of 80 c + 20 v, and let the 20 v stand for 20 laborers. Let the rate of surplus-value be 100%, that is to say, the laborers work one-half of the day for themselves and the other half for the capitalist. Now take a less developed country, in which a capital of 100 is composed of 20 c + 80 v, and let these 80 v stand for 80 laborers. But let these laborers work two-thirds of the day for themselves, and only one-third for the capitalists. Assuming all other things to be equal, the laborers in the first case will produce a value of 40, while those in the second case will produce a value of 120. The first capital produces 80 c + 20 v + 20 s = 120; rate of profit 20%. The second capital produces 20 c+80 v+40 s=140; rate of profit 40%. In other words, the rate of profit in the second case is double that of the first case, and yet the rate of surplus-value in the first case is 100%, while it is only 50% in the second case. But a capital of the same magnitude appropriates in the first case the surplus-labor of only 20 laborers, while it appropriates that of 80 laborers in the second case.
The law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or of the relative decline of the appropriated surplus-labor compared to the mass of materialised labor set in motion by living labor does not argue in any way against the fact that the absolute mass of the employed and exploited labor set in motion by the social capital, and consequently the absolute mass of the surplus-labor appropriated by it, may grow. Nor does it argue against the fact that the capitals controlled by individual capitalists may dispose of a growing mass of labor and surplus-labor, even though the number of the laborers employed by them may not grow.
Take for illustration's sake a certain population of working people, for instance, two millions. Assume, furthermore, that the length and intensity of the average working day, and the level of wages, and thereby the proportion between necessary and surplus-labor, are given. In the case the aggregate labor of these two millions, and their surplus-labor expressed in surplus-value, represent always the same magnitude of values. But with the growth of the mass of the constant (fixed and circulating) capital, which this labor manipulates, the proportion of this produced quantity of values declines as compared to the value of this total capital. And the value of this capital grows with its mass, although not in the same proportion. This proportion, and consequently the rate of profit, falls in spite of the fact that the same mass of living labor is controlled as before, and the same amount of surplus-labor absorbed by the capital. This proportion changes, not because the mass of living labor decreases, but because the mass of the materialised labor set in motion by living labor increases. It is a relative decrease, not an absolute one, and has really nothing to do with the absolute magnitude of the labor and surplus-labor set in motion. The fall of the rate of profit is not due to an absolute, but only to a relative decrease of the variable part of the total capital, that is, its decrease as compared with the constant part.
The same thing which applies to any given mass of labor and surplus-labor, applies also to a growing number of laborers, and thus under the above assumptions, to any growing mass of the controlled labor in general and to its unpaid part, the surplus-labor, in particular. If the laboring population increases from two million to three million, if, furthermore, the variable capital invested in wages also rises to three million from its former amount of two million, while the constant capital rises from four million to fifteen million, then the mass of surplus-labor, and of surplus-value, under the above assumption of a constant working day and a constant rate of surplus-value, rises by 50%, that is, from two million to three million. Nevertheless, in spite of this growth in the absolute mass of surplus-labor and surplus-value by 50%, the proportion of the variable to the constant capital would fall from 2 : 4 to 3 : 15, and the proportion of the surplus-value to the total capital, expressed in millions, would be
While the mass of surplus-value has increased by one-half, the rate of profit has fallen by one-half. However, the profit is only the surplus-value calculated on the total social capital, so that its absolute magnitude, socially considered, is the same as the absolute magnitude of the surplus-value. In this case, the absolute magnitude of the profit would have grown by 50%, in spite of its enormous relative decrease compared to the advanced total capital, or in spite of the enormous fall of the average rate of profit. We see, then, that in spite of the progressive fall of rate of profit, there may be an absolute increase of the number of laborers employed by capital, an absolute increase of the labor set in motion by it, an absolute increase of the mass of surplus-labor absorbed, a resulting absolute increase of the produced surplus-value, and consequently an absolute increase in the mass of the produced profit. And this increase may be progressive. And it may not only be so. On the basis of capitalist production, it must be so, aside from temporary fluctuations.
The capitalist process of production is essentially a process of accumulation. We have shown that the mass of values, which must be simply reproduced and maintained, increases progressively with the development of capitalist production to the extent that the productivity of labor grows, even if the employed labor-power should remain constant. But the development of social productivity carries with it a still greater increase of the produced use-values, of which the means of production form a part. And the additional labor, whose appropriation reconverts this additional value into capital, does not depend on the value, but on the mass of these means of production (including the means of subsistence), because the laborer in the productive process is not operating with the exchange-value, but with the use-value of the means of production. Accumulation itself, however, and the concentration of capital that goes with it, is a material means of increasing the productive power. Now, this growth of the means of production includes the increase of the laboring population, the creation of a laboring population which corresponds to the surplus-capital or even exceeds its general requirements, leading to an overpopulation of working people. A momentary excess of the surplus-capital over the laboring population controlled by it would have a twofold effect. It would, on the one hand, mitigate the conditions, which decimate the offspring of the laboring class and would facilitate marriages among them, by raising wages. This would tend to increase the laboring population. On the other hand, it would employ the methods by which relative surplus-value is created (introduction and improvement of machinery) and thereby create still more rapidly an artificial relative overpopulation, which in its turn would be a hothouse for the actual propagation of its numbers, since under capitalist production poverty propagates its kind. The nature of the capitalist process of accumulation, which process is but an element in the capitalist process of production, implies as a matter of course that the increased mass of means of production, which is to be converted into capital, must always find on hand a corresponding increase, or even an excess, of laboring people for exploitation. The progress of the process of production and accumulation must, therefore, be accompanied by a growth of the mass of available and appropriated surplus-labor, and consequently by a growth of the absolute mass of profit appropriated by the social capital. But the same laws of production and accumulation increase the volume and value of the constant capital in a more rapid progression than those of the variable capital invested in living labor. The same laws, then, produce for the social capital an increase in the absolute mass of profit and a falling rate of profit.
We leave out of consideration the fact that the same amount of values represents a progressively increasing mass of use-values and enjoyments to the extent that the capitalist process of production carries with it a development of the productive power of social labor, a multiplication of the lines of production, and an increase of products.
The development of capitalist production and accumulation lifts the processes of labor to a higher scale and gives them greater dimensions, which imply larger investments of capital for each individual establishment. A growing concentration of capitals (accompanied by a growing number of capitalists, though not to the same extent) is therefore one of the material requirements of capitalist production as well as one of the results produced by it. Hand in hand with it, and mutually interacting, goes a progressive expropriation of the more or less direct producers. It is, then, a matter of course for the capitalists that they should control increasing armies of laborers (no matter how much the variable capital may relatively decrease in comparison to the constant capital), and that the mass of surplus-value, and of profit, appropriated by them, should grow simultaneously with the fall of the rate of profit, and in spite of it. The same causes which concentrate masses of laborers under the control of capitalists, are precisely those which also swell the mass of fixed capital, auxiliary and raw materials in a growing proportion as compared to the mass of the employed living labor.
It requires but a passing notice at this point, that, given a certain laboring population, the mass of surplus-value, and therefore the absolute mass of profit, must grow if the rate of surplus-value increases by a prolongation or intensification of the working day, or by a lowering of the value of wages through a development of the productive power of labor, and must do so in spite of the relative decrease of the variable capital compared to the constant.
The same development of the productive power of social labor, the same laws, which express themselves in a relative fall of the variable as compared to the total capital and in a correspondingly hastened accumulation, while this accumulation in its turn becomes the starting point of a further development of the productive power and of a further relative fall of the variable capital, this same development manifests itself, aside from temporary fluctuations, by a growing increase of the employed total labor-power, a growing increase of the absolute mass of surplus-value, and consequently of profits.
Now, in what form must this two-faced law with the same causes for a decrease of the rate of profits and a simultaneous increase of the absolute mass of profits show itself? A law based on the fact that under certain conditions the appropriated mass of surplus-labor, and consequently of surplus-value, increases, and that, so far as the total capital is concerned, or the individual capital as an aliquot part of the total capital, profit and surplus-value are identical magnitudes?
Take that aliquot part of capital which is the basis of our calculation of the rate of profit, for instance 100. These 100 illustrate the average composition of the total capital, say 80 c + 20 v. We have seen in the second part of this volume, that the average rate of profit is determined, not by the particular composition of individual capital, but by the average composition of social capital. If the variable capital decreases as compared to the constant, or to the total capital, then the rate of profit, or the relative magnitude of surplus-value calculated on the total capital, falls even though the intensity of exploitation were to remain the same, or even to increase. But it is not this relative magnitude alone which falls. The magnitude of the surplus-value or profit absorbed by the total capital of 100 also falls absolutely. At a rate of surplus-value of 100%, a capital of 60 + 40 produces a mass of surplus-value and profit amounting to 40; a capital of 70 c + 30 v a mass of profit of 30; a capital of 80 c + 20 v produces only 20 of profit. This fall refers to the mass of surplus-value and thus of profit, and is due to the fact that the total capital of 100, with the same intensity of labor exploitation, employs less living labor, sets in motion less labor-power, and therefore produces less surplus-value. Taking any aliquot part of the social capital, this is, of capital of average composition, as a standard by which to measure surplus-value—and this is done in all calculations of profit—a relative fall of surplus-value is identical with its absolute fall. The rate of profit sinks in the above cases from 40% to 30% and 20%, because the mass of surplus-value, and of profit, produced by the same capital falls absolutely from 40 to 30 and 20. Since the magnitude of the value of capital, by which the surplus-value is measured, is given as 100, a fall in the proportion of surplus-value to this given magnitude can be only another expression for the fact that surplus-value and profit decrease absolutely. This is, of course, a tautology. But we have demonstrated that the nature of the capitalist process of production brings about this decrease.
On the other hand, the same causes which bring about an absolute decrease of surplus-value and profit on a given capital, and consequently in the percentage of the rate of profit, produce an increase of the absolute mass of surplus-value and profit appropriated by the total capital (that is, by the capitalists as a whole). How can this be explained, and what is the only way in which this can be explained, or what are the conditions on which this apparent contradiction is based?
While any aliquot part, any 100 of the social capital, any 100 of average social composition, is a given magnitude, for which a fall in the rate of profit implies a fall in the absolute magnitude of profit, just because the capital which serves as a standard of measurement is a constant magnitude, the magnitude of the social capital, on the other hand, as well as that of the capital in the hands of individual capitalists, is variable, and in keeping with our assumptions it must vary inversely to the decrease of its variable portion.
In our former illustration, when the percentage of composition was 60 c + 40 v, the corresponding surplus-value and profit was 40, and the rate of profit 40%. Take it that the total capital in this stage of composition was one million. In that case the total surplus-value, and total profit, amounted to 400,000. Now, if the composition changes later to 80 c + 20 v, while the degree of labor exploitation remains the same, then the surplus-value and profit for each 100 is 20. But as we have demonstrated that the absolute mass of surplus-value and profit increases in spite of the fall of the rate of profit, in spite of the decrease in the production of surplus-value by a capital of 100, that it grows, say, from 400,000 to 440,000, there is no other way in which this could be brought about than by a growth of the total capital to 2,200,000 to the extent that this new composition developed. The mass of the total capital set in motion has risen by 220%, while the rate of profit has fallen by 50%. If the total capital had only been doubled, it could have produced no more surplus-value and profit with a rate of profit of 20% than the old capital of 1,000,000 at a rate of 40%. If it had grown to less than twice its old size, it would have produced less surplus-value or profit than the old capital of 1,000,000 which, with its former composition, would have had to grow from 1,000,000 to no more than 1,100,000, in order to raise its surplus-value from 400,000 to 440,000.
