Land and the rentier economy

I should have reviewed Brett Christophers’ book, The New Enclosure, when it came out this time last year.  But better late than never. In 2017, Christophers, professor in Human Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden, published an excellent book, The Great Leveller, which takes a refreshingly new angle on the nature of capitalism.  He says that we need to look at how capitalism is continually facing a dynamic tension between the underlying forces of competition and monopoly.  Christophers argues that in this dynamic, law and legal measures have an underappreciated role in trying to preserve a “delicate balance between competition and monopoly”, which is needed to “regulate the rhythms of capitalist accumulation”.  And earlier this year, Christophers published an important piece of research on ‘renterism, as he calls it, in preparation for a new book on the nature of modern ‘rentier’ economy.

But in between, Christophers also wrote The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain, which delivers a forensic analysis of the ownership of land in Britain – historically the largest economic category of rental income in the modern capitalist economy.  Indeed, ever since the ‘enclosures’ of common land in the 16th century onwards, land has been privatised to accrue income through rent, ie income from property appropriated, not by exploitation of labour, but through monopoly ownership of an asset – income that Marx called ‘ground rent’.

Christophers shows that land makes up a staggering share of national wealth. Using the UK as his laboratory, he finds that, out of total national wealth of £9.8tn, land accounted for £5tn and houses and other structures added another £3.5tn on top of that.  The ownership of land acts as a store of wealth and, as the rents rack up, so grows inequality of incomes and wealth, while restricting the productive power of an economy.

The new enclosures of the 20th century in the UK emerged in the neo-liberal period from the early 1980s, when roughly half of publicly owned estates were privatised, the biggest of the Thatcherite privatisations.  Christophers carefully estimates that an astonishing 2 million hectares of public land, worth £400 billion, has been appropriated by the private sector in recent decades, representing 10% of the British land mass. When Thatcher entered Downing Street in May 1979, more land was owned by the state than ever before: 20 per cent of Britain’s total area. Today the figure is 10.5 per cent.

For example, in 1979, 42 per cent of the UK’s population lived in council housing. Today the figure is less than 8 per cent.

The new private owners of this public land hoarded the assets and throttled the construction of new homes, thus driving up house prices and rents.

From a peak of 350,000 permanent dwellings constructed per annum in the late 1960s, construction activity has fallen to around 150,000 units per year.  Land now accounts for 70 per cent of a house sale price. In the 1930s it was 2 per cent.

What happened?  When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As the book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time.

But landowners rebelled and Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government introduced the 1961 Land Compensation Act. Henceforth, landowners were to be paid the value of the land, including any “hope value”, when developed. Today a hectare of land is worth 100 times more when used for housing rather than farming. Yet when an council grants planning permission, all the value goes to the landowner, not the public. Bentley says landowners pocketed £9bn in profit from land they sold for new housing in 2014-15. Major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo tube line extension are estimated to cost the public purse £36bn. Landowners, meanwhile, will pocket £87bn from increased land values nearby. Some externalities!

Classical political economy, starting with Adam Smith, David Ricardo and then to Karl Marx, explained the peculiar nature of this geographically bound asset that can be commodified, accruing an income for the owner without any productive effort.  ‘As soon as the land of any country has all become private property,’ Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, ‘the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.’ This is the beauty of land: it is an asset that increases in value according to demand, without any expenditure or labour on the part of its owner.

Thus both the early 19th century political economists of industrial capital and Marx agreed on the need to nationalise land – indeed, it is in the Communist Manifesto  But it has not happened.  Instead, private ownership has increased and through inheritance has ensured the continuation of the same ruling elites for centuries.  A recent study by two economists at the Bank of Italy found that the wealthiest families in Florence today are descended from the wealthiest families of Florence nearly 600 years ago! So the rise of merchant capitalism in the city states of Italy and then the expansion of industrial capitalism and now finance capital made little or no difference to who owned the wealth. When, in 1873, the government published the Return of Owners of Land, the most comprehensive survey of British land distribution since the Domesday Book, it came as no surprise that almost all the top hundred landowners were also members of the House of Lords. Just as predictably, 30 per cent of today’s Tory MPs are landlords.

The private ownership of land is part of what I call the rentier economy, income accruing to the owners of financial assets or physical resources. This income (rent and interest and dividends) is appropriated from the productive sectors of capitalism where surplus value has been obtained through the exploitation of labour.  Such rentier income can be appropriated from overseas through bank lending and foreign investment (as it has in the UK), but also domestically from land rentals.

As LSE professor Jerome Roos perceptively pointed out in the British left journal, New Statesman,“the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few privileged rentiers is not a deviation from capitalist competition, but a logical and regular outcome. In theory, we can distinguish between an unproductive rentier and a productive capitalist. But there is nothing to stop the productive, supposedly responsible businessperson becoming an absentee landlord or a remote shareholder, and this is often what happens. The rentier class is not an aberration but a common recurrence, one which tends to accompany periods of protracted economic decline”.

Christophers’ book shows that any plan to replace the capitalist mode of production with common ownership must include the nationalisation of the large landowners and the abolition of rentier income.

49 Responses to “Land and the rentier economy”

  1. Mohamed Elmaazi Says:

    Another fascinating and timely post. Though not sure I would consider the New Statesmen ‘Left’, anymore at least.

