by Michael Hudson
July 30, 2010
As published in Critique, based on a presentation given at the China Academy of Sciences, School of Marxist Studies in Beijing in November 2009, and at the Left Forum in New York City, March 20, 2010.
Classical economists developed the labor theory of value to isolate economic rent, which they defined as the excess of market price and income over the socially necessary cost of production (value ultimately reducible to the cost of labor). A free market was one free of such “unearned” income – a market in which prices reflected actual necessary costs of production or, in the case of public services and basic infrastructure, would be subsidized in order to make economies more competitive. Most reformers accordingly urged – and expected – land, monopolies and banking privileges to be nationalized, or at least to have their free-lunch income taxed away.
In keeping with his materialist view of history, Marx expected banking to be subordinated to the needs of industrial capitalism. Equity investment – followed by public ownership of the means of production under socialism – seemed likely to replace the interest-extracting “usury capital” inherited from antiquity and feudal times: debts mounting up at compound interest in excess of the means to pay, culminating in crises marked by bank runs and property foreclosures.
But as matters have turned out, the rentier interests mounted a Counter-Enlightenment to undermine the reforms that promised to liberate society from special privilege.
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