We meet here once more the previously analysed law, that the relative decrease of the variable capital, or the development of the productive power of labor, requires an increasing mass of total capital for the purpose of setting in motion the same quantity of labor-power and absorbing the same quantity of surplus-labor. Consequently the possibility of a relative surplus of laboring people develops to the extent that capitalist production advances, not because the productive power of social labor decreases, but because it increases. Relative overpopulation does not arise out of an absolute disproportion between labor and means of subsistence, or of means for the production of these means of existence, but out of a disproportion due to the capitalist exploitation of labor, a disproportion between the growing increase of capital and its relatively decreasing demand for an increase of population.
A fall in the rate of profit by 50% means its fall by one-half. If the mass of profit is to remain the same, the capital must be doubled. In order that the mass of profit made at a declining rate of profit may remain the same as before, the multiplier indicating the growth of the total capital must be equal to the divisor indicating the fall of the rate of profit. If the rate of profit falls from 40 to 20, the total capital must rise at the rate of 20 to 40, in order that the result may remain the same. If the rate of profit had fallen from 40 to 8, the capital would have to increase at the rate of 8 to 40, or five times its value. A capital of 1,000,000 at a rate of 40% produces 400,000, and a capital of 5,000,000 at a rate of 8% likewise produces 400,000. This applies, so long as the result is to remain the same. But if the result is to be higher, then the capital must grow at a faster rate than the rate of profit falls. In other words, in order that the variable portion of the total capital may not only remain the same, but may also increase absolutely, although its percentage in the total capital falls, the total capital must grow at a higher rate than the percentage of the variable capital falls. It must grow at such a rate that it requires in its new composition not merely the same old variable capital, but more than it for the purchase of labor-power. If the variable portion of a capital of 100 falls from 40 to 20, the total capital must rise higher than 200, in order to be able to employ a larger variable capital than 40.
Even if the mass of the exploited laboring population were to remain constant, and only the length and intensity of the working day to increase, the mass of the invested capital would have to increase, since it must rise for the mere purpose of employing the same mass of labor under the old conditions of exploitation as soon as the composition of capital varies.
In short, the same development of the social productivity of labor expresses itself in the course of capitalist production on the one hand in a tendency to a progressive fall of the rate of profit, and on the other hand in a progressive increase of the absolute mass of the appropriated surplus-value, or profit; so that on the whole a relative decrease of variable capital and profit is accompanied by an absolute increase of both. This twofold effect, as we have seen, can express itself only in a growth of the total capital at a ratio more rapid than that expressed by the fall in the rate of profit. In order that an absolutely increased variable capital may be employed in a capital of higher composition, that is, a capital in which the constant capital has relatively increased still more than the variable, the total capital must one only grow in proportion to its higher composition, but even still more rapidly. It follows, then, that an ever larger quantity of capital is required in order to employ the same, and still more an increased amount of labor-power, to the extent that the capitalist mode of production develops. The increasing productivity of labor thus creates necessarily and permanently an apparent overpopulation of laboring people. If the variable capital forms only one-sixth of the total capital instead of one-half, as before, then the total capital must be trebled in order to employ the same amount of labor-power. And if the labor-power to be employed is doubled, then the total capital must be multiplied by six.
Political economy has so far been unable to explain the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit. So it pointed as a consolation to the increasing mass of profit, the increase in the absolute magnitude of profit for the individual capitalist as well as for the social capital, but even this consolation was based on mere commonplaces and probabilities.
It is simply a tautology to say that the mass of profit is determined by two factors, namely first the rate profit, and secondly by the mass of capital invested at this rate. It is therefore but a corollary of this tautology to say that there is a possibility for the increase of the mass of profit even though the rate of profit may fall at the same time. This does not help us to get one step farther, since there is also a possibility that the capital may increase without resulting in an increase of the mass of profit, and that it may even increase while the mass of profit is already falling. For 100 at 25% make 25, while 400 at 5% make only 20.35 But if the same causes, which bring about a fall in the rate of profit, promote the accumulation, that is, the formation of additional capital, and if each additional capital employs additional labor and produces additional surplus-value; when, on the other hand, the mere fall in the rate of profit implies the fact that the constant capital, and with it the total old capital, have increased, then this process ceases to be mysterious. We shall see later, to what falsifications of calculations some people have recourse in order to deny the possibility of an increase in the mass of profits while the rate of profits is simultaneously decreasing.
We have shown that the same causes, which bring about a tendency of the average rate of profits to fall, necessitate also an accelerated accumulation of capital and consequently an increase in the absolute magnitude, or total mass, of the surplus-labor (surplus-value, profit) appropriated by it. Just as everything is reversed in competition, and thus in the consciousness of its agents, so is also this law, this internal and necessary connection between two apparent contradictions. It is evident, within the proportions indicated above, that a capitalist disposing of a large capital will receive a larger mass of profits than a small capitalist making apparently high profits. A superficial observation of competition shows furthermore that under certain circumstances, when the greater capitalist wishes to make more room for himself on the market by pushing aside the smaller ones, as happens in times of commercial crises, he makes a practical use of this, that is, he lowers his rate of profit intentionally in order to crowd the smaller ones off the field. Particularly merchant's capital, as we shall show at length later on, shows symptoms, which seem to attribute the fall in profits to an expansion of the business, and thus of capital. We shall later on give a scientific expression for this false conception. Similar superficial observations result from the comparison of rates of profit made in some particular lines of business, according to whether they are subject to free competition or to monopoly. The utterly shallow conception existing in the heads of the agents of competition is found in our Roscher, namely the idea that a reduction of the rate of profits is "more prudent and humane." The fall in the rate of profit is in this case attributed to an increase of capital, it appears as a consequence of this increase, and of the resultant calculation of the capitalist that the mass of profits to be pocketed by him will be greater at a smaller rate of profits. This entire conception (with the exception of that of Adam Smith, which we shall mention later) rests on the utter misapprehension of what the average rate of profit represents and on the crude idea that prices are indeed determined by adding a more or less arbitrary amount of profit to the actual value of the commodities. Crude as these ideas are, they arise necessarily out of the inverted aspect which the immanent laws of capitalist production represent under competition.
The law that the fall in the rate of profit due to the development of the productive powers is accompanied by an increase in the mass of profit expresses itself furthermore in the fact that a fall in the price of commodities produced by capital is accompanied by a relative increase of the masses of profit contained in them and realised by their sale.
Since the development of the productive powers and the higher composition of capital corresponding to it set in motion an ever increasing quantity of means of production with an ever decreasing quantity of labor, every aliquot part of the total product, every single commodity, or every particular quantity of commodities in the total mass of products absorbs less living labor, and also contains less materialised labor, both as to the wear and tear of fixed capital and to the raw and auxiliary materials consumed. Every single commodity, then, contains a smaller amount of labor materialised in means of production and of labor newly added during production. Hence the price of the individual commodity falls. The mass of profits contained in the individual commodities may nevertheless increase, if the rate of the absolute or relative surplus-value grows. The commodity then contains less newly added labor, but its unpaid portion grows over its paid portion. However, this is the case only within certain limits. In the course of the development of production, with the enormously growing absolute decrease of the amount of living labor newly embodied in the individual commodities, the mass of unpaid labor contained in them will likewise decrease absolutely, however much it may have grown as compared to their paid portion. The mass of profit on each individual commodity will decrease considerably with the development of the productive power of labor, in spite of the increase of the rate of surplus-value. And this reduction, the same as the fall in the rate of profits, is only delayed by the cheapening of the elements of constant capital and the other circumstances mentioned in the first part of this volume, which increase the rate of profit at a stable, or even falling, rate of surplus-value.
To say that the price of the individual commodities falls, which together make up the total product of the capital, is simply to say that a certain quantity of labor is realised in a larger quantity of commodities, so that each individual commodity contains less labor than before. This is the case even if the price of one of the parts of constant capital, such as raw material, etc., should rise. With the exception of a few cases (for instance, if the productive power of labor cheapens all the elements of constant and variable capital uniformly) the rate of profit will fall in spite of the increased rate of surplus-value, 1), because even a larger unpaid portion of the smaller total amount of newly added labor is smaller than a smaller aliquot portion of unpaid labor was in the former large amount of total labor, and 2), because the higher composition of the capital is expressed through the individual commodity by the fact that that portion of its value, in which newly added labor is materialised, decreases as compared to that portion of its value, which represents raw material, auxiliary material, and wear and tear of fixed capital. This change in the proportions of the various component parts of the price of the individual commodities, the decrease of that portion of their price, in which newly added labor is materialised, and the increase of that portion, in which formerly materialised labor is represented, is that form which expresses through the price of the individual commodities the decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant capital. To the extent that this decrease is absolute for a certain amount of capital, for instance 100, it is also absolute for every individual commodity as an aliquot part of the reproduced capital. However, the rate of profit, if calculated merely on the elements of the price of the individual commodity, would be different from what it actually is. The reason for this is as follows:
[The rate of profit is calculated on the total capital invested, but only for a definite time, in fact, for one year. The rate of profit is the proportion of the surplus-value, or profit, made and realised on the total capital and calculated in percentages. It is, therefore, not necessarily equal to a rate of profit, whose calculation was not based on one year, but on the period of turn-over of the invested capital. These two things do not coincide, unless the capital is turned over exactly in one year.
On the other hand, the profit made in the course of one year is merely the sum of the profits on the commodities produced and sold during the same year. Now, if we calculate the profit on the cost-price of the commodities, we obtain a rate of profit = p/k, in which p stands for the profit realised during one year, and k for the sum of the cost-prices of the commodities produced and sold during that year. It is evident that this rate of profit p/k will not coincide with the actual rate of profit p/c, or mass of profit divided by the total capital, unless k = C, that is, unless the capital is turned over in exactly one year.
Let us take three different conditions of some industrial capital.
I.—A capital of 8,000 p.st. produces and sells annually 5,000 pieces of commodities, at 30 sh. per piece, making an annual turn-over of 7,500 p.st. It makes a profit of 10 sh. on each piece, or 2,500 p.st. per year. Every piece, then, contains 20 sh. of capital advance, and 10 sh. of profit, so that the rate of profit per piece if 10/20 = 50%. The turned-over sum of 7,500 p.st. contains 5,000 p.st. of advanced capital and 2,500 p.st. of profits. Rate of profit for one turn-over, p/k, likewise 50%. But the rate of profit calculated on the total capital is the rate of profit p/c = 2500/8000 = 31¼%.
II.—Let the capital increase to 10,000 p.st. Owing to an increased productivity of labor, let it be enabled to produce annually 10,000 pieces of commodities at a cost-price of 20 sh. per piece. Let these commodities be sold at a profit of 4 sh., in other words, at 24 sh. per piece. In that case the price of the annual product is 12,000 p.st., of which 10,000 p.st. is advanced capital and 2,000 p.st. profits. The rate of profit p/k is 4/20 per piece and 2000/10,000 for the annual turn-over, or in both cases = 20%. And since the total capital is equal to the sum of the cost-prices, namely 10,000 p.st., it follows that p/c, the actual rate of profit, is in this case also 20%.
III.—Let the capital increase to 15,000 p.st., owing to a further growth of the productive power of labor, and let it produce annually 30,000 pieces of commodities at a cost-price of 13 sh. per piece, each piece being sold at a profit of 2 sh., or at 15 sh. per piece. The annual turn-over amounts in that case to 30,00 × 15 sh., = 22,500 p.st., of which 19,500 are advanced capital and 3,000 p.st. profits. The rate of profit p/k is then 2/13 = 3000/19,500 = 15 5/13%. But the actual rate of profit p/c = 3000/15,000 = 20%.
