Capitalism, like a speeding train, barreled into a stone wall in 2008. Shocked and dazed, its leaders have been trying to “recover.” By that, they mean to fix the mangled tracks, reposition the locomotive and cars on those tracks and resume forward motion. No basic economic change, in their view, is needed or even considered. They see no absurdity in such a “recovery plan” – just as they saw no approaching catastrophe in the years leading up to 2008.
It was Marx who clearly explained in Capital the contradiction capitalism’s leaders rarely grasp. Showing how capitalists compete (and survive in competition) by maximizing profits, he focused his readers on capitalists’ strategies of “economizing” on the number of workers they hire (often by substituting machines) and/or replacing more costly workers with cheaper employees. The contradiction emerges when their economizing undermines the market for what capitalists must sell to survive. Boosting their profits by saving on labor often reduces laborers’ total purchasing power, what they can afford to buy from capitalists. That hurts capitalists’ sales and profits. Likewise, when workers’ wages and salaries rise, the resulting benefits to capitalists’ sales can be partially or totally reversed as higher wages cut into profits. The history of capitalism often wobbles between the poles of this contradiction.