    • jlowrie Says:

      Agreed! Timely indeed! I suggest the Marxist left launch a campaign for a referendum on the nationalisation of the land. Note, sustainable capitalist cities is an oxymoron! If the Government refuses that will expose their real anti-democratic and oligarchic beliefs.

      • Henry Law Says:

        All land in England and Wales is already nationalised. The owner is the Sovereign, who holds it on behalf of the people. The real problem is that the Sovereign has, since Magna Carta, been deprived of the power to collect the rent.

  2. Henry Law Says:

    Good analysis but it is essential in the subject area to understand the economic principles set out by Henry George, in particular, his emphasis on the importance of definitions. Land is not wealth. A land title is a claim on wealth: the rental income stream arising from land.

    Consequently, it is misleading to talk of land as a store of wealth, and of the aggregate value of land based on its selling price. The selling price of land is the capitalisation of the anticipated part of the rental income stream that is retained by the title holder. ‘Anticipated’ is key to the need to understand that land price is a derived and speculative value.

    • richardfalvey555101905 Says:

      Thanks Harry. The Georgist qualification or technical point that you make seems sound and you make explicit what to me seemed was already implicit. But I’m no economist and so I fail to understand why the distinction is significant. Can you explain why the distinction, or the explicit statement of it, is important. Thank you in advance. Richard

      • Henry Law Says:

        The short answer is that nobody, neither the state nor an individual, can own land, any more than one can own air or another person. What we call “land ownership” is a convenient legal fiction, as is the idea that a man can own a slave; the two concepts are related.

        What is really meant is that the community, usually through the agency of government, undertakes to defend the “owner’s” right to sole occupation of that land, to charge another for the right to use it, to collect any rent due on that land, and to dispose of it to another. The owner is the owner of nothing more than a piece of paper, a land title issued by government with the backing of the sovereign power, which sets out those rights.

        For a more detailed explanation of this topic, I would recommend “Progress and Poverty” by Henry George, preferably in the 1953 Hogarth Press edition which you can get for about £15 on the internet. George explains the nature and origin of the problem and discusses possible solutions, as well as apparent solutions which would not work, of which land nationalisation is one.

      • ucanbpolitical Says:

        The land has been kidnapped and rent is the ransom paid for its temporary release.

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”All land in England and Wales is already nationalised. ” This demonstrates how we must be careful of juridical definitions. The Crown is the ultimate owner of all land. Other owners are strictly speaking not owners but holders of the land at Royal pleasure. A socialist government could in theory claim that being in default of their obligations to render military service their estates revert to the Crown Estate, whose revenues since 1760 have been under the control of the Exchequer. But such would be challenged by the courts. This is why I recommend a referendum. In the end it comes down to who exercises power. The juridical position in India is that slavery is illegal, but there are millions of slaves. It is the illegality of slavery that is the legal fiction, much like the fiction that possession of shares in a large company confers ownership. Class is not defined by juridical property definitions, but by power relationships. It is not slavery that is a legal fiction, but the ‘freedom’ of the wage slave, who is quite powerless. This clearly is not the situation of our landed aristocracy!

      • Henry Law Says:

        Would nationalisation of land be with or without compensation? Would it also include nationalisation of buildings, factories and their contents, crops growing on the land, and everything else that was standing on the land, such as chattels? If the ownership of all of everyone’s possessions was not also to be nationalised at the same time – thereby making the entire population into slaves of the state – how would the nationalised ownership of the land be separated?

        What would happen on Day 1 and Day 366 of this nationalisation?

        This is far more complex than the question about Brexit, and look at what happened after that? Do you think that land nationalisation is something that it would be safe to leave to the stupid, racist, xenophobic British public to decide?

      • michael roberts Says:

        “the stupid, racist, xenophobic British public” !

      • jlowrie Says:

        ”If the ownership of all of everyone’s possessions was not also to be nationalised at the same time ” Nonsense, you conflate possessions with private property. A house is a possession, a use value. Private property is a command over others’ labour time.

      • antonio Says:

        ”the stupid, racist, xenophobic British public”
        Yes they are. And the French working class-LePen, Italian-Salvini, Spanish- Vox, Brazilian-Bolsonaro, Usa-Trump, etc. are also stupid.
        It is necessary to make the most correct and real diagnoses possible to find the right solution.
        That is the basic explanation of the vote for Boris Jhonson: LITTLE KNOWLEDGE. Low productivity. For that unique and exclusive reason, little knowledge, especially of economics, there are different social classes, different countries, different companies and different individuals. If you are stupid you are racist, xenophobic, sexist, etc Children (and girls) are the most racist in the world, and they are by pure and simple ignorance. When the books of M.R. and those of other socialist authors are bestsellers, if they stop being stupid. That is, that will be after the next socialist revolution, and not before.
         

      • Henry Law Says:

        Better not to let people vote at all if they are stupid, xenophobic and racist. They should be made to take a test. Or would you suggest getting rid of voting altogether to be on the safe side?

      • Henry Law Says:

        ”If the ownership of all of everyone’s possessions was not also to be nationalised at the same time ”
        Nonsense,
        Telling people they disagree with that they are writing nonsense adds nothing to the argument but says something about the commentator.
        “you conflate possessions with private property. A house is a possession, a use value.”
        Please clarify concisely and in your own words, giving examples and explaining precisely what is the distinction between the two.