We see, then, that only in case II, where the turned-over capital-value is equal to the total capital, is the rate of profit per piece, or per total amount turn-over, the same as the rate of profit calculated on the total capital. In case I, where the amount of the turn-over is smaller than the total capital, the rate of profit calculated on the cost-price of the commodities is higher. In case III, where the total capital is smaller than the amount of the turn-over, the rate of profit calculated on the cost-price of commodities is smaller than the actual rate calculated on the total capital. This is a general rule.
In commercial practice the turn-over is generally calculated inaccurately. It is assumed that the capital has been turned over once, as soon as the sum of the realised commodity-prices equals the sum of the invested total capital. But the capital can complete one whole turn-over only in the case that the sum of the cost-prices of the realised commodities equals the sum of the total capital.—F. E.]
This demonstrates once more how important it is under the capitalist mode of production that the individual commodities or the commodity-product of a certain period should not be considered as isolated by themselves, as mere commodities, but as products of advanced capital and in their relation to the total capital, which produces them.
Although the rate of profit must be calculated by measuring the mass of the produced and realised surplus-value by the consumed portion of capital reappearing in the commodities as well as by the sum of this portion plus that portion of capital which, though not consumed, is employed and continues to serve in production, the mass of profit cannot be equal to anything but the mass of profit, or surplus-value, contained in the commodities themselves and to be realised by their sale.
If the productivity of industry increases, the prices of the individual commodities fall. There is less paid and unpaid labor contained in them. Let the same labor produce, say, thrice, its former product. Then the individual product requires two-thirds less labor. And since the profit can constitute but a portion of the amount of labor congealed in the individual commodities, the mass of profit in the individual commodities must decrease. And this must hold good, within certain limits, even if the rate of surplus-value should rise. In any case, the mass of profits on the total product does not fall below the original mass of profits so long as the capital employs the same number of laborers at the same degree of exploitation. (This may also take place, if fewer laborers are employed at a higher rate of exploitation.) For to the same extent that the mass of profit on the individual product decreases does the number of products increase. The mass of profits remains the same, only it is distributed differently over the total amount of commodities. Nor does this alter the division of the amount of value created by newly added labor between the laborers and capitalists. The mass of profit cannot increase, so long as same amount of labor is employed, unless the unpaid surplus-labor increases, or, supposing the intensity of exploitation to remain the same, unless the number of laborers grows. Or, both of these causes may, of course, combine to produce this result. In all these cases, which, however, according to our assumption, presuppose an increase of the constant capital as compared to the variable and an increase in the magnitude of the total capital, the individual commodity contains a smaller mass of profit and the rate of profit falls even if it is calculated on the individual commodity. A given quantity of additional labor is materialised in a larger quantity of commodities. The price of the individual commodities falls. Abstractly speaking, the rate of profit may remain the same, even though the price of the individual commodity may fall as a result of an increase in the productivity of labor and a simultaneous increase in the number of these cheaper commodities, for instance, if the increase in the productivity of labor extended its effects uniformly and simultaneously to all the elements of the commodities, so that the total price of the commodities would fall in the same proportion in which the productivity of labor would increase, while on the other hand the mutual relations of the different elements of the price of commodities would remain the same. The rate of profit might even rise, if a rise in the rate of surplus-value were accompanied by a considerable reduction in the value of the elements of constant, and particularly of fixed, capital. But in reality, as we have seen, the rate of profit will fall in the long run. In any case, a fall in the price of any individual commodity does not by itself give a clue to the rate of profit. Everything depends on the magnitude of the total capital invested in its production. For instance, if the price of one yard of fabric falls from 3 sh. to 1 2/3 sh.; if we know that it contained before this reduction in price 1 2/3 sh. worth of constant capital, yarn, etc., 2/3 sh. wages, and 1/3 sh. profit, while it contains after this reduction 1 sh. of constant capital, 1/3 sh. of wages, and 1/3 sh. of profit, we cannot tell whether the rate of profit has remained the same or not. This depends on the question, whether the advanced total capital has increased, and how much, and how many yards of fabric more it produces in a given time.
This phenomenon arising from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, namely, that an increase in the productivity of labor implies a fall in the price of the individual commodity, or of a certain mass of commodities, an increase in the number of commodities, a reduction of the mass of profit in the individual commodity and of the rate of profit on the aggregate of commodities, an increase of the mass of profit in the total quantity of commodities, this phenomenon shows itself on the surface only in a reduction of the mass of profit in the individual commodities, in a fall of their prices, in an increase of the mass of profits in the augmented number of commodities as a whole, which have been produced by the total capital of society or by that of the individual capitalist. It is then imagined that the capitalist adds less profits to the price of the individual commodities on his own free volition and makes up for it by the returns on a greater number of commodities produced by him. This conception rests upon the idea of profit upon alienation, which in its turn is deduced from the ideas of merchant's capital.
We have seen previously, in parts four and seven of Book I, that the growth in the mass of commodities resulting from the productivity of labor and the consequent cheapening of the commodities as such (unless these commodities become determining elements in the price of labor-power) do not affect the proportion between paid and unpaid labor in the individual commodities, in spite of the fall in price.
Since everything appears inverted under competition, the individual capitalist may imagine: 1) That he is reducing his profit on the individual commodity by cutting its price, but still making a greater profit on account of the larger quantity of commodities which he is selling; 2) that he is fixing the price of the individual commodities and determining the price of the total product by multiplication, while the original process is really one of division (see Book I, chapter XII) and the multiplication is correct only in a secondary way, being based on that division. The vulgar economist does practically no more than to translate the queer concepts of the capitalists, who are in the thralls of competition, into a more theoretical and generalising language and to attempt a vindication of the correctness of those conceptions.
Practically, a fall in the prices of commodities and a rise in the mass of profits contained in the augmented mass of these cheapened commodities is but another expression for the law of the falling rate of profit with a simultaneous increase in the mass of profits.
The analysis of the extent to which a falling rate of profit may coincide with rising prices does not belong in this chapter any more than that of the point previously discussed in volume I, chapter XII, concerning relative surplus-value. A capitalist working with improved methods of production that have not yet become general sells below the market-price, but above his individual price of production. In this way his rate of profit rises until competition levels it down. During this leveling period the second requisite puts in its appearance, namely the expansion of the invested capital. According to the degree of this expansion the capitalist will be enabled to employ a part of his former laborers under the new conditions, and eventually all of them or more, in other words, he will be enabled to produce the same or a greater mass of profits.
IF we consider the enormous development of the productive powers of labor, even comparing but the last 30 years with all former periods; if we consider in particular the enormous mass of fixed capital, aside from machinery in the strict meaning of the term, passing into the process of social production. as a whole, then the difficult, which has hitherto troubled the vulgar economists, namely that of finding an explanation for the falling rate of profit, gives way to its opposite, namely to the question; How is it that this fall is not greater and more rapid? There must be some counteracting influences at work, which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving to it merely the character of a tendency. For this reason we have referred to the fall of the average rate of profit as a tendency to fall.
The following are the general counterbalancing causes:
I. Raising the Intensity of Exploitation.
The rate at which labor is exploited, the appropriation of surplus-labor and surplus-value, is raised by a prolongation of the working day and an intensification of labor. These two points have been fully discussed in volume I as incidents to the production of absolute and relative surplus-value. There are many ways of intensifying labor, which imply an increase of the constant capital as compared to the variable, and consequently a fall in the rate of profit, for instance setting a laborer to watch a larger number of machines. In such cases—and in the majority of manipulations serving to produce relative surplus-value—the same causes, which bring about an increase in the rate of surplus-value, may also imply a fall in the mass of surplus-value, looking upon the matter from the point of view of the total quantities of invested capital. But there are other means of intensification, such as increasing the speed of machinery, which although consuming more raw material, and, so far as the fixed capital is concerned, wearing out the machinery so much faster, nevertheless do not affect the relation of its value to the price of labor set in motion by it. It is particularly the prolongation of the working day, this invention of modern industry, which increases the mass of appropriated surplus-labor without essentially altering the proportion of the employed labor-power to the constant capital set in motion by it, and which tends to reduce this capital relatively, if anything. For the rest, we have already demonstrated—what constitutes the real secret of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall—that the manipulations made for the purpose of producing relative surplus-value amount on the whole to this: That on one side as much as possible of a certain quantity of labor is transformed into surplus-value, and that on the other hand as little labor as possible is employed in proportion to the invested capital, so that the same causes, which permit the raising of the intensity of exploitation, forbid the exploitation of the same quantity of labor by the same capital as before. These are the warring tendencies, which, while aiming at a raise in the rate of surplus-value, have at the same time a tendency to bring about a fall in the mass of surplus-value, and therefore of the rate of surplus-value produced by a certain capital. It is furthermore appropriate to mention at this point the extensive introduction of female and child labor, in so far as the whole family must produce a larger quantity of surplus-value for a certain capital than before, even in case the total amount of their wages should increase, which is by no means general.
Whatever tends to promote the production of relative surplus-value by mere improvements in methods, for instance in agriculture, without altering the magnitude of the invested capital, has the same effect. While the constant capital does not increase relatively to the variable in such cases, taking the variable capital as an index of the amount of labor-power employed, the mass of the product does increase in proportion to the labor-power employed. The same takes place, when the productive power of labor (whether its product passes into the consumption of the laborer or into the elements of constant capital) is freed from obstacles of circulation, of arbitrary or other restrictions which become obstacles in course of time, in short, of fetters of all kinds, without touching directly the proportion between the variable and the constant capital.
It might be asked, whether the causes checking the fall of the rate of profit, but always hastening it in the last analysis, include the temporary raise in surplus-value above the average level, which recur now in this, now in that line of production for the benefit of those individual capitalists, who make use of inventions, etc., before they are generally introduced. This question must be answered in the affirmative.
The mass of surplus-value produced by a capital of a certain magnitude is the product of two factors, namely of the rate of surplus-value multiplied by the number of laborers employed at this rate. Hence it depends on the number of laborers, when the rate of surplus-value is given, and on the rate of surplus-value, when the number of laborers is given. In short, it depends on the composite proportion of the absolute magnitudes of the variable capital and the rate of surplus-value. Now we have seen, that on an average the same causes, which raise the rate of relative surplus-value, lower the mass of the employed labor-power. It is evident, however, that there will be a more or less in this according to the definite proportion, in which the opposite movements exert themselves, and that the tendency to reduce the rate of profit will be particularly checked by a raise in the rate of absolute surplus-value due to a prolongation of the working day.
We saw in the case of the rate of profit, that a fall in the rate was generally accompanied by an increase in the mass of profit, on account of the increasing mass of the total capital employed. From the point of view of the total variable capital of society, the surplus-value produced by it is equal to the profit produced by it. Both the absolute mass and the absolute rate of surplus-value have thus increased. The one has increased, because the quantity of labor-power employed by society has grown, the other, because the intensity of exploitation of this labor-power has increased. But in the case of a capital of a given magnitude, for instance 100, the rate of surplus-value may increase, while the mass may decrease on an average; for the rate is determined by the proportion, in which the variable capital produces value, while its mass is determined by the proportional part which the variable capital constitutes in the total capital.
