Sunday, September 22, 2013

Explicit Discussion of Falling Return-on-Capital Rates among Lower Layers of the Capitalist Plutocracy.


Full Title:

Explicit Discussion of Falling Return-on-Capital Rates among Lower Layers of the Capitalist Plutocracy -- Studies in the Late-Emerging Consciousness of Technodepreciationwithin the Wider Ruling Class.

Commentary on Passages from the American Management Associations’ 1974 book Return On Investment --

Undialectical, capitalist perceptions of 'the Historical Dialectic of Capitalist Ascendance ---> Descendance'.




Dear Readers,

This blog-entry contains my commentary on some passages, extracted below, from a book, authored by Robert A. Peters, a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and, as of the time of publication of this book, the comptroller of the Consumer and Technical Products Group of the Owens-Illinois Corporation, Toledo, Ohio.

This book was published by the American Management Association[AMA]s’ AMA-COM [“Committee On Management”] division.  It contains an explicit and direful discussion of a continuing secular fall in the rate of profit on industrial [“manufacturing”] capital -- as it appears in capitalist consciousness and ideology:  as capitalists see it, and compute it -- published in 1974, that is, on the eve of the explicit public visibility of the post-1968, devastating de-industrialization of the Northeast and Midwest regions of U.S. North America, that has since more than decimated so much of the family assets, the per capita income, and the percentage numbers of the U. S. industrial working class, and its formerly “middle class” standard of living.

File:Sectors of US Economy as Percent of GDP 1947-2009.png

Sectors of the U.S. Economy as Percent of U.S.-GDP, 1947-2009*.


This blog-entry is intended to deepen both our extant data, and our extant ‘dis-falsification’, or corroboration, regarding the hypothesis of the ‘techno-depreciation meta-dynamic’ fatal flaw of the capitalist system that we have advanced in this blog. 

In particular, this commentary provides both further empirical data, further elaboration and clarification, and further corroboration of the hypotheses regarding the ‘social forces of production # social relations of production’ intra-duality of human society in general, and of capitalist society specifically, and, within the ‘‘‘social relations of production’’’ side of that primary 'intra-duality' -- i.e., within its CAPITAL-relation side of that primary/universal human-social intra-duality’ -- the ‘capital as self-expanding value # capital as self-contracting value’ subordinate, secondary intra-duality[using the doubly-slashed/doubly-negated equals sign, '#', as our sign for immanent, dialectical, internal, or self-contradiction”, i.e., for intra-duality’ / self-duality].


I both hope and intend that this blog-entry will help you to incrementally advance your understanding of the causation of the content of recent Terran human history, some of which history you may have experienced personally.


Regards,

Miguel











[Peters]:  The subject of this book is not only important -- it is vital...  American industry, collectively, is in trouble, and trends are continuing in the wrong direction.  This is not an idle cry of alarm to attract attention.  It is very real, and very frightening.  The rewards of business have been declining in relation to the investment required to produce these rewards.  We are fast approaching the critical point where prospective rewards will not justify the perpetuation of free enterprise as we know it today.” 

Commentary by M.D.  ¡Yes, you really did just read it:  this is a technical, accountancy servant of the industrial capitalist, lower/wider ruling class, bemoaning the longstanding secular fall in the rate of profit on capital in U.S. industry, and warning that “perpetuation of free enterprise as we know it” is in dire jeopardy due to that fall in the rate of industrial capital profitability!  

Karl Marx, from at least 1857 on, with his discovery of his law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall predicted that the day would come -- ~117 years after Marx predicted it, in this case -- when even capitalists and their servants would find themselves moved, based upon their experiences, to write such words!



[Peters]:  “Chart 1-1 shows that over the past 25 years not only have profits declined in relationship to the equity of shareholders, but, much more important, the return on investment earned by durable goods manufacturers has fallen even more and now can only be classified as marginal." 