        “Private property is a command over others’ labour time.”
        Again, please clarify concisely in your own words. I have some idea about what you are trying to say, but doesn’t this really mean that there is a claim on the product of someone else’s labour, and if not, why not?

        I find among self-proclaimed Marxists, firstly, a quick descent into rudeness, and secondly, that they quickly resort to the use of ill-defined terms and abstruse quasi-theological concepts which are not necessary in order to provide an adequate explanation of whatever is the subject of the discussion. The latter, which gives rise to a lack of clarity, appears to be at the heart of some of the more dubious of the Marxist theories, such as his labour theory of value. The latter had the unfortunate effect of allowing to flourish the false and mischievous idea that there was no relation between value and labour, and with it, the eclipse of Ricardo’s theory of rent and wages, which he formulated after a careful study of the data and led to the abolition of the Corn Laws.

      • Anti-Capital Says:

        “Would nationalisation of land be with or without compensation? Would it also include nationalisation of buildings, factories and their contents, crops growing on the land, and everything else that was standing on the land,”

        1. without
        2. yes. Nationalization doesn’t do the trick; expropriation does, as it means elimination of the ruling class(es).

      • Henry Law Says:

        Wow! Another genuine unreconstructed Bolshevik. Two on one blog. You should get together and start a club. Just re-run the 1917 Soviet programme and everything will be fine. Who will be your Felix Dzerzjinski?

      • Anti-Capital Says:

        “Wow! Another genuine unreconstructed Bolshevik”

        I’ve been called worse things………and by better people.

    • Brad Mayer Says:

      Land in active productive use is certainly a form of “wealth”. Just ask the farmers using less naturally fertile land than their neighbors. The former will possess less corn at the end of harvest than the latter. Only when not in active productive use is land, as potential means of production, also only potential and not actual wealth. But that is true of any idle means of production, whether human made or natural.

      The issue is what land is under developed capitalism. Here land is not a commodity and has no inherent exchange value, as it is not a product of the commodity, human labor power, even as it may possess a potential natural use value. Land presents a complete disjunct of use and exchange value. How to mobilize the use value of land under the regime of capitalist commodity exchange?

      As a potentially useful non-commodity, land stands at the antipodes of the two basic capitalist commodities, money and waged labor power. Money is the complete static unity of use and exchange value, waged labor power the dynamic unity of the same ,and stand at the opposite poles of another relation, that of the production and realization of value.

      That relation transforms money into money capitalist, “finance”. Finance in turn is the lever for relation of use to exchange value of land. This relation is *arbitrary and speculative* per above on the absence of an inherent exchange value, and hence capitalist land is a pseudo-commodity. Arbitrary, because the transform requires the arbitration of the state to guarantee the notitional entitlements to access the use value of a particular plot of land; and it follows from this and that a sum of money must be advanced in exchange for the entitlement, prior to the transformation of the money sum into money capital by appropriation of the surplus profits as rent at the end of the productive use of land.

      Hence capitalist land as pseudo-commodity is one of the great bases of *fictitious capital* , the other being the state debt, and both are uniquely as values by the state.

      No space here to go into the distinctions between productive and nonproductive land use and entitlement exchange, important in the latter case for understanding the economics of residential housing land. But capitalist housing provision falls within the same basic framework presented here. George lacked this Marxian analysis as he was not an anticapitalist. The book reviewed here looks relevant to the basic theory presented above.

  3. richardfalvey555101905 Says:

    Thanks Michael. As ever a clear explanation that also works for me as someone with no formal economics education.

    If you had time, I would be interested in your reaction to the suggestions in this consultation document commissioned by Labour in the Land question.

    https://landforthemany.uk/

  4. Haroon Akram-Lodhi Says:

    I am glad that you have caught up to this, Michael. NBER research indicates that property, aka land, has been the best investment since the late 19th century, and other research, the source of which I cannot recall, shows nicely how land values generate the highest return of any investment this century. This has been theorized within the literature on the global “land grab”, particularly the “grabbing” of land within the advanced capitalist countries. Interestingly, if you try and find ginis for land concentration this are few and far between, but the ones that I have, produced by Vollrath, shows extremities well in excess of that found for other measures of wealth (or incomes).

    https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/files/wp2017-25.pdf

    • Henry Law Says:

      Land grabbing needs to be understood in its long term historical context. It was already an issue in the years following Magna Carta, when it became the subject of a law called the Statue of Merton, promulgated by King Henry III in 1260.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_Merton.

      The land question came to wide public attention following the publication in 1879 of “Progress and Poverty” by Henry George. His proposals were widely adopted by social democrats worldwide. Unfortunately the left forgot about it after about 1930. Marx actually confuses the topic by regarding land as a species of capital, which is an important reason why economic systems based on his theories have never worked.

      • Marx was right Says:

        It seems you are confused and have no idea what you’re talking about. Land was held in common so did many cultures around the world live without the idea of private property, so communal land ownership is not some marxist concept which has never worked. Second, slavery and feudalism worked for centuries, doesn’t mean they’re valid economic systems. This is the problem with someone with an axe to grind، they’re usually illogical.