The rise in the rate of surplus-value is a factor, which determines also the mass of surplus-value and thereby the rate of profit, for it takes place especially under conditions, in which, as we have seen, the constant capital is either not increased at all relatively to the variable capital, or not increased in proportion. This factor does not suspend the general law. But it causes that law to become more of a tendency, that is, a law whose absolute enforcement is checked, retarded, weakened, by counteracting influences. Since the same causes, which raise the rate of surplus-value (even a prolongation of the working time is a result of large scale industry), also tend to decrease the labor-power employed by a certain capital, it follows that these same causes also tend to reduce the rate of profit and to check the speed of this fall. If one laborer is compelled to perform as much labor as would be rationally performed by two, and if this is done under circumstances, in which this one laborer can replace three, then this one will produce as much surplus-labor as was formerly produced by two, and to that extent the rate of surplus-value will have risen. But this one will not produce as much as formerly three, and to that extent the mass of surplus-value will have decreased. But this reduction in mass will be compensated, or limited, by the rise in the rate of surplus-value. If the entire population is employed at a higher rate of surplus-value, the mass of surplus-value will increase, although the population may remain the same. It will increase still more, if the population increases at the same time. And although this goes hand in hand with a relative reduction of the number of laborers employed in proportion to the magnitude of the total capital, yet this reduction is checked or moderated by the rise in the rate of surplus-value.
Before leaving this point, we wish to emphasize once more that, with a capital of a certain magnitude, the rate of surplus-value may rise, while its mass is decreasing, and vice versa. The mass of surplus-value is equal to the rate multiplied by the number of laborers; however, this rate is never calculated on the total, but only on the variable capital, actually only for a day at a time. On the other hand, with a given magnitude of a certain capital, the rate of profit can never fall or rise, without a simultaneous fall or rise in the mass of surplus-value.
II. Depression of Wages Below their Value.
This is mentioned only empirically at this place, since it, like many other things, which might be enumerated here, has nothing to do with the general analysis of capital, but belongs in a presentation of competition, which is not given in this work. However, it is one of the most important causes checking the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
III. Cheapening of the Elements of Constant Capital.
Everything that has been said in the first part of this volume about the causes, which raise the rate of profit while the rate of surplus-value remains the same, or independently of the rate of surplus-value, belongs here. This applies particularly to the fact that, from the point of view of the total capital, the value of the constant capital does not increase in the same proportion as its material volume. For instance, the quantity of cotton, which a single European spinning operator works up in a modern factory, has grown in a colossal degree compared to the quantity formerly worked up by a European operator with a spinning wheel. But the value of the worked-up cotton has not grown in proportion to its mass. The same holds good of machinery and other fixed capital. In short, the same development, which increases the mass of the constant capital relatively over that of the variable, reduces the value of its elements as a result of the increased productivity of labor. In this way the value of the constant capital although continually increasing, is prevented from increasing at the same rate as its material volume, that is, the material volume of the means of production set in motion by the same amount of labor-power. In exceptional cases the mass of the elements of constant capital may even increase, while its value remains the same or even falls.
The foregoing bears upon the depreciation of existing capital (that is, of its material elements) which comes with the development of industry. This is another one of the causes which by their constant effects tend to check the fall of the rate of profit, although it may under certain circumstances reduce the mass of profit by reducing the mass of capital yielding a profit. This shows once more that the same causes, which bring about a tendency of the rate of profit to fall, also check the realisation of this tendency.
IV. Relative Overpopulation.
The production of a relative surplus-population is inseparable from the development of the productivity of labor expressed by a fall in the rate of profit, and the two go hand in hand. The relative overpopulation becomes so much more apparent in a certain country, the more the capitalist mode of production is developed in it. This, again, is on the one hand a reason, which explains why the imperfect subordination of labor to capital continues in many lines of production, and continues longer than seems at first glance compatible with the general stage of development. This is due to the cheapness and mass of the disposable or unemployed wage laborers, and to the greater resistance, which some lines of production, by their nature, oppose to a transformation of manufacture into machine production. On the other hand, new lines of production are opened up, especially for the production of luxuries, and these lines take for their basis this relative overpopulation set free in other lines of production by the increase of their constant capital. These new lines start out with living labor as their predominating element, and go by degrees through the same evolution as the other lines of production. In either case the variable capital constitutes a considerable proportion of the total capital and wages are below the average, so that both the rate and mass of surplus-value are exceptionally high. Since the average rate of profit is formed by leveling the rates of profit in the individual lines of production, the same cause, which brings about a falling tendency of the rate of profit, once more produces a counterbalance to this tendency and paralyses its effects more or less.
V. Foreign Trade.
To the extent that foreign trade cheapens partly the elements of constant capital, partly the necessities of life for which the variable capital is exchanged, it tends to raise the rate of profit by raising the rate of surplus-value and lowering the value of the constant capital. It exerts itself generally in this direction by permitting an expansion of the scale of production. But by this means it hastens on one hand the process of accumulation, on the other the reduction of the variable as compared to the constant capital, and thus a fall in the rate of profit. In the same way the expansion of foreign trade, which is the basis of the capitalist mode of production in its stages of infancy, has become its own product in the further progress of capitalist development through its innate necessities, through its need of an ever expanding market. Here we see once more the dual nature of these effects. (Ricardo entirely overlooked this side of foreign trade.)
Another question, which by its special nature is really beyond the scope of our analysis, is the following: Is the average rate of profit raised by the higher rate of profit, which capital invested in foreign, and particularly in colonial trade, realises?
Capitals invested in foreign trade are in a position to yield a higher rate of profit, because, in the first place, they come in competition with commodities produced in other countries with lesser facilities of production, so that an advanced country is enabled to sell its goods above their value even when it sells them cheaper than the competing countries. To the extent that the labor of the advanced countries is here exploited as a labor of a higher specific weight, the rate of profit rises, because labor which has not been paid as being of a higher quality is sold as much. The same condition may obtain in the relations with a certain country, into which commodities are exported and from which commodities are imported. This country may offer more materialised labor in goods than it receives, and yet it may receive in return commodities cheaper than it could produce them. In the same way a manufacturer, who exploits a new invention before it has become general, undersells his competitors and yet sells his commodities above their individual values, that is to say, he exploits the specifically higher productive power of the labor employed by him as surplus-value. By this means he secures a surplus-profit. On the other hand, capitals invested in colonies, etc., may yield a higher rate of profit for the simple reason that the rate of profit is higher there on account of the backward development, and for the added reason, that slaves, coolies, etc., permit a better exploitation of labor. We see no reason, why these higher rates of profit realised by capitals invested in certain lines and sent home by them should not enter as elements into the average rate of profit and tend to keep it up to that extent.36 We see so much less reason for the contrary opinion, when it is assumed that such favored lines of investment are subject to the laws of free competition. What Ricardo has in mind as objections, is mainly this: With the higher prices realised in foreign trade, commodities are bought abroad and sent home. These commodities are sold on the home market, and this can constitute at best but a temporary advantage of the favored spheres of production over others. This aspect of the matter is changed, when we no longer look upon it from the point of view of money. The favored country recovers more labor in exchange for less labor, although this difference, this surplus, is pocketed by a certain class, as it is in any exchange between labor and capital. So far as the rate of profit is higher, because it is generally higher in the colonial country, it may go hand in hand with a low level of prices, if the natural conditions are favorable. It is true that a compensation takes place, but it is not a compensation on the old level, as Ricardo thinks.
However, this same foreign trade develops the capitalist mode of production in the home country. And this implies the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital, while it produces, on the other hand, an overproduction for the foreign market, so that it has once more the opposite effect in its further course.
And so we have seen in a general way, that the same causes, which produce a falling tendency in the rate of profit, also call forth counter-effects, which check and partly paralyse this fall. This law is not suspended, but its effect is weakened. Otherwise it would not be the fall of the average rate of profit, which would be unintelligible, but rather the relative slowness of this fall. The law therefore shows itself only as a tendency, whose effects become clearly marked only under certain conditions and in the course of long periods.
Before passing on to something new, we will, for the sake of preventing misunderstanding, repeat two statements, which we have substantiated at different times.
1) The same process, which brings about a cheapening of commodities in the course of development of the capitalist mode of production, also causes a change in the organic composition of the social capital invested in the production of commodities, and thereby lowers the rate of profit. We must be careful, then, not to confound the reduction in the relative cost of an individual commodity, including that portion of its cost which represents wear and tear of machinery, with the relative rise in the value of the constant as compared to the variable capital, although vice versa every reduction in the relative cost of the constant capital, whose material elements retain the same volume or increase in volume, tends to raise the rate of profit, in other words, tends to reduce the value of the constant capital to that extent as compared with the shrinking proportions of the employed variable capital.
2) The fact that the additional living labor contained in the individual commodities, which together make up the product of capital, stands in a decreasing proportion to the materials and instruments of labor consumed by them; the fact, that an ever decreasing quantity of additional living labor is materialised in them, because their production requires less labor to the extent that the productive power of society is developed,—this fact does not touch the proportion, according to which the living labor contained in the commodities is divided into paid and unpaid labor. On the other hand, although the total quantity of additional living labor contained in them decreases, the unpaid portion increases over the paid portion, either by an absolute, or by a proportional reduction of the paid portion; for the same mode of production, which reduces the total quantity of the additional living labor in the commodities, is accompanied by a rise of the absolute and relative surplus-value. The falling tendency of the rate of profit is accompanied by a rising tendency of the rate of surplus-value, that is, in the rate of exploitation. Nothing is more absurd, for this reason, than to explain a fall in the rate of profit by a rise in the rate of wages, although there may be exceptional cases where this may apply. Statistics do not become available for actual analyses of the rates of wages in different epochs and countries, until the conditions, which shape the rate of profit, are thoroughly understood. The rate of profit does not fall, because labor becomes less productive, but because it becomes more productive. Both phenomena, the rise in the rate of surplus-value and the fall in the rate of profit, are but specific forms through which the productivity of labor seeks a capitalistic expression,
VI. The Increase of Stock Capital.
The foregoing five points may be supplemented by the following, which, however, cannot be more fully detailed for the present. A portion of capital serves only as interest-bearing capital, and is so calculated, to the extent that capitalist production makes progress and hastens accumulation. This term interest-bearing capital is not applied here to capital loaned by a capitalist who is satisfied with interest on it, while the industrial capitalist borrowing it pockets the investor's profit. This has no bearing upon the level of the average rate of profit, for this rate is concerned only with profit as composed of interest + profit of all sorts + ground rent, and the proportional division into these particular categories is immaterial for it. We speak here of interest-bearing capital in the sense that these capitals, although invested in large productive enterprises, yield only large or small amounts of interest, so-called dividends, after all costs have been paid. This is typical of railroads, for instance. These dividends do not help to level the average rate of profit, because they represent a lower than the average rate of profit. If they did help in this, then the average rate of profit would fall much lower. Theoretically such capitals may be included in the calculation, and in that case the result will be a lower rate of profit than that which actually seems to exist and determine the actions of the capitalists, since the constant capital is the largest as compared to the variable capital precisely in these enterprises.
UNRAVELING THE INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS OF THE LAW.
I. General Remarks.
WE have seen in the first part of this volume, that the rate of profit expresses the rate of surplus-value always lower than it actually is. We have now seen, that even a rising rate of surplus-value has a tendency to express itself in a falling rate of profit. The rate of profit would be equal to the rate of surplus-value only if c = O, that is, if the entire invested capital were paid out in wages. A falling rate of profit does not express a falling rate of surplus-value, unless the proportion of the value of the constant capital to the quantity of labor-power set in motion by it remains unchanged, or the amount of labor-power has increased relatively over the value of the constant capital.
Ricardo, under pretense of analysing the rate of profit, actually analyses only the rate of surplus-value, and he does so on the assumption that the working day is intensively and extensively a constant magnitude.
A fall in the rate of profit and a hastening of accumulation are in so far only different expressions of the same process as both of them indicate the development of the productive power. Accumulation in its turn hastens the fall of the rate of profit, inasmuch as it implies the concentration of labor on a large scale and thereby a higher composition of capital. On the other hand, a fall in the rate of profit hastens the concentration of capital and its centralisation through the expropriation of the smaller capitalists, the expropriation of the last survivers of the direct producers who still have anything to give up. This accelerates on one hand the accumulation, so far as mass is concerned, although the rate of accumulation falls with the rate of profit.