“The “return on investment” shown in Chart 1-1 is calculated according to the technique described in Chapter 5 of this book; it is a very real number, directly comparable with the familiar interest rate on savings accounts, bonds, and so on.  But almost any way one puts together data involving profit or cash flow on one side, and some definition of investment on the other, the trend lines point the same way -- down!  These are, of course, averages; some companies have done better, others not so well.  But collectively the industrial bastion of our economic system is being seriously undermined.”



Commentary by M.D.  Capitalists do not compute the rate of profit on capital in the analytically deep and correct way that Marx did, in relation to his presently-socially-necessary-labor-time-value / surplus-value theory of the capitals-system and of its profitability-dynamics, as s’/(c + v), wherein the s’ numerator denotes the output, the net [] surplus-value [“profit”] produced -- net of taxes, rents, interest, insurances, losses, and many other expenses -- by means of their productive use of the (c + v) denominator input.  That denominator, in turn, sums the inputs whose productive uses caused that net output.  The component c denotes the cost of the “constant capital” “invested”, e.g., of the non-surplus-value-producing means of production consumed -- the raw materials used-up in the product, and the plant and equipment, partially consumed by “wear and tear” in their productive use -- in producing the output whose successful sale yields the s’.  The v component denotes "variable capital", the wages-cost of the “labor-power” input, of the ‘power-to-labor’ also consumed in producing what ultimately became that s’ profit:  the cost, paid by the capitalist, of the human muscle, nerve, brain, and bodily and mental human energy input used-up in the process of producing what ultimately yields that same s’ as output.

Thus, in the Marxian analysis, the “wages bill” is part of the capital invested; is part of the capital input to the production of the s’ “profit” / “return” output. 

Capitalist, ideological consciousness, on the contrary, tends to deny the wage-labor source of profit.  It even tends, at times, to fetishistically hold that capital, and only capital, magically -- including in the form of fixed capital plant and equipment, as well as, sometimes, in the form of mere paper titles, which directly produce no output of goods -- is the sole source and cause of profit returns, including that only dead labor [fixed capital plant and equipment, apart from the workers who “work” it] -- never living labor -- produces profit returns. 

Anyway, competition enforces that capitalists act as if such were true.

So the capitalists’ metrics for profitability are typically on the theme of something more like s’/C, whose denominator, here denoted by “Capital”, C, denotes, not c, but the source and opposite of c, of constant capital consumed, namely, C = remaining , not-yet-“circulating, i.e., still “fixed, Capital; ‘‘‘constant capital’’’ not-yet-consumed / -depreciated.

Capitalist profit-rate metrics tend to treat wage-labor cost as a mere “expense”, not as an investment input/cause of profit. 



[Peters]:  “In the late 1940s, business depreciated its assets over an average life of about 20 years.  In recent years, however, book depreciation rates for manufacturers of durable goods now average closer to 15 years.  The significance of this is very great.  Economic obsolescence as a result of advancing technology has a much greater impact than it used to.  And the trend undoubtedly will continue, since the rate of technological progress shows no sign of leveling off.  While cash flows are being stimulated by the increased depreciation, the need to modernize is now demanding reinvestment more quickly than before.  Even with the stimulus given to cash flow by depreciation, total cash flow (profit and depreciation) in relation to investment has declined.  As a consequence, business has been forced to take on additional debt.  Much of this debt has been justified under the banner of expansion, but unfortunately it has in reality resulted from industrys inability to earn enough of a return to provide the capital needed to maintain itself in a viable state. ..."

"From the vantage point of shareholders, cash flow in relation to equity has improved slightly, and acted as a tranquilizer or mask to the aforementioned danger signals.  But this is phony.  The “improvement” is exclusively the result of a sharp increase in the percentage of debt as a part of capitalization. ...  The real problem has been obscured."

"If all this isn’t enough, the persistent inflation of recent years has further aggravated matters.  Today’s profits and cash flows are being measured against yesterday’s costs of assets, which of itself tends to produce an illusion of well-being that is totally unwarranted....  In a few words:  Business desperately needs new tools, for the old ones are leading us down the primrose path.  When returns become insufficient to attract capital, economic stagnation and decay are inevitable.  There isn’t much time left to change direction.”