      • Henry Law Says:

        Marx was confused. Land is different from all other property, but he conflated the two. He is not the only one to have done so. Pope Leo XIII did the same thing in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. People who use the weasel term ‘asset’ are doing it. Pickety does it when he includes land in the category ‘capital’. This has caused endless confusion over the past hundred years and continues to do so.

        You seem to be reading into my comments things which I did not say. I am well aware that land was held in common. If you take the trouble to read my other comments you will see that I noted that land cannot be owned any more than air can be owned; land ownership is a convenient legal fiction.

        Who has the axe to grind?

      • jlowrie Says:

        ”Marx was confused. Land is different from all other property, but he conflated the two.”

        Now, Henry, tell the truth: have you actually read Vol.3 of ‘Capital’? Let me quote: ”We assume therefore that…rural production is pursued by capitalists, who are Distinguished from OTHER CAPITALISTS etc.” For Marx there is no such entity as landed property per se but only as it manifests itself in various historical forms, and far from conflating landed property with other forms of property he always distinguishes them. This historical determination is the very basis of his method. ”the economic form corresponding to this mode of production, however DIVERSE the LEGAL forms may be.”

      • Henry Law Says:

        Who has read all three volumes of Kapital? Volume III, published 27 years after Das Kapital, is the one that most Marxists have apparently not read, including Pickety, to judge from his writings; it invalidates Marx’s earlier views on the nature of capital. But then all this does is to wind back to Ricardian economics, which identifies surplus value as economic rent where land is available at the margin, and monopoly land rent where all land is enclosed or ‘owned’.

        What you are describing is an unduly complicated description which obfuscates rather than enlightens. Apply Occam’s Razor. Being an owner of capital and being an owner of land can in all circumstances be distinguished as functionally different, even though they are frequently one and the same individual or corporate body. There is no difference in principle between rural production and urban production.

      • mandm Says:

        “Marx actually confuses the topic by regarding land as a species of capital…”

        Actually Marx defined capital (including capitalized land) as a “social relation” (an historically evolved, unequal, inherently coercive, economic/juridical relationship).

        Marx’s wrong-headed “theories” are based on two fundamental presuppositions: that natural resources (land etc.) are gifts of nature, and in themselves have no value, and that value itself is a concept (not a material thing) born out of socially organized human labor, and, therefore the historical product of social evolution, changing in nature with social change, which in turn is the product of concept-driven human praxis.

        Your are right that it takes more than reading volume 1 of capital, which can be very confusing) to understand Marx. You might try that yourself.

      • antonio Says:

        ‘Marx actually confuses the topic by regarding land as a species of capital, which is an important reason why economic systems based on his theories have never worked’.
        Not only are the working classes stupid today and they have little knowledge (but it is improving and their ignorance will be eliminated in the next 2nd socialist revolutionary impulse – it is likely in 15 to 30 years and in the first world), liberals are also (or are) ) stupid and ignorant today. Why are you? Because socialism and communism ALREADY EXIST today. If Marx and the remaining socialists were wrong in their desire for communism to reach the countries, today there could be no: a) Cooperatives and partners of all capitalist societies, entities that have been for centuries (since the fifteenth century, the beginning of the mercantile capitalism) united their productive capitals and b) The human couple and their family could not exist, which many millennia ago (from the Neolithic at least) that already united their productive capitals. Is this too shocking and advanced for you? It will only be so for a single reason: liberalism is stupid and ignorant economic knowledge. In addition to outdated, late and obsolete. Liberalism was already buried in 1917 by the socialism that overcame it and replaced it in the twentieth century. With total success. You must make a complete balance of ups and downs in the twentieth century. Doesn’t it seem successful enough that the world population (you and me included) has multiplied by 4? Only socialism is missing its last step to re-bury the liberal current liberal zombie restoration (neoliberalism).
         

      • Henry Law Says:

        Telling people that they are stupid is a great way of winning them over to your beliefs. Keep working on it.

  5. jlowrie Says:

    ”Marx actually confuses the topic by regarding land as a species of capital,” Henry, this is complete nonsense. Clearly you have not even the most elementary grasp of “Capital”, which I suggest you go away and read forthwith.

    ” which is an important reason why economic systems based on his theories have never worked.” One notes that the communal possession of the land in the first 30 years of the Chinese revolution raised life expectancy from 20 to over 60 years.

    • Henry Law Says:

      Any definition of wealth which includes land also includes slaves. For the sake of a coherent analysis ‘land’ is best treated as a category of its own, defined as the bare surface of the earth in its natural state, but also including other natural resources such as fish in the sea, minerals in the ground and radio spectrum.

      ‘Wealth’ is that which is not a gift of nature ie it is man-made. Capital is wealth set aside for the purpose of production eg buildings used for production, tools, machines, ships, aircraft, computers, etc. The distinction can always be made.

      The supply of land is fixed (land reclaimed from the sea is just developed land). The stock of wealth can always be increased by human labour. Conflating land and capital leads to confusion and gets in the way of the formulation of coherent policies.

      How many people died of starvation or were murdered by the authorities in the first 30 years of the Chinese revolution? Do you really think this is a convincing example of the benefits of Marxist economics?