On the other hand, so far as the rate of self-expansion of the total capital, the rate of profit, is the incentive of capitalist production (just as this self-expansion of capital is its only purpose, its fall checks the formation of new independent capitals and thus seems to threaten the development of the process of capitalist production. It promotes overproduction, speculation, crises, surplus-capital along with surplus-population. Those economists who, like Ricardo, regard the capitalist mode of production as absolute, feel nevertheless, that this mode of production creates its own limits, and therefore they attribute this limit, not to production, but to nature (in their theory of rent). But the main point in their horror over the falling rate of profit is the feeling, that capitalist production meets in the development of productive forces a barrier, which has nothing to do with the production of wealth as such; and this peculiar barrier testifies to the finiteness and the historical, merely transitory character of capitalist production. It demonstrates that this is not an absolute mode for the production of wealth, but rather comes in conflict with the further development of wealth at a certain stage.
It is true that Ricardo and his school considered only the industrial profit, which includes interest. But the rate of ground-rent has likewise a tendency to fall, although its absolute mass increases, and it may also increase proportionately more than the industrial profit. (See Ed. West, who developed the law of ground-rent before Ricardo.) If we consider the total social capital C, and use p'' to indicate the industrial profit remaining after the deduction of interest and ground rent, i to indicate interest, and r to indicate ground-rent then s/C=p/C=(p''+i+r)/C=p''/C+i/C+r/C. We have seen that, while s, the total amount of surplus-value, is continually increasing in the course of capitalist development, nevertheless s/C is just as steadily declining, because C grows still more rapidly than s. Therefore it is no contradiction, that p'', i, and r, should be steadily increasing, each by itself, while s/C=p/C as well as p''/C, i/C, and r/C, each by itself, should ever decline, or that p'' should increase relatively more than i, or r more than p'', or, perhaps, more than p'' and i. With a rise in the total surplus-value or profit s = p, but a simultaneous fall in the rate of profit s/C=p/C, the proportional magnitude of the parts p'', i, and r, which make up s = p, may change at will within the limits set by the total amount of s, without thereby affecting the magnitude of s or s/C.
The mutual variation of p'', i and r is but a varying distribution of s among different classes. Consequently p''/C, i/C, and r/C, the rate of industrial profit, the rate of interest, and the rate of ground-rent to the total capital, may rise relatively to one another, while s/C, the average rate of profit, is falling. The only condition is that the sum of all three cannot exceed s/C. If the rate of profit falls from 50% to 25%, because the composition of a certain capital with a rate of surplus-value of 100% has changed from 50 c + 50 v to 75 c + 25 v, then a capital of 1,000 will yield a profit of 500 in the first case, and a capital of 4,000 will yield a profit of 1,000 in the second case. We see that s or p have doubled, while p' has fallen by one-half. And if that 50% was formerly divided into 20 profit, 10 interest, 20 rent, then p''/C = 20%, i/C = 10%, and r/C = 20%. If conditions remained the same after the change from 50% to 25%, then p'/C would be 10%, i/C would be 5%, and r/C = 10%. If, however, p'/C should fall to 3% and i/C to 4%, then r/C would rise to 13%. The proportional magnitude of r would have risen as against p'' and i, but nevertheless p', the rate of profit, would have remained the same. Under both assumptions, the sum of p'', i, and r would have increased, because it would have been produced by a capital of four times the size of the former. By the way, Ricardo's assumption that the industrial profit (plus interest) originally pockets the entire profit, is historically and logically false. It is rather the progress of capitalist production which, 1), places the whole profit at first hand at the disposal of the industrial and commercial capitalists for further distribution, and, 2), reduces rent to the excess over the profit. On this capitalist basis, rent further increases, so far as it is a portion of profit (that is, of the surplus-value produced by the total capital), while the specific portion of the product, which the capitalist pockets, does not.
The creation of surplus-value, assuming the necessary means of production, or sufficient accumulation of capital, to be existing, finds no other limit but the laboring population, when the rate of surplus-value, that is, the intensity of exploitation, is given; and no other limit but the intensity of exploitation, when the laboring population is given. And the capitalist process of production consists essentially of the production of surplus-value, materialised in the surplus-product, which is that aliquot portion of the produced commodities, in which unpaid labor is materialised. It must never be forgotten, that the production of this surplus-value—and the reconversion of a portion of it into capital, or accumulation, forms an indispensable part of this production of surplus-value—is the immediate purpose and the compelling motive of capitalist production. It will not do to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, that is to say, as a production having for its immediate purpose the consumption of goods, or the production of means of enjoyment for capitalists. This would be overlooking the specific character of capitalist production, which reveals itself in its innermost essence.
The creation of this surplus-value is the object of the direct process of production, and this process has no other limits but those mentioned above. As soon as the available quantity of surplus-value has been materialised in commodities, surplus-value has been produced. But this production of surplus-value is but the first act of the capitalist process of production, it merely terminates the act of direct production. Capital has absorbed so much unpaid labor. With the development of the process, which expresses itself through a falling tendency of the rate of profit, the mass of surplus-value thus produced is swelled to immense dimensions. Now comes the second act of the process. The entire mass of commodities, the total product, which contains a portion which is to reproduce the constant and variable capital as well as a portion representing surplus-value, must be sold. If this is not done, or only partly accomplished, or only at prices which are below the prices of production, the laborer has been none the less exploited, but his exploitation does not realise as much for the capitalist. It may yield no surplus-value at all for him, or only realise a portion of the produced surplus-value, or it may even mean a partial or complete loss of his capital. The conditions of direct exploitation and those of the realisation of surplus-value are not identical. They are separated logically as well as by time and space. The first are only limited by the productive power of society, the last by the proportional relations of the various lines of production and by the consuming power of society. This last-named power is not determined either by the absolute productive power nor by the absolute consuming power, but by the consuming power based on antagonistic conditions of distribution, which reduces the consumption of the great mass of the population to a variable minimum within more or less narrow limits. The consuming power is furthermore restricted by the tendency to accumulate, the greed for an expansion of capital and a production of surplus-value on an enlarged scale. This is a law of capitalist production imposed by incessant revolutions in the methods of production themselves, the resulting depreciation of existing capital, the general competitive struggle and the necessity of improving the product and expanding the scale of production, for the sake of self-preservation and on penalty of failure. The market must, therefore, be continually extended, so that its interrelations and the conditions regulating them assume more and more the form of a natural law independent of the producers and become ever more uncontrollable. This internal contradiction seeks to balance itself by an expansion of the outlying fields of production. But to the extent that the productive power develops, it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the condition of consumption rest. On this self contradictory basis it is no contradiction at all that there should be an excess of capital simultaneously with an excess of population. For while a combination of these two would indeed increase the mass of the produced surplus-value, it would at the same time intensify the contradiction between the conditions under which this surplus-value is produced and those under which it is realised.
If a certain rate of profit is given, the mass of profit depends on the magnitude of the advanced capital. Accumulation is then determined by that portion of this mass, which is reconverted into capital. This portion, in its turn, being equal to the profit minus the revenue consumed by the capitalists, will depend not merely on the value of this mass, but also on the cheapness of the commodities which the capitalist can buy with it, commodities which pass partly into his individual consumption, partly into his constant capital. (Wages are here assumed to be a given quantity.)
The mass of capital which the laborer sets in motion, whose value he preserves by his labor and reproduces in his product, is quite different from the value which he adds to it. If the mass of the capital equals 1,000, and the added labor 100, then the reproduced capital equals 1,100. If the mass equals 100 and the added labor 20, then the reproduced capital equals 120. In the first case the rate of profit is 10%, in the second 20%. And yet more can be accumulated out of 100 than out of 20. And thus the river of capital rolls on (aside from its depreciation by an increase of the productive power), or its accumulation does, not in proportion to the level of the rate of profit, but in proportion to the impetus which it already has. A high rate of profit, so far as it is based on a high rate of surplus-value, is possible when the working day is very long, although labor may not be highly productive. This is possible, because the wants of the laborers are very insignificant, and therefore the average wages very low, although labor itself unproductive. The low level of wages will have for its counterpart a lack of energy among laborers. Capital then accumulates slowly, in spite of the high rate of profits. Population stagnates and the working time, which the product costs, is long, while the wages paid to the laborer are small.
The rate of profit sinks, not because the laborer is less exploited, but, because less labor is employed in proportion to the employed capital in general.
If a falling rate of profit goes hand in hand with an increase in the mass of profits, as we have shown, then a larger portion of the annual product of labor is appropriated by the capitalist under the name of capital (as a substitute for consumed capital) and a relatively smaller portion under the name of profit. Hence the phantastic idea of the priest Chalmers, that the capitalists pocket so much more profits, the smaller the quantity of the annual product expended by them as capital. The state church then comes to their assistance in order to help them to consume the greater part of the surplus-product instead of capitalising it. The preacher confounds cause with effect. By the way, the mass of profits increases also at a small rate with the magnitude of the invested capital. However, this requires at the same time a concentration of capital, since the conditions of production then demand the employment of capital on a large scale. It likewise requires its centralisation, that is, a devouring of small capitalists by the great capitalists and decapitalisation of the former. It is but a second instance of separating the producers from their requirements of production, for these small capitalists still belong to the producers, since their own labor plays a role in this problem. Generally speaking, the labor of a capitalist stands in an inverse proportion to the size of his capital, that is, to his degree as a capitalist. This divorce of requirements of production here, and producers there, is inseparable from the nature of capital. It begins with the inauguration of primitive accumulation. (Vol. I, chap. XXVI), becomes a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of capital, and expresses itself finally as a centralisation of already existing capitals in a few hands and a decapitalisation of many (a change in the method of expropriation). This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production, if it were not for counteracting tendencies, which continually have a decentralising effect by the side of the centripetal ones.
II. Conflict between the Expansion of Production and the Creation of Values.
The development of the productive power of labor shows itself in two ways: First, in the magnitude of the already produced productive powers, in the volume of values and masses of requirements of production, under which new production is carried on, and in the absolute magnitude of the already accumulated productive capital: secondly, in the relative smallness of the capital invested in wages as compared to the total capital, that is, in the relatively small quantity of living labor required for the reproduction and self-expansion of a given capital as compared to mass production. It is at the same time conditioned on the concentration of capital.
So far as the employed labor-power is concerned, the development of the productive powers shows itself once more in two ways: First, in the increase of surplus-labor, that is, the reduction of the necessary labor time required for the reproduction of labor-power; secondly, in the decrease of the quantity of labor-power (the number of laborers) employed in general for the purpose of setting in motion a given capital.
Both movements do not only go hand in hand, but are mutually conditioned on one another. They are different phenomena, through which the same law expresses itself. However, they affect the rate of profit in opposite ways. The total mass of profits is equal to the total mass of surplus-values, the rate of profit = s/C = (surplus-value)/(advanced total capital). Now, surplus-value, as a total, is determined first by its rate, secondly by the mass of labor simultaneously employed at this rate, or what amounts to the same, by the magnitude of the variable capital. One of these factors, the rate of surplus-value, rises in one direction, the other factor, the number of laborers, falls in the opposite direction (relatively or absolutely). To the extent that the development of the productive power reduces the paid portion of the employed labor, it raises the surplus-value by raising its rate; but to the extent that it reduces the total mass of labor employed by a certain capital, it reduces the factor of numbers with which the rate of surplus-value is multiplied in order to calculate its mass. Two laborers, each working 12 hours daily, cannot produce the same mass of surplus-value as 24 laborers each working only 2 hours, even if they could live on air and did not have to work for themselves at all. In this respect, then, the compensation of the reduction in the number of laborers by means of an intensification of exploitation has certain impassible limits. It may, for this reason, check the fall of the rate of profit, but cannot prevent it entirely.