Commentary by M.D.  In the first paragraph of the three above, Peters begin to address the causation of the profitability predicament that he has been heralding. 

Like Veblen, in the passages commented-upon in another recent-previous blog-entry here -- http://capitalismsfundamentalflaw-wayforward.blogspot.com/2013/08/thorstein-veblens-version-of-marxs-law.html -- Peters attributes the fall in the rate of return on industrial capital that he documents most explicitly to the rising “rate of technological progress”, i.e., to what we term ‘the rising time-rate of technodepreciation, not explicitly, here, also, to the rising “cross-section” of exposure of fixed capital plant and equipment to technodepreciation due to something like what Marx named the [tendentially rising] technical composition of capital in relation to the [tendentially rising] organic composition of capital, and to the tendentially rising c/v ratio, or even to a rising C/v ratio, as their -- imperfect -- quantitative metric. 

Peters’s phrase in that first paragraph that reads “cash flows have been stimulated by increased depreciation” could be taken as an indirect acknowledgement of a rising ‘fixed capital composition of total capital’, if not of the ‘co-causal’ role thereof in rendering the fall in the post-WWII rate of profit, since ~1950, that he notes:  a greater proportion, and mass, of fixed capital to total capital resulting in a greater proportion, and mass, of depreciation “expense”, especially if wear-and-tear, physical depreciation costs are combined with technodepreciation, obsolescence write-offs against gross profits.  

Maybe Peters thought that this rising fixed capital composition is simply, empirically too obvious to need mentioning. 

However, a casual reader might, at this stage in Peters’ argument, attribute this increased depreciation to federal tax law changes that had increased the availability of “accelerated depreciation” expensing methods. 

Moreover, Peters references this increased depreciation in the context of rising “top-line”/numerator cash flows from gross sales, not in the context of falling “bottom-line” net profits. 

So Peters, circa 1974, still falls short of the deeper insights into capitalist profitability-dynamics that Marx achieved circa 1857, ~117 years earlier, in the Grundrisse, although Peter’s is clearer -- or oppositely one-sided -- regarding the profitability-depressing moment of the ‘technodepreciation dynamic’ than Marx often was. 

Marx often emphasized the profit-rate-raising, denominator-impact of ‘technodepreciation’ write-offs, especially for later owners, in later accounting periods, after the earlier owner’s businesses failed due to such ‘technodepreciation’ write-offs / losses.

Marx also thus often de-emphasized the profit-rate-lowering, numerator-impact of such write-offs of ‘“morally-depreciated”’ fixed capital plant and equipment value, when subtracted from gross profits, because that equipment had been retired from production-use “prematurely -- long before its full “wear-and-tear”, ‘‘‘physical depreciation’’’ -- due to its technological, or "moral" [Marx], obsolescence. 



[Peters]:  “In summary, the conclusion is that cash flow provides a better way to get a handle on results than does reported profit.  If depreciation [M.D.:  of “fixed-capital” plant and equipment] were only of nominal influence, this entire discussion would be a tempest in a teapot.  But as business in general has become more capital-intensive, depreciation correspondingly has grown to a very large number.  In heavy industry, it is quite common for book depreciation to equal or exceed reported profits.”


Commentary by M.D.  Here is the nod, from Peters -- almost explicitly -- to the capital composition change ‘co-cause’ of the falling profitability that he has presented, and that Marx emphasized so consistently:  “If depreciation were only of nominal influence, this entire discussion would be a tempest in a teapot.  But as business in general has become more capital-intensive, depreciation correspondingly has grown to a very large number.  In heavy industry, it is quite common for book depreciation to equal or exceed reported profits.  Note, however, that Peter’s emphasis here is on the improved management discernment of actual profitability rates that results from using cash flow in place of reported “profits” for the numerator of his proposed [profit-]Return On Capital Investment [ROI] ratio, not on the causal role of increasing fixed capital composition of total capital in creating a growing ‘‘‘shortage’’’ of profit-"mass" and of profit-rate.