      • jlowrie Says:

        Well, where to start? Is there any point? ”How many people died of starvation or were murdered by the authorities in the first 30 years of the Chinese revolution? ” Some of the worst landlords and fascist torturers of the Kuomintang were certainly executed. You know the type: those that buried peasants alive or raped their children. For an account by a very right wing writer cf ”Ways That Are Dark” by Ralph Townsend, US vice-consul in Shanghai in the early 1930’s.

        As for deaths by starvation would you like to compare the numbers who died from starvation between 1920 and 1950 with those who died from starvation between 1950 and 1980? Looking forward to your numbers. For those who died between 1920 and 1950 I would hazard a guess of 250 million, since there was no increase in Chinese population during this period, but thereafter it shoots up in the next 30 years by 300 million (within a 10 % margin of error).

        ”Any definition of wealth which includes land also includes slaves ”. So Japanese land produced no wealth then?

        ”‘Wealth’ is that which is not a gift of nature ie it is man-made. ‘
        So water, fruit, fish, wood etc. are not gifts of nature?

        ‘. Capital is wealth set aside for the purpose of production eg buildings used for production, tools, machines, ships, aircraft, computers, etc.’ So were the factories in Stalinist Russia capitalist, and if so what was their price?Now, Henry will be telling me that Stalin killed millions. Funny when you go there and speak to Russians, in my to be sure limited experience, you never meet somebody who did not lose a family member during the war, and never somebody who did lose one at Stalin’s hands. I write this as a historical example in the full knowledge that I would almost certainly been a victim, being an admirer of Bogdanov.

      • Henry Law Says:

        “Well, where to start? Is there any point? »How many people died of starvation or were murdered by the authorities in the first 30 years of the Chinese revolution? » Some of the worst landlords and fascist torturers of the Kuomintang were certainly executed. You know the type: those that buried peasants alive or raped their children. For an account by a very right wing writer cf »Ways That Are Dark » by Ralph Townsend, US vice-consul in Shanghai in the early 1930’s.”
        Whataboutery.

        “As for deaths by starvation would you like to compare the numbers who died from starvation between 1920 and 1950 with those who died from starvation between 1950 and 1980? Looking forward to your numbers. For those who died between 1920 and 1950 I would hazard a guess of 250 million, since there was no increase in Chinese population during this period, but thereafter it shoots up in the next 30 years by 300 million (within a 10 % margin of error).”
        China had been in a bad way since the British tried to enforce the sale of its opium. But the Maoists made matters worse through enforcing their Marxist policies.

        ” »Any definition of wealth which includes land also includes slaves». So Japanese land produced no wealth then?»
        ‘Wealth’ is that which is not a gift of nature ie it is man-made. ‘

        “So water, fruit, fish, wood etc. are not gifts of nature?”
        Water in the sea is a gift of nature. Water which has been purified and delivered to you home over a network of pipes is a gift of nature is more than that.

        Fish in the sea is a gift of nature. Human labour applied to catch that fish and transport it to the shop where you can buy it transforms the fish into wealth

        Wood growing in a primordial forest is a gift of nature. Wood in the timber merchants has been worked on is wealth.

        Can you not see the difference.

        “‘. Capital is wealth set aside for the purpose of production eg buildings used for production, tools, machines, ships, aircraft, computers, etc.’ So were the factories in Stalinist Russia capitalist, and if so what was their price?”
        The factories were wealth. But the sites these factories stood on were land. Failure to put a separate value on land led to factories and industrial installations being put in some absurd locations, such as the vast coal shipping wharf on prime land next to the centre of Riga.

        “Now, Henry will be telling me that Stalin killed millions. Funny when you go there and speak to Russians, in my to be sure limited experience, you never meet somebody who did not lose a family member during the war, and never somebody who did lose one at Stalin’s hands. I write this as a historical example in the full knowledge that I would almost certainly been a victim, being an admirer of Bogdanov.”

        I know lots of Russians whose parents or grandparents lived under Stalin. One acquaintance is a descendant of a family who fled from the famine created by Stalin in Ukraine in 1932. He did such a great job in Russia that the cathedral he ordered to be demolished in 1931 was back in use in 2000, construction having commenced as soon as communism fell.

        Are you the last living Stalinist? If so, you deserve an honoured place in a historical display. Respect, sir!

      • vk Says:

        Capital is not a thing, but a process.

        Anything that enters the process C-M-C is capital. Anything that doesn’t enter this process isn’t.

        For example: gold in Fort Knox is capital (it is negotiated in the financial markets); but gold in some random meteorite in deep space isn’t. Gold has an independent existance from humanity, therefore an independent existance to capitalism.

        The sweater you knit for your son isn’t capital; the sweater you bought on a department store to gift you son is.

        The same way, only land in the capitalist world is capital. You may try to sell titles to land in Mars, but that would be fraud, because no human can capitalistically possess Martian land yet.

      • Henry Law Says:

        The woman’s parents were the refugees from the Ukrainian famine. She was not telling me fascist propaganda. Neither are the other Russians I meet regularly who are descendants of those who went through the horrors of Bolshevism.

        Marxist communism is based on a false view of human nature and false economic theory. It is no solution to the problems attributed to ‘capitalism’.

      • Henry Law Says:

        If people cannot agree on the definition of terms, it is not possible to conduct a meaningful debate. *Capital’ is evidently one such term.