With the development of the capitalist mode of production, the rate of profit therefore falls, while its mass increases with the growing mass of the employed capital. Given the rate, the absolute increase in the mass of capital depends on its existing magnitude. But on the other hand, if this magnitude is given, the proportion of its growth, the rate of its increment, depends on the rate of profit. The increase in the productive power (which, we repeat, always goes hand in hand with a depreciation of the productive capital) cannot directly increase the value of the existing capital, unless it increases, by raising the rate of profit, that portion of the value of the annual product which is reconverted into capital. So far as the productive power is concerned (since it has no direct bearing upon the value of the existing capital), it can accomplish this only by raising the relative surplus-value, or reducing the value of the constant capital, so that those commodities which enter either into the reproduction of labor-power or into the elements of constant capital are cheapened. Both of these things imply a depreciation of the existing capital, and both of them go hand in hand with a relative reduction of the variable as compared to the constant capital. Both things imply a fall in the rate of profit, and both of them check it. Furthermore, so far as an increased rate of profit causes a greater demand for labor, it tends to increase the working population and thus the material, whose exploitation gives to capital its real nature of capital.
Indirectly, however, the development of the productive power of labor contributes to the increase of the value of the existing capital, by increasing the mass and variety of use-values, in which the same exchange value presents itself and which form the material substance, the objective elements, of capital, the material objects of which the constant capital is directly composed and the variable capital at least indirectly. With the same capital and the same labor more things are produced, which may be converted into capital, aside from their exchange value. Things which may serve for the absorption of additional labor, and consequently of additional surplus-labor, and which therefore may become additional capital. The amount of labor, which a certain capital may command, does not depend on its value, but on the mass of raw and auxiliary materials, of machinery and elements of fixed capital, of necessities of life, of which it is composed, whatever may be their value. As the mass of the employed labor, and thus of surplus-labor, increases, so does the value of the reproduced capital and the surplus-value newly added to it grow.
These two elements playing their role in the process of accumulation should not, however, be observed in their quiet existence side by side, as Ricardo does. They imply a contradiction, which expresses itself in antagonistic tendencies and phenomena. These antagonistic agencies oppose each other simultaneously.
Together with the incentives for an actual increase of the laboring population, which originates in the augmentation of that portion of the total social product which serves as capital, there are the effects of other agencies, which create merely a relative over-population.
Together with the fall of the rate of profit grows the mass of capitals, and hand in hand with it goes a depreciation of the existing capitals, which checks this fall and gives an accelerating push to the accumulation of capital-values.
Together with the development of the productive power grows the higher composition of capital, the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital.
These different influences make themselves felt, now more side by side in space, now more successively in time. Periodically the conflict of antagonistic agencies seeks vent in crises. The crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions, violent eruptions, which restore the disturbed equilibrium for a while.
The contradiction, generally speaking, consists in this that the capitalist mode of production has a tendency to develop the productive forces absolutely, regardless of value and of the surplus-value contained in it and regardless of the social conditions under which capitalist production takes place; while it has on the other hand for its aim the preservation of the value of the existing capital and its self-expansion to the highest limit (that is, an ever accelerated growth of this value). Its specific character is directed at the existing value of capital as a means of increasing this value to the utmost. The methods by which it aims to accomplish this comprise a fall of the rate of profit, a depreciation of the existing capital, and a development of the productive forces of labor at the expense of the already created productive forces.
The periodical depreciation of the existing capital, which is one of the immanent means of capitalist production by which the fall in the rate of profit is checked and the accumulation of capital-value through the formation of new capital promoted, disturbs the existing conditions, within which the process of circulation and reproduction of capital takes place, and is therefore accompanied by sudden stagnations and crises in the process of production.
The relative decrease of variable capital as compared to the constant, which goes hand in hand with the development of the productive forces, gives an impulse to the growth of the laboring population, while it continually creates an artificial over-population. The accumulation of capital, so far as its value is concerned, is checked by the falling rate of profit, in order to hasten still more the accumulation of its use-value, and this, in its turn, adds new speed to the accumulation of its value.
Capitalist production is continually engaged in the attempt to overcome these immanent barriers, but it overcomes them only by means which again place the same barriers in its way in a more formidable size.
The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is the fact that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, as the motive and aim of production; that production is merely production for capital, and not vice versa, the means of production mere means for an ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers. The barriers, within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move, these barriers come continually in collision with the methods of production, which capital must employ for its purposes, and which steer straight toward an unrestricted extension of production, toward production for its own self, toward an unconditional development of the productive forces of society. The means, this unconditional development of the productive forces of society, comes continually into conflict with the limited end, the self-expansion of the existing capital. Thus, while the capitalist mode of production is one of the historical means by which the material forces of production are developed and the world-market required for them created, it is at the same time in continual conflict with this historical task and the conditions of social production corresponding to it.
III. Surplus of Capital and Surplus of Population.
With the fall of the rate of profit grows the lowest limit of capital required in the hands of the individual capitalist for the productive employment of labor, required both for the exploitation of labor and for bringing the consumed labor time within the limits of the labor time necessary for the production of the commodities, the limits of the average social labor time required for the production of the commodities. Simultaneously with it grows the concentration, because there comes a certain limit where large capital with a small rate of profit accumulates faster than small capital with a large rate of profit. This increasing concentration in its turn brings about a new fall in the rate of profit at a certain climax. The mass of the small divided capitals is thereby pushed into adventurous channels, speculation, fraudulent credit, fraudulent stocks, crises. The so-called plethora of capital refers always essentially to a plethora of that class of capital which finds no compensation in its mass for the fall in the rate of profit—and this applies always to the newly formed sprouts of capital—or to a plethora of capitals incapable of self-dependent action and placed at the disposal of the managers of large lines of industry in the form of credit. This plethora of capital proceeds from the same causes which call forth a relative over-population. It is therefore a phenomenon supplementing this last one, although they are found at opposite poles, unemployed capital on the one hand, and unemployed laboring population on the other.
An overproduction of capital, not of individual commodities, signifies therefore simply an over-accumulation of capital—although the overproduction of capital always includes the overproduction of commodities. In order to understand what this over-accumulation is (its detailed analysis follows later), it is but necessary to assume it to be absolute. When would an overproduction of capital be absolute? When would it be an overproduction which would not affect merely a few important lines of production, but which would be so absolute as to extend to every field of production?
There would be an absolute overproduction of capital as soon as the additional capital for purposes of capitalist production would be equal to zero. The purpose of capitalist production is the self-expansion of capital, that is, the appropriation of surplus-labor, the production of surplus-value, of profit. As soon as capital would have grown to such a proportion compared with the laboring population, that neither the absolute labor time nor the relative surplus-labor time could be extended any further (this last named extension would be out of the question even in the mere case that the demand for labor would be very strong, so that there would be a tendency for wages to rise); as soon as a point is reached where the increased capital produces no larger, or even smaller, quantities of surplus-value than it did before its increase, there would be an absolute overproduction of capital. That is to say, the increased capital C+8Delta;C would not produce any more profit, or even less profit, than capital C before its expansion by 8Delta;C. In both cases there would be a strong and sudden fall in the average rate of profit, but it would be due to a change in the composition of capital which would not be caused by the development of the productive forces, but by a rise in the money-value of the variable capital (on account of the increased wages) and the corresponding reduction in the proportion of surplus-labor to necessary labor.
In reality the matter would amount to this, that a portion of the capital would lie fallow completely or partially (because it would first have to crowd some of the active capital out before it could take part in the process of self-expansion), while the active portion would produce values at a lower rate of profit, owing to the pressure of the unemployed or but partly employed capital. Matters would not be altered in this respect, if a part of the additional capital were to take the place of some old capital crowding this into the position of additional capital. We should always have on one side the sum of old capitals, on the other that of the additional capitals. The fall in the rate of profit would then be accompanied by an absolute decrease in the mass of profits, since under the conditions assumed by us the mass of the employed labor-power could not be increased and the rate of surplus-value not raised, so that there could be no raising of the mass of surplus-value. And the reduced mass of profits would have to be calculated on an increased total capital.—But even assuming that the employed capital were to continue producing value at the old rate, the mass of profits remaining the same, this mass would still be calculated on an increased total capital, and this would likewise imply a fall in the rate of profits. If a total capital of 1,000 yielded a profit of 100, and after its increase to 1,500 still yielded 100, then 1,000 in the second case would yield only 66 2/3. The self-expansion of the old capital would have been reduced absolutely. A capital of 1,000 would not yield any more under the new circumstances than formerly a capital of 666 2/3.
It is evident that this actual depreciation of the old capital could not take place without a struggle, that the additional capital 8Delta;C could not assume the functions of capital without an effort. The rate of profit would not fall on account of competition due to the overproduction of capital. The competitive struggle would rather begin, because the fall of the rate of profit and the overproduction of capital are caused by the same conditions. The capitalists who are actively engaged with their old capitals would keep as much of the new additional capitals as would be in their hands in a fallow state, in order to prevent a depreciation of their original capital and a crowding of its space within the field of production. Or they would employ it for the purpose of loading, even at a momentary loss, the necessity of keeping additional capital fallow upon the shoulders of new intruders and other competitors in general.
That portion of 8Delta;C which would be in new hands would seek to make room for itself at the expense of the old capital, and would accomplish this in part by forcing a portion of the old capital into a fallow state. The old capital would have to give up its place to the new and retire to the place of the completely or partially unemployed additional capital.
Under all circumstances, a portion of the old capital would be compelled to lie fallow, to give up its capacity of capital and stop acting and producing value as such. The competitive struggle would decide what part would have to go into this fallow state. So long as everything goes well, competition effects a practical brotherhood of the capitalist class, as we have seen in the case of the average rate of profit, so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the magnitude of his share of investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, every one tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and load as much as possible upon the shoulders of some other competitor. However, the class must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by power and craftiness, and competition then transforms itself into a fight of hostile brothers. The antagonism of the interests of the individual capitalists and those of the capitalist class as a whole then makes itself felt just as previously the identity of these interests impressed itself practically on competition.
How would this conflict be settled and the "healthy" movement of capitalist production resumed under normal conditions? The mode of settlement is already indicated by the mere statement of the conflict whose settlement is under discussion. It implies the necessity of making unproductive, or even partially destroying, some capital, amounting either to the complete value of the additional capital C, or to a part of it. But a graphic presentation of this conflict shows that the loss is not equally distributed over all the individual capitals, but according to the fortunes of the competitive struggle, which assigns the loss in very different proportions and in various shapes by grace of previously captured advantages or positions, so that one capital is rendered unproductive, another destroyed, a third but relatively injured or but momentarily depreciated, etc.
But under all circumstances the equilibrium is restored by making more or less capital unproductive or destroying it. This would affect to some extent the material substance of capital, that is, a part of the means of production, fixed and circulating capital, would not perform any service as capital; a portion of the running establishments would then close down. Of course, time would corrode and depreciate all means of production (except land), but this particular stagnation would cause a far more serious destruction of means of production. However, the main effect in this case would be to suspend the functions of some means of production and prevent them for a shorter or longer time from serving as means of production.
