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Capitalism is Legalized Robbery

by Gary Sudborough Monday, Feb. 24, 2003 at 9:57 PM
IconoclastGS@aol.com

Conspicuous and inconspicuous examples of theft by the capitalist system.



There are occasions in the history of capitalism when robbery by capitalists becomes conspicuous to even the casual observer. Enron came to the deregulated electricity market in California and manipulated the electricity market with clever schemes having names like Death Star, Ricochet and Fat Boy. Enron and other energy companies stole billions of dollars from consumers, and then when the state of California stepped in, they stole billions more from the taxpayers and forced the state to sign long term contracts with energy producers at very high prices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the Bush administration acted as coconspirators in this episode by stalling on mandating price caps, refunding only a pittance of the amount stolen, and refusing to let the state out of its long term contracts.

Withholding power at critical moments to drive electricity prices sky high, these energy companies caused rolling blackouts, which resulted in numerous accidents and some deaths. In a just world they could be indicted for murder, as well as grand theft, because they must have known what the consequences would be of these blackouts.

In addition, Enron stole the life savings of many of its employees by fraudulent accounting practices and encouraging its employees to buy more stock, when the top executives had already sold out near the peak price and knew a precipitous decline in stock price was coming because of serious financial difficulties.

Slightly more than a decade earlier, there was another massive theft by corporate America called the savings and loan scandal. The amounts stolen here were staggering-on the order of 500 billion dollars. Instead of trying hard to retrieve the money from the thieves, the average American taxpayer was saddled with the bill, roughly five thousand dollars per family.

The corporate media like to pretend that these occurrences are aberrations which happen infrequently and that those responsible are punished adequately. Actually, they occur quite often, and the people responsible usually get only a slap on the wrist because they are respected businessmen, rather than common street criminals.

The history of American capitalism is one continuous series of these scandals and thefts. Capitalists like Rockefeller, Morgan, Mellon, DuPont and others got the name "robber barons" because of their many nefarious schemes to enrich themselves. The Populist movement arose in the late 19th century because farmers were being robbed by the banks and railroads. As an interesting aside, the Wizard of Oz was a symbolic fable written by a populist named Frank Baum. The wicked witches represented the banks and railroads.

However, there is a much more subtle and less noticeable form of theft by the capitalist system. One can comprehend this theft by examining Marx's Labor Theory of Value. The theory is that all wealth comes from labor and that the more labor that goes into a product, the more valuable it is. Profit is that part of the price of a product which rightly belongs to the worker, but is siphoned off by the capitalist due to his ownership of the means of production, also a result of theft.

I think the validity of this theory can best be visualized by thinking back to a primitive time when little of value existed. In order to provide food, clothing, shelter and other basic human needs, energy had to be expended as work to extract things of value from the natural world. The more energy that was expended, the more things of value came into existence. At a certain point in time with increased efficiency a surplus came into existence allowing a leisure class to develop, which lived off the labor of others. This leisure class then created an ideology which justified and legitimized their existence, sometimes using religion as in the divine right of European kings to rule their subjects. Of course, capitalism has also created a whole mythology to justify the existence of its ruling class.

When skilled craftsmen of various kinds developed, one can easily see how something they expended a lot of work to produce would be worth more than one requiring less effort. Then, mass production lines arose with capitalism and one can comprehend that cheaper products would result because with machinery the amount of labor required per item produced is much less. The leisure class that arose previous to capitalism had the land and the capital to build factories and purchase mass production machinery and exploit the labor of others, paying them only a fraction of the value their labor created.

Some people try to poke holes in the labor theory of value by pointing out all the other factors involved in the price of a product like the price of raw materials, utilities like electricity and water, transportation, etc. However, these things are all the result of past labor, so there is no contradiction here.

A good indicator of the validity of a scientific theory is if it can predict a future result. The labor theory of value predicts depressions. Since workers are paid only a fraction of the value they create and profit is taken by the capitalist, then workers should be able to buy back only a fraction of the goods and services they produce. This is indeed true. Capitalism always results in overproduction, inventories increase, workers need to be laid off and a depression occurs.

So capitalism results in glaring examples of robbery like Enron and the savings and loan disaster, but also is a continuous every day robbery of the working person. This is not discussed by the corporate media because the last thing they would want you to know is that capitalist society is based on theft. That might cause a revolution.
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