        Gold in Fort Knox is a medium of exchange. Gold bars in the workshop of a manufacturer of jewellery or electronic components is capital. Gold buried in a geological deposit is ‘land’. The sweater in a shop is capital until it is in the hands of the final consumer.

        A title to land on Mars is, in the first instance, worthless because there is no government to defend your claim. A title to land on a remote barren island is worthless because it yields no rental income. A title to a plot of land in some parts of London was of little value until access to the area was improved with the construction of suburban railways with frequent train services.

        Please do not complicate this topic unnecessarily.

      • Anti-Capital Says:

        “China had been in a bad way since the British tried to enforce the sale of its opium. But the Maoists made matters worse through enforcing their Marxist policies.”

        Priceless. The Maoists made things worse than the British did with their opium wars. What good fortune the people of India experienced, under British rule until 1947.

        I love this feature of anti-Marxists: they complain Marxists use ill-defined terms, then they proceed to piss all over history, while calling Marxists rude, crude, and impolite.

  6. jlowrie Says:

    ” One acquaintance is a descendant of a family who fled from the famine created by Stalin in Ukraine in 1932.” This is of course the Ukrainian Nazi propaganda view propagated by all kinds of rightists, fascists and hitlerites. It was also at one time propagated by Robert Conquest, the very right wing ideologue, in charge of black propaganda against the Soviet Union at British Intelligence. Shortly before his death Conquest conceded that in fact the famine was mainly the result of environmental factors and crop failure. His change of mind was occasioned by the very detailed analyses by the likes of Wheatcroft and Mark Tauger (e.g. ”Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-32” Carl Beck Papers no1506. Pittsburgh.PA., 2001). Go study their works when you have finished ‘Capital’. ”Are you the last living Stalinist?” No there are millions of them in Russia and seemingly on the increase. Who can blame them when they look across the border at nazified Ukraine! Long live Hitler, the greatest anti-Stalinist, eh Henry!

    ”China had been in a bad way since the British tried to enforce the sale of its opium. But the Maoists made matters worse through enforcing their Marxist policies.” By closing down all the brothels, opium dens and the opium trade run by Chiang-Kai- shhek and his henchmen? Shanghai was the brothel capital of the world (“Prostitution and Sexuality in Shanghai 1849-1949” C. Henriot 2001). “Chiang..had a source of giant revenues..the source was narcotics” ( p330 ”The Soong Dynasty” S. Seagrave 1996).Chiang controlled these revenues personally via The (Opium) Farmers’ Bank, a main conduit for opium funds. Let us turn to pp 390/391 of the same book. Here we read ”in 1936 when the Generalissimo had ordered that China’s six leading writers be buried alive”. Theodore White, of Time Magazine, a right wing journalist described the great famine in Honan in 1943, ”So I saw these things but the worst I heard was about cannibalism.” Madame Chiang was infuriated when the story finally broke in Time and tried to get White fired, though she had more important things to think about. Her luggage was being put on a US transport plane in Assam and ”the GI’s who were doing it happened to drop one crate. It split open and its contents rolled out…it was full of cosmetics, lingerie and fancy groceries…The GI’s were furious …with many fliers losing their lives to get war supplies to China.” They broke all the crates and kicked her fur coats about before loading them. Besides fur coats May-ling imported perfumed toilet paper from France to wipe her fragrant arse, at a time when millions were starving.
    Then the Chinese people were subjected to the tender mercies of the great anti -Marxist and anti-communist emperor Hirohito? for example ”The Nanjing Massacre” (ed., Fogel, J.A. 2000). A few years back I saw a professor of history at Kyoto University on Japanese TV claim there had been no massacre; the people had died of typhoid! How about the biological experiments practised on Chinese victims by the Japanese capitalist invaders? ( ”Factories of Death ” S.H. Harris 2002). or the Chinese girls captured as sex slaves for the Japanese anti-communist army? Prime minister Abe has recently warned Japanese newspapers to censure such language and refer to the girls as willing prostitutes. After Chiang scampered off to Taiwan, where he slaughtered several more tens of thousands, he was supported and sustained by Hirohito, both great class brothers and anti-Maoists. Now you know why Mao is so popular in China.

    Capitalism is hurling humankind towards a cataclysm. Humanity if even part of it is to survive , will have to adopt Marxist Communism or perish. To be sure this will not be in its Stalinist form or some variety of such, but it would seem wisest not to regurgitate fascist propaganda but concentrate one’s criticism on capitalism; but maybe Henry would rather be dead than red. Nothing to worry about then: he soon will be, but alas so too much of the rest of humanity!

  7. Henry Law Says:

    I had not engaged in discussion on this website before. The striking things about these Marxists is their contempt and intolerance of the rest of humanity, whom they regard as stupid and xenophobic and their unwillingness to enter any discussion which questions the true doctrine, which is held to with a religious fervour which brooks no criticism.

    Keep it up, chaps. It drives most people away.

    • Anti-Capital Says:

      Right, Henry, why we’re worse than the British, aren’t we… although you’ll have a hard time proving that to those who suffered under the British Empire.

      It’s all about class, Henry; the social organization of labor. You’ve picked your side. We’re on the other side. All your faux erudition breaks apart when confronted by class, which is why you accuse Marxists of contempt and intolerance of humanity, while you offer faint praise to the British Empire of the opium wars, enforced famine, and white supremacy.

