Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Marx was right all along, says investment bank

By Michael Burke

Well, not quite. But a recent study by leading investment bank Credit Suisse shows that long-term growth rates of GDP in selected industrialised economies are negatively correlated with financial returns to shareholders. That is, the best returns for shareholders are from countries where GDP growth has been slowest, and vice versa. Where growth has been strongest, shareholder returns are weakest.

This is shown in the chart from Credit Suisse below.


Business Insider magazine carries a report of the research. It makes a series of bizarre arguments in an attempt to explain the correlation. The first is that stock markets anticipate future economic growth. But given that these data are based on the last 113 years, the stock markets must be very far-sighted indeed. The subsequent arguments do not get any stronger.

The negative correlation does not prove negative causality. But it does support the theory which suggests that the interests of shareholders are contrary to the interests of economic growth and the well-being of the population.

The clearest theory which this data supports, that the interests of shareholders are counterposed to that of economic growth, was formulated by Marx. In Capital he argues that the ‘development of the productive forces’ (the investment in the means of production and in education that are required to increase the productivity of labour and hence economic growth) runs up against the barrier of the private ownership of the means of production*.

Shareholders are not concerned with economic development but are driven by profits. Where those two conflict, the latter always win out. This is true in general, but becomes very evident in a period of crisis. Private capitalists could end the current economic slump by increasing their level of investment and they have the means to do so. They choose not to because they judge there are currently insufficient profits to be made.

So, either we wait until they deign to invest, perhaps cutting wages and corporate taxes to encourage them. Or we adopt policies that use their cash hoard to fund the investment that is necessary from growth and economic well-being.


*This contradiction is one of the central themes of the whole work. The following excerpt is a good example:

‘It is not that too much wealth is produced. But from time to time there is too much wealth produced in in its capitalist, antagonistic forms.

The barriers to the capitalist mode of production show themselves as follows:
  1. In the way that the development of labour productivity involves a law, in the form of the falling rate of profit, that at a certain point confronts this development itself in a most hostile way and has constantly to be overcome by crises;
  2. In the way that….a certain rate of profit…determines the expansion or contraction of production, instead of the proportion between production and social needs….Production comes to a standstill not at the point where needs are satisfied, but rather where the production and realisation of profit impose this.’ - Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 15, Development of the Law’s Internal Contradictions 

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