The principal work of destruction would show its most dire effects in a slaughtering of the values of capitals. That portion of the value of capital which exists only in the form of claims on future shares of surplus-value of profit, which consists in fact of creditor's notes on production in its various forms, would be immediately depreciated by the reduction of the receipts on which it is calculated. One portion of the gold and silver money is rendered unproductive, cannot serve as capital. One portion of the commodities on the market can complete its process of circulation and reproduction only by means of an immense contraction of its prices, which means a depreciation of the capital represented by it. In the same way the elements of fixed capital are more or less depreciated. Then there is the added complication that the process of reproduction is based on definite assumptions as to prices, so that a general fall in prices checks and disturbs the process of reproduction. This interference and stagnation paralyses the function of money as a medium of payment, which is conditioned on the development of capital and the resulting price relations. The chain of payments due at certain times is broken in a hundred places, and the disaster is intensified by the collapse of the credit-system. Thus violent and acute crises are brought about, sudden and forcible depreciations, an actual stagnation and collapse of the process of reproduction, and finally a real falling off in reproduction.
At the same time still other agencies would have been at work. The stagnation of production would have laid off a part of the laboring class and thereby placed the employed part in a condition, in which they would have to submit to a reduction of wages, even below the average. This operation has the same effect on capital as though the relative or absolute surplus-value had been increased at average wages. The time of prosperity would have promoted marriages among the laborers and reduced the decimation of the offspring. These circumstances, while implying a real increase in population, do not signify an increase in the actual working population, but they nevertheless affect the relations of the laborers to capital in the same way as though the number of the actually working laborers had increased. On the other hand, the fall in prices and the competitive struggle would have given to every capitalist an impulse to raise the individual value of his total product above its average value by means of new machines, new and improved working methods, new combinations, which means, to increase the productive power of a certain quantity of labor, to lower the proportion of the variable to the constant capital, and thereby to release some laborers, in short, to create an artificial over-population. The depreciation of the elements of constant capital itself would be another factor tending to raise the rate of profit. The mass of the employed constant capital, compared to the variable, would have increased, but the value of this mass might have fallen. The present stagnation of production would have prepared an expansion of production later on, within capitalistic limits.
And in this way the cycle would be run once more. One portion of the capital which had been depreciated by the stagnation of its function would recover its old value. For the rest, the same vicious circle would be described once more under expanded conditions of production, in an expanded market, and with increased productive forces.
However, even under the extreme conditions assumed by us this absolute overproduction of capital would not be an absolute overproduction in the sense that it would be an absolute overproduction of means of production. It would be an overproduction of means of production only to the extent that they serve as capital, so that the increased value of its increased mass would also imply a utilisation for the production of more value.
Yet it would be an overproduction, because capital would be unable to exploit labor to a degree required by the "healthy, normal" development of the process of capitalist production, a degree of exploitation, which would increase at least the mass of profit to the extent that the mass of the employed capital would grow; which would therefore exclude any possibility of the rate of profit falling to the same extent that capital grows, or of the rate of profits falling even more rapidly than capital grows.
Overproduction of capital never signifies anything else but overproduction of means of production—means of production and necessities of life—which may serve as capital, that is, serve for the exploitation of labor at a given degree of exploitation; for a fall in the intensity of exploitation below a certain point calls forth disturbances and stagnations in the process of capitalist production, crises, destruction of capital. It is no contradiction that this overproduction of capital is accompanied by a more or less considerable relative over-population. The same circumstances, which have increased the productive power of labor, augmented the mass of produced commodities, expanded the markets, accelerated the accumulation of capital both as concerns its mass and its value, and lowered the rate of profit, these same circumstances have also created a relative over-population, and continue to create it all the time, an over-population of laborers who are not employed by the surplus-capital on account of the low degree of exploitation at which they might be employed, or at least on account of the low rate of profit, which they would yield with the given rate of exploitation.
If capital is sent to foreign countries, it is not done, because there is absolutely no employment to be had for it at home. It is done, because it can be employed at a higher rate of profit in a foreign country. But such capital is absolute surplus-capital for the employed laboring population and for the home country in general. It exists as such together with the relative over-population, and this is an illustration of the way in which both of them exist side by side and are conditioned on one another.
On the other hand, the fall in the rate of profit connected with accumulation necessarily creates a competitive struggle. The compensation of the fall in the rate of profit by a rise in the mass of profit applies only to the total social capital and to the great capitalists who are firmly installed. The new additional capital, which enters upon its functions, does not enjoy any such compensating conditions. It must conquer them for itself, and so the fall in the rate of profit calls forth the competitive struggle among capitalists, not vice versa. This competitive struggle is indeed accompanied by a transient rise in wages and a resulting further fall of the rate of profit for a short time. The same thing is seen in the over-production of commodities, the overstocking of markets. Since the aim of capital is not to minister to certain wants, but to produce profits, and since it accomplishes this purpose by methods which adapt the mass of production to the scale of production, not vice versa, conflict must continually ensue between the limited conditions of consumption on a capitalist basis and a production which forever tends to exceed its immanent barriers. Moreover, capital consists of commodities, and therefore the overproduction of capital implies an overproduction of commodities. Hence we meet with the peculiar phenomenon that the same economists, who deny the overproduction of commodities, admit that of capital. If it is said that there is no general overproduction, but that a disproportion grows up between various lines of production, then this is tantamount to saying that within capitalist production the proportionality of the individual lines of production is brought about through a continual process of disproportionality, that is, the interrelations of production as a whole enforce themselves as a blind law upon the agents of production instead of having brought the productive process under their common control as a law understood by the social mind. It amounts furthermore to demanding that countries, in which capitalist production is not yet developed, should consume and produce at the same rate as that adapted to countries with capitalist production. If it is said that overproduction is only relative, then the statement is correct; but the entire mode of production is only a relative one, whose barriers are not absolute, but have absoluteness only in so far as it is capitalistic. Otherwise, how could there be a lack of demand for the very commodities which the mass of the people want, and how would it be possible that this demand must be sought in foreign countries, in foreign markets, in order that the laborers at home might receive in payment the average amount of necessities of life? This is possible only because in this specific capitalist interrelation the surplus-product assumes a form, in which its owner cannot offer it for consumption, unless it first reconverts itself into capital for him. Finally, if it is said that the capitalists would only have to exchange and consume those commodities among themselves, then the nature of the capitalist mode of production is forgotten, it is forgotten, that the question is merely one of expanding the value of the capital, not of consuming it. In short, all these objections to the obvious phenomena of overproduction (phenomena which do not pay any attention to these objections) amounts to this, that the barriers of capitalist production are not absolute barriers of production itself and therefore no barriers of this specific, capitalistic, production. But the contradiction of this capitalist mode of production consists precisely in its tendency to an absolute development of productive forces, a development, which comes continually in conflict with the specific conditions of production in which capital moves and alone can move.
It is not a fact that too many necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely.
It is not a fact that too many means of production are produced to employ the able bodied portion of the population. The reverse is the case. In the first place, too large a portion of the population is produced consisting of people who are really not capable of working, who are dependent through force of circumstances on the exploitation of the labor of others, or compelled to perform certain kinds of labor which can be dignified with this name only under a miserable mode of production. In the second place, not enough means of production are produced to permit the employment of the entire able bodied population under the most productive conditions, so that their absolute labor time would be shortened by the mass and effectiveness of the constant capital employed during working hours.
On the other hand, there is periodically a production of too many means of production and necessities of life to permit of their serving as means for the exploitation of the laborers at a certain rate of profit. Too many commodities are produced to permit of a realisation of the value and surplus-value contained in them under the conditions of distribution and consumption peculiar to capitalist production, that is, too many to permit of the continuation of this process without ever recurring explosions.
It is not a fact that too much wealth is produced. But it is true that there is periodical overproduction of wealth in its capitalistic and self-contradictory form.
The barrier of the capitalist mode of production becomes apparent:
1) In the fact that the development of the productive power of labor creates in the falling rate of profit a law which turns into an antagonism of this mode of production at a certain point and requires for its defeat periodical crises.
If the rate of profit falls, there follows on one hand an exertion of capital, in order that the capitalist may be enabled to depress the individual value of his commodities below the social average level and thereby realise an extra profit at the prevailing market prices. On the other hand, there follows swindle and a general promotion of swindle by frenzied attempts at new methods of production, new investments of capital, new adventures, for the sake of securing some shred of extra profit, which shall be independent of the general average and above it.
The rate of profit, that is, the relative increment of capital, is above all important for all new offshoots of capital seeking an independent location. And as soon as the formation of capital were to fall into the hands of a few established great capitals, which are compensated by the mass of profits for the loss through a fall in the rate of profits, the vital fire of production would be extinguished. It would fall into a dormant state. The rate of profit is the compelling power of capitalist production, and only such things are produced as yield a profit. Hence the fright of the English economists over the decline of the rate of profit. That the bare possibility of such a thing should worry Ricardo, shows his profound understanding of the conditions of capitalist production. The reproach moved against him, that he has an eye only to the development of the productive forces regardless of "human beings," regardless of the sacrifices in human beings and capital values incurred, strikes precisely his strong point. The development of the productive forces of social labor is the historical task and privilege of capital. It is precisely in this way that it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production. What worries Ricardo is the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating principle of capitalist production, the fundamental premise and driving force of accumulation, should be endangered by the development of production itself. And the quantitative proportion means everything here. There is indeed something deeper than this hidden at this point, which he vaguely feels. It is here demonstrated in a purely economic way, that is, from a bourgeois point of view, within the confines of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself, that it has a barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite and limited epoch in the development of the material conditions of production.
IV. Supplementary Remarks.
Seeing that the development of the productive power of labor proceeds very disproportionately in the various lines of industry, not only in degree, but also in at times in opposite directions, it follows that the mass of the average profit (= surplus-value) must be considerably below that level, which one would naturally assume according to the development of the productive forces in the most advanced lines of industry. The fact that the development of the productive forces in different lines of industry proceeds in considerably different rates, or even in opposite directions, is not due merely to the anarchy of competition and the peculiarity of the bourgeois mode of production. The productivity of labor is also conditioned on natural premises, which frequently become less productive to the extent that productivity, so far as it depends on social conditions, increases. This leads to opposite movements in these different spheres, progress here, retrogression there. Consider, for instance, the mere influence of the seasons, on which the greater part of the raw materials depends for its mass, the exhaustion of forests, coal and iron mines, etc.
While the circulating part of constant capital, such as raw material, etc., continually increases in mass to the extent that the productivity of labor grows, it is not so with the fixed capital, such as buildings, machinery, apparatus for lighting, heating, etc. Although a machine becomes absolutely dearer with the growth of its bodily mass, it becomes relatively cheaper. If five laborers produce ten times as many commodities as formerly, this does not increase the outlay for fixed capital tenfold; although the value of this part of the constant capital increases with the development of the productive forces, it does not increase by any means in the same proportion with them. We have frequently pointed out the difference in the proportions of the constant to the variable capital, as it expresses itself in the fall of the rate of profit, and the difference in the same proportions as expressed with the development of the productivity of labor with reference to the individual commodity and its price.
[The value of a commodity is determined by the total labor-time, whether past or living, incorporated in it. The increase in the productivity of labor consists precisely in this that the share of the living labor is reduced while that of the past labor is increased, but in such a way that the total quantity of labor incorporated in that commodity declines, so that the living labor decreases more than the past labor increases. The past labor—the constant part of capital—materialised in the value of a certain commodity consists partly of wear and tear of fixed, partly of circulating constant capital entirely consumed by that commodity, such as raw and auxiliary materials. That portion of value which comes from raw and auxiliary materials must decrease with the productivity of labor, because this productivity seeks expression through these materials by reducing their value. On the other hand, it is precisely characteristic of the rising productivity of labor, that the fixed part of the constant capital is strongly augmented and with it that portion of value which is transferred by wear and tear to the commodities. In order that a new method of production may turn out to be a real increase in productivity, it must transfer in wear and tear a smaller portion of the value of fixed capital than is deducted from it through a saving of living labor, in short, it must reduce the value of the commodity. It must do so as a matter of course, even if an additional value is transferred to the commodity through an increase in the quantity or value of raw and auxiliary materials, as may sometimes happen. All additions of value must be more than compensated by the reduction in value resulting from a decrease in living labor.