      There’s nothing tolerant or respectful of humanity in justifying the legacy of empire. The use of such terms is just a sophist’s trick to obscure reality.

    • vk Says:

      I understood your hypothesis: you’re saying what we today call “capitalism” is actually simple human nature, a natural economy that shouldn’t even have a name, while socialism, communism etc. are unnatural economies that go against human nature (therefore, can and only exist in the form of ideology).

      Besides the fact that you’re empirically wrong (i.e. that capitalism, per Marx’s definition, is scientifically observable and datable within a specific historical system), your hypothesis suffers from a fatal logical fallacy, that is: that the human species, as a natural entity, can create unnatural entities or behave unnaturally.

      But either you’re natural or you’re not: if one being is natural, then, by definition, it can’t be unnatural. Unnatural is simply not natural, so you can’t be natural and unnatural at the same time. Therefore, if actual human beings, as natural beings, are thinking socialism/communism, then, by definition, socialism/communism can only be part of the natural become of the human species. Or the opposite (i.e. every part involved is unnatural, but then capitalism would also be unnatural).

    • Brad Mayer Says:

      It is generous to simply say that Law is a deeply confused person. This is self-evident in Law’s mere presence on an obviously Marxist *theoretical* blog. Such a blog cannot be evidence to validate “Marxism’s hatred of humankind”, as it is not a means of practical political interaction with the populace in general. That is done by political parties, to which theoretical productions may or may not be associated.

      It is implied that the source of Marxism’s “hatred of humankind” lies in its “false concept of human nature “. Ah, another expert on “human nature”! Law is here to instruct us on human nature, because only Law has discovered its fixed essence! Silly us for being so blind.

      Of course fixed notions of human nature have a long bourgeois pedigree dating back to 18th century natural law philosophies. Marxism, by contrast, specifically distinguishes humans from other species by positing as its key nature, it’s self-changability. (At the risk of offending fans of other animals, but that is another discussion). That self-transformation can occur unconsciously or consciously, and Marxism only proposes we do the latter. And it was Marxism that first identified capitalism as the supreme evidence of the inherent changeability of human “nature”, one of its historical tasks, now complete. Climate change is proof positive of this concept in unconscious form, presenting conscious transformation not merely as something nice to do, but as a necessity. And yes, climate change is the ultimate trump card against capitalism in the hands of Marxists, unfortunately for Law’s world view.

      I think we have a case of shooting the messenger, breaking the mirror in horror of what is reflected in it. Marxism is a critical theory of capitalism and a political practice for moving beyond its unconscious limits. It is not a utopian plan for a future postcapitalist society. It is precisely “pro-human” to reserve this latter to a working class exercising state power to the exclusion of the big bourgeoisie. Here, if you wish to find a sociopathic “hatred of humankind”, look at the capitalist class and their system that, by the way, has already changed “human nature” so much, and by means of centuries of brutality that continue today.

      Mr. Law is confronted with a decision: Either human nature is fixed or changeable. If the former, Law is to be cautioned that he is in agreement with Mussolini that Marxism “goes against human nature”, and only requires positing “nationalism” as a fixed essence of human political nature, at least. So this not a cheap slander, Law’s fanatical anticommunism is already skating on thin ice. And we all know that the one thing all fascists have in common is anticommunism. Law has been forewarned, and the rest is left to conscience.

      If the latter, then the burden is on Law, just as it is on Marxism, to explain how human self-transformation will proceed. For it will proceed if only unconsciously. The question for Law, but not for Marxism, is whether that proceeds with or without capitalism.

  8. Michael Ballard Says:

    Excellent piece, Comrade Roberts. I shall share it. You seem to have drawn some defenders of the landlord class out from under their rocks.

  9. jlowrie Says:

    ”and their unwillingness to enter any discussion which questions the true doctrine, which is held to with a religious fervour which brooks no criticism.” Had you made even a slight effort to read Michael’s posts, you would readily have found many mutually critical comments by us Marxists.

    It is you who are impervious to criticism. You refuse to answer whether you have read ”Capital” or not. If not, why do you have the presumption to criticise it; if you had you would not write nonsense like, ‘Gold in Fort Knox is a medium of exchange. ” No, it is a store of value, which is why it is stored in Fort Knox and not circulating! ”The sweater in a shop is capital until it is in the hands of the final consumer.” No, it is a commodity, probably produced under capitalist conditions.

    ”The striking things about these Marxists is their contempt and intolerance of the rest of humanity, ” Well, will you bury us alive (Chiang Kai-shek ) or practise biological experiments on us (Hirohito)
    or incinerate us (Hitler) in one of your concentration camp ovens, produced by that great capitalist company I.G. Farben (Think they are now called Hoechst) or rape us with specially trained dogs (Pinochet). Long live the great anti-communists and anti-Marxists Hitler, Hirohito, Chiang Kai-shek, Franco, the Tsar, Pinochet and all the others, not forgetting Henry. 300 million of humanity exterminated and well on their way to exterminating the rest!!

  10. Alex Says:

    Great post! The land question is indeed essential.

    Marx is not neglecting land since he has a whole theory of rent, but I think he was convinced that rents and landlords were a thing of the past. That the bourgeoise would eliminate landlords since profits would be higher without them.