[Peters]:  “We have seen that ROIs for business in total have atrophied over the years to the point of threatening the economic viability of the free enterprise system.  If business, collectively, cannot generate a satisfactory return on its investment, our way of life is in deep trouble. And we are getting close to that point ...”

"...the deteriorating trend of performance in U. S. industry is unmistakable.  Of perhaps more significance, the absolute numbers are now becoming alarming.  Who wants to put their money out to risk in U. S. durable goods manufacturers with returns like these?

[Robert A. Peters, Return On Investment, American Management Associations, AMACOM division, 1974, pp. 1-5, 13, 35, 44, italic, bold, and underline emphasis added by M.D.].  


Commentary by M.D.  Again, in conclusion, Peters sounds the alarm, in dire terms for the interests of -- for the wealth of, and for the 'socio-econo-political' power of -- at the very least, the “outer”, “lower” layers of the capitalist ruling class who he is addressing in this book, in words that Marx essentially foretold over a century ago. 






Global Strategic Hypothesis:  The “innermost”, “highest” layer of the capitalist ruling class became aware of this death dynamic of the capitalist system far earlier, circa the 1880s, and began their counter-offensive, with their engineering of the 1907 'designer depression', to "argue for" their Federal Reserve Act, with their 1913 imposition of that “FederalReserve Act, and of their Federal Income Tax, so as to have deductions from the wages of workers finance the suppression of industrialization / productive forces growth in the capitalist periphery, with their engineering of World War I, and their selling of munitions to all of its sides, with the foundation that World War I laid for the industry-wasting “Military-Industrial Complex” [Eisenhower] to come, with their massive funding of their “Eugenics” ideology, and, facilitated by their engineering of the 1929+ “Global Great Depression I” 'designer depression', their world-wide imposition of Fascist, genocidal [Eugenics] state-capitalist totalitarian dictatorships -- under their, unified, control -- across much of Latin America, Europe, and Asia, until their agenda for global reversal of the historic growth of the human-social forces of production, and therefore also their agenda for global dictatorship, and for global, “Eugenics” multi-genocide, was interrupted, temporarily, when their erstwhile servant-dictator’, Hitler, turned Franken-Dictator’, and then again when Stalinism challenged their global rule, after the Hitler regime's removal by World War II...until they could finally resume that agenda, in earnest, in 1989. 






*Image source(s) [used with permission but not endorsement] --
  • Economic Report of the President: 2011 Report Spreadsheet Tables, B-12. Gross domestic product (GDP) by industry, value added, in current dollars and as a percentage of GDP, 1979-2009, U.S. Government Printing Office [1] (11/25/2011)
  • Economic Report of the President: 2003 Report Spreadsheet Tables, B-12. Gross domestic product by industry, 1959-2001, U.S. Government Printing Office [2] (11/25/2011)
  • Value Added by Industry in Current Dollars, Quantity Indexes by Industry, and Price Indexes by Industry, 1947-1997; Value Added by Industry, Gross Output by Industry, Intermediate Inputs by Industry, and the Components of Value Added by Industry, 1987-1997, Gross-Domestic-Product-(GDP)-by-Industry Data, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, [3] (11/25/2011)
  • MERCHANDISE IMPORTS, EXPORTS, AND TRADE BALANCE: 1790-2006 (percent of GDP) [4] (11/27/2011)
Date:   27 November 2011
Source: Own work
Author: Jmk7

Note the precipitous fall in the share of “Total manufacturing” in total U.S.-GDP [broken/dashed blue graph line], in ‘contra-parallel’ with the rise in the GDP share of the “FIREsector -- Finance, Insurance, Real Estate, Rental, and Leasing [broken/dashed red graph line] -- with the rise in the GDP share of “Services” --  Professional and Business Services” [solid red graph line] -- with the rise in the GDP share of “Educational services, health care, and social assistance [dotted green graph line], and with the rising foreign trade deficit [solid black line with dot-tics].    

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