This reduction of the total quantity of labor incorporated in a certain commodity seems to be the essential mark of an increase in the productive power of labor, no matter under what sort of social conditions production is carried on. There is no doubt that the productivity of labor would be measured by this standard in a society, in which the producers would regulate their production according to a preconceived plan, or even under a simple production of commodities. But how is this under capitalist production?
Take it, for instance, that a certain line of capitalist industry produces an average normal commodity of its sphere under the following conditions: The wear and tear of fixed capital amounts to ½ shilling per piece; raw and auxiliary materials are transferred into it at the rate of 17½ shillings per piece; in wages, 2 shillings, and surplus-value 2 shillings, the rate of surplus-value being 100%. Total value 22 shillings. We assume for the sake of simplicity that the capital in this line of production has the composition of the average social capital, so that the price of production of the commodities is identical with the value and the profit of the capitalist with the created surplus-value. In that case the cost-price of the commodity is ½ + 17½ + 2 = 20 sh., the average rate of profit 2/20 = 10%, and the price of production of one individual commodity 22 sh., equal to its value.
Now let us assume that a machine is invented, which reduces the living labor required for each individual commodity by one-half, but at the same time trebles that portion of the commodity's value which is due to the wear and tear of fixed capital. In that case, the calculation is modified in this way: Wear and tear 1½ sh., raw and auxiliary materials the same as before, 17½ sh., wages 1 sh., surplus-value 1 sh., together 21 sh. The commodity has then fallen 1 sh. in value: The new machine has certainly increased the productivity of labor. From the point of view of the capitalist, the matter has now the following aspect: His cost-price is now 1½ sh. for wear, 17½ sh. for raw and auxiliary materials, 1 sh. for wages, total 20 sh., as before. Since the rate of profit is not at once altered by the new machine, he will receive 10% more than his cost-price, that is, 2 sh. The price of production, then, remains unaltered at 22 sh., as before, but it is 1 sh. above the value of these commodities. So far as a society producing under capitalist conditions is concerned, the commodity has not become any cheaper, the new machine signifies no improvement. The capitalist is therefore not interested in the introduction of this new machine. And since its introduction would make his present and not yet worn-out machinery simply worthless, would make old iron of it, would mean a positive loss for him, he takes good care not to commit such a utopian mistake.
The law of increased productive power, then, does not apply absolutely to capital. So far as capital is concerned, the productive power is not increased by the enhancement of productive labor in general, but only by saving more in the unpaid portion of living labor than is expended in past labor, as we have already indicated in volume I, chapter XV, 2. Here the capitalist mode of production falls into another contradiction. Its historical mission is the ruthless development in geometrical progression, of the productivity of human labor. It becomes disloyal to its mission, whenever it puts a check upon the development of productivity, as it does here. Thus it demonstrates once again that it is becoming weak with age and more and more outliving its usefulness.]37
Under competition, the increase in the minimum of capital required for the successful operation of an independent industrial establishment in keeping with the increase in productivity assumes the following aspect: As soon as the new and more expensive equipment has become universally established, smaller capitals are henceforth excluded from these enterprises. Smaller capitals can carry on an independent activity in such lines only during the incipient stage of mechanical inventions. On the other hand, very large enterprises, such as railroads, with an extraordinarily high relative proportion of constant capital, do not yield any average rate of profit, but only a portion of it, interest. Otherwise the rate of profit would fall still lower. At the same time, this offers direct employment to large aggregations of capital in the form of stocks.
An increase of capital, or accumulation of capital, does not imply a fall in the rate of profit, unless this growth is accompanied by the aforementioned alterations in the proportions of the organic constituents of capital. Now it so happens that in spite of the continual and daily revolutions in the mode of production, now this, now that, greater or smaller portion of the total capital continues for certain periods to accumulate on the basis of a given average proportion of those constituents, so that its growth does not imply any organic change, and consequently no fall in the rate of profit. This continual expansion of capital, and consequently expansion of production on the basis of the old method of production, which proceeds quietly while the new methods are already developing by its side, is another reason, why the rate of profit does not decrease in the same degree in which the total capital of society grows.
The increase of the absolute number of laborers, in spite of the relative decrease of the variable as compared to the constant capital, does not take place in all lines of production, and not uniformly in those in which it does proceed. In agriculture, the decrease of the element of living labor may be absolute.
By the way, it is but a requirement of the capitalist mode of production that the number of wage workers should increase absolutely, in spite of its relative decrease. Under this mode, labor-powers become superfluous as soon as it is no longer compelled to employ them for 12 to 15 hours per day. A development of the productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of laborers, that is, which would enable the entire nation to accomplish its total production in a shorter time, would cause a revolution, because it would put the majority of the population upon the shelf. In this the specific barrier of capitalist production shows itself once more, proving that capitalist production is not an absolute form for the development of the productive powers and creation of wealth, but rather comes in collision with this development at a certain point. This collision expresses itself partly through periodical crises, which arise from the circumstance that now this, now that, portion of the laboring population is rendered superfluous in its old mode of employment. The barrier of capitalist production is the superfluous time of the laborers. The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern Capitalism. The development of the productive powers concerns it only to the extent that it increases the surplus labor time of the working class, not to the extent that it decreases the labor time for material production in general. Thus capitalist production moves in contradictions.
We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus the power of capital, the personification of the conditions of social production in the capitalist, grows over the heads of the real producers. Capital shows itself more and more as a social power, whose agent the capitalist is, and which stands no longer in any possible relation to the things which the labor of any single individual can create. Capital becomes a strange, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as a thing, and as the power of capitalists by means of this thing. The contradiction between capital as a general social power and as a power of private capitalists over the social conditions of production develops into an ever more irreconcilable clash, which implies the dissolution of these relations and the elaboration of the conditions of production into universal, common, social conditions. This elaboration is performed by the development of the productive powers under capitalist production, and by the course which this development pursues.
No capitalist voluntarily introduces a new method of production, no matter how much more productive it may be, and how much it may increase the rate of surplus-value, so long as it reduces the rate of profit. But every new method of production of this sort cheapens the commodities. Hence the capitalist sells them originally above their prices of production, or, perhaps, above their value. He pockets the difference, which exists between these prices of production and the market-prices of the other commodities produced at higher prices of production. He can do this, because the average labor time required socially for the production of these other commodities is higher than the labor time required under the new methods of production. His method of production is above the social average. But competition generalises it and subjects it to the general law. Then follows a fall in the rate of profit—perhaps first in this sphere of production, which gradually brings the others to its level—which is, therefore, wholly independent of the will of the capitalist.
It must be noted here, that this same law rules also those spheres of production, whose product passes neither directly nor indirectly into the consumption of the laborers or into the conditions under which their necessities are produced; it applies, therefore, also to those spheres of production, in which no cheapening of commodities can increase the relative surplus-value or cheapen labor-power. (It is true that a cheapening of constant capital may increase the rate of profit in all these lines while the exploitation of the laborer remains the same.) As soon as the new mode of production begins to expand, and thereby to furnish the tangible proof that these commodities can actually be produced more cheaply, the capitalists working under the old methods of production must sell their product below their full prices of production, because the value of these commodities has fallen, because the labor time required by these capitalists for the production of these commodities is longer than the social average. In one word—this appears as the effect of competition—these capitalists are compelled to introduce the new method of production, under which the proportion of the variable to the constant capital has been reduced.
All circumstances, which bring about the cheapening of commodities by the employment of improved machinery amount in the last analysis to a reduction of the quantity of labor absorbed by the individual commodities; in the second place, to a reduction of the wear and tear portion of machinery transferred to the value of the individual commodity. To the extent that the wear and tear of machinery is less rapid, it is distributed over more commodities and displaces more living labor during its period of reproduction. In both cases the quantity and value of the fixed constant capital are increased over those of the variable capital.
"All other things being equal, the power of a nation to save from its profits varies with the rate of profits, is great when they are high, less, when low; but as the rate of profit declines, all other things do not remain equal....A low rate of profit is ordinarily accompanied by a rapid rate of accumulation, relatively to the numbers of the people, as in England...a high rate of profit by a slower rate of accumulation, relatively to the numbers of the people." Examples: Poland, Russia, India, etc. (Richard Jones, An Introductory Lecture on Political Economy, London, 1833, p. 50ff.) Jones emphasises correctly that in spite of the falling rate of profit the inducements and faculties to accumulate are augmented; first, on account of the growing relative overpopulation; secondly, because the growing productivity of labor is accompanied by an increase in the mass of use-values produced by the same exchange value, that is, an increase in the material elements of capital, thirdly, because the lines of production become more varied; fourthly, because the credit system, lock companies, etc., are developed, and with them the facility of converting money into capital without becoming an industrial capitalist; fifthly, because the wants and the greed for wealth increase; sixthly, because the mass of investments in fixed capital grows; etc.
The following three principal facts of capitalist production must be kept in mind:
1) Concentration of means of production in a few hands, whereby they cease to appear as the property of the immediate laborers and transform themselves into social powers of production. It is true, they first become the private property of capitalists. These are the trustees of bourgeois society, but they pocket the proceeds of their trusteeship.
The stupendous productive power developing under the capitalist mode of production relatively to population, and the increase, though not in the same proportion, of capital values (not their material substance), which grow much more rapidly than the population, contradict the basis, which, compared to the expanding wealth, is ever narrowing and for which this immense productive power works, and the conditions, under which capital augments its value. This is the cause of crises.
[35.] "We should also expect that, however the rate of the profits of stock might diminish in consequence of the accumulation of capital on the land and the rise of wages, yet the aggregate amount of profits would increase. Thus, supposing that, with repeated accumulations of 100,000 p.st., the rate of profits should fall from 20 to 19, to 18, to 17%, a constantly diminishing rate; we should expect that the whole amount of profits received by those successive owners of capital would be always progressive; that it would be greater when the capital was 200,000 p.st., than when 100,000 p.st.; still greater when 300,000 p.st,; and so on, increasing, though at a diminishing rate, with every increase of capital. This progression, however, is only true for a certain time; thus 19% on 200,000 p.st. is more than 20 on 100,000 p.st.; again 18% on 300,000 p.st, is more than 19% on 200,000 p.st.; but after capital has accumulated to a large amount, and profits have fallen, the further accumulation diminishes the aggregate of profits. Thus, suppose the accumulation should be 1,000,000 p.st., and the profits 7%, the whole amount of profits will be 70,000 p.st.; now if an addition of 100,000 p.st. capital be made to the million, and profits should fall to 6%, 66,000 p.st. or a diminution of 4,000 p.st. will be received by the owners of the stock, although the whole amount of stock will be increased from 1,000,000 p.st. to 1,100,000 p.st,"—Ricardo, Political Economy, chapter VII (in Works, McCulloch Edition, 1852, page 68).—The fact is, that the assumption has here been made that the capital increases from 1,000,000 to 1,100,000, that is, by 10%, while the rate of profit falls from 7 to 6%, or 14 2/7%. Hence those tears!
[36.] Adam Smith was right in this respect, contrary to Ricardo, who said: "They contend the equality of profits will be brought about by the general rise of profits; and I am of opinion that the profits of the favoured trade will speedily submit to the general level. (Works, MacCulloch ed., p. 73.)
[37.] The foregoing is placed between brackets, because it passes in some points beyond the scope of the original material, which I found in a note of the original manuscript, a revision of which I undertook.