    The reason we see a comeback of rentiers is that the falling rate of profit can only rise again through sufficient destruction of capital values. Since we don’t get this destruction (maybe climate change will do it), assets in limited supply (land, economies of scale, networks) are the only ones left with high and constant profits. Money creation by central banks pushes their value up and this wealth effect animates consumption of low productivity services. (In Marx’ times and up to the 1930s, the gold standard would have forced a fall in the money supply, a reflux of money, creating deflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment.)

    Underlying all this is the falling rate of profit. Understanding the falling rate of profit is key. This is where Marxists have it right, against everybody else. Classical and neoclassical schools, Austrians, Keynesians, MMTers or Georgists just don’t get that there is a contradiction between profits and productivity. That the fall in profits can only be stopped through the destruction of productivity. That capitalism is a mad system producing misery instead of plenty.

  11. Henry Law Says:

    The only Marx I have read was a book given to me by someone who tried to interest me in his work long ago. This was the Communist Manifesto. At the time I was open minded about Marx, but what he wrote there didn’t add up and I concluded that there was nothing much to see there.

    Not only does Das Kapital verge on the unreadable; it does not start at the beginning of the subject but comes in somewhere in the middle, inventing terms unnecessarily and over-complicating material which had already been described by earlier writers such as the Physiocrats, Smith and Ricardo, and debunked by subsequent ones such as George, who gives a coherent explanation for the problems that Marx observed. His Labour Theory of Value is self-evidently false. When there is more enlightening material available, Marx is not worth wasting time on.

    ” ”The striking things about these Marxists is their contempt and intolerance of the rest of humanity, ” Well, will you bury us alive (Chiang Kai-shek ) or practise biological experiments on us (Hirohito) or incinerate us (Hitler) in one of your concentration camp ovens, produced by that great capitalist company I.G. Farben (Think they are now called Hoechst) or rape us with specially trained dogs (Pinochet). Long live the great anti-communists and anti-Marxists Hitler, Hirohito, Chiang Kai-shek, Franco, the Tsar, Pinochet and all the others, not forgetting Henry. 300 million of humanity exterminated and well on their way to exterminating the rest!! ”

    They’re coming to get you.

    • Anti-Capital Says:

      “The only Marx I have read was a book given to me by someone who tried to interest me in his work long ago. This was the Communist Manifesto. At the time I was open minded about Marx, but what he wrote there didn’t add up and I concluded that there was nothing much to see there.

      Not only does Das Kapital verge on the unreadable; it does not start at the beginning of the subject but comes in somewhere in the middle, inventing terms unnecessarily and over-complicating material which had already been described by earlier writers such as the Physiocrats, Smith and Ricardo, and debunked by subsequent ones such as George, who gives a coherent explanation for the problems that Marx observed. His Labour Theory of Value is self-evidently false”

      Notice the contradiction anyone? He’s only read the Manifesto, but “Kapital is unreadable.” How does he know? Someone must have told him. It “comes in somewhere in the middle”?? How does he know? Someone must have told him.

      Does he mean chronologically? Kapital is not an historical account of the genesis of capitalism, it is a critique of political economy in which the critical process takes the actual products, relations, and processes of society to unveil the reasons why political economy is intrinsically inadequate to the task of apprehending how labor itself is presented as a commodity for exchange. So that.. at the end of volume 3 we are essentially at the beginning of real critique, which is the point where critical theory passes over into class struggle.

      And yes Henry I’ve read all 3 volumes; and the Grundrisse; and the Economic Manuscripts 1857-1864. Some of it is difficult; some of it even contains self-contradictions, but since you haven’t ready any of it, there’s no need to say more. There is no point in arguing with someone so completely ignorant of the work he wishes to dismiss.

      Keep on with your self-appointed role as the T.S Eliot of property and rent theories– a phony Englishman all dressed up with nowhere to go, thrilling undergraduate students with horrible poetry and witless criticism.

    • SimonH Says:

      Well now you’re being honest, you clearly don’t know your Marx. Now can you stop going on about something you don’t understand? I would never go to a motorcycle repair website and go on about the right thing to do there having no knowledge on the subject.
      What you disagree? You clearly admit to not reading Capital but put the blame on Marx, also saying something is clearly false without backing it up is no argument at all.

      • jlowrie Says:

        There is no point in wasting time trying to debate with Henry. He is an intellectual poltroon. The same however cannot be said of Piketty, who is another who while admitting that he had not read ”Capital” has not hesitated to condemn it. Steve Keen for his part has published an essay ”The Demise of Karl Marx’s Labour Theory of Value.” Now imagine if you came across an article ”The Demise of Adam Smith’s Theory Of the Real and Nominal Price of Commodities or of their Price in Labour”, you would rightly suspect a joke. What we have to deal with here is not scientific discourse but as Anti-Capital says ‘class struggle’; and it is clear which class these gentlemen support.

        Note too, despite Henry’s bluster about the ‘horrors of Bolshevism’ the vastly greater horrors of capitalism that I have touched upon above , to which Bolshevism was a response, prick his conscience not at all. These rightists suffer from a moral cretinism. Meanwhile the planet burns as Sydney currently spectacularly illustrates. But no worries, as they say down under, the prime minister is on holiday in Hawaii, fuming (sic) against these Bolshie climate protesters!

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