The waste of maintaining capitalism

Jan Pole anticapitalist2 at
Fri Apr 5 01:41:07 BST 2002

The defenders of capitalism argue that the chief feature of the market
system is its efficiency in allocating scarce goods and resources to
the areas where they are most needed. Socialism, they argue, would
inevitably be destroyed by its own inefficiency and inability to meet
even the most basic economic needs of society. This argument is flawed
on two counts. 

Firstly, the last thing capitalism does is allocate goods to the place
of greatest need. Instead, it responds solely to signals transmitted in
terms of money, and thus allocates good to those activities able to
gather together the most money to attract effort and resources. 

The vaunted “efficiency” of doing this is thus measured solely in terms
of managing to match the means and resources put into a branch of
social activity to the amount of money involved in it. In other words,
the efficiency of capitalism is that it manages to behave like
capitalism on a sustained basis.

Secondly, even given its capacity to allocate its means to its own
ends, capitalism throws up problems inherent to its own nature, that it
must actively counter. A clear example of this is unemployment. 


Not only is unemployment a cruel waste of human talent and potential,
it is also is a drain on financial resources, in terms of the welfare
budget and its administration. 

This is a waste on a gargantuan scale, tolerated solely because
capitalism requires an industrial reserve army to potentially supply
labour, and regulate the price of commodified labour-power on the open
market. Capitalism must waste resources on unemployment or else see the
wages system, at its very heart, would not work properly.

The waste unemployment represents is a problem that has not gone
unnoticed. Political and economic pundits continually struggle with
ways of combating the “evil of idleness”; politicians of every stripe
try to woo workers' votes with promises of ending unemployment; and
trade unionists call for a government policy for “full employment”.
There are, however, other wastes of resources inherent to capitalism,
that its harlot voices cry much more softly about.

Armies and arms

One particularly relevant to current world events is the need of the
capitalist class for military force to pursue its ends. In 2001 the
British state spent £23.5 billion on the “teeth elements” of its
military budget, which is, believe it or not, comparatively low in
world terms (fifth overall, and the third highest in Europe). 

This level of expenditure persists despite the so-called “Peace
Dividend” that came about after the collapse of Russian
State-Capitalism. In 1991 the expenditure figure was around £25 billion
(2001 prices); and the Labour government has even reversed that
marginal decline in expenditure.

This marginal reduction in military spending is itself a response to
the immense drain on resources such military commitment represents. The
aim of the reductions has clearly been to retain fighting efficiency,
at lower cost. At present, personnel costs represent some 37 percent of
military expenditure (with 41 percent going on equipment). 
This breaks down as a total of 188,000 fulltime trained military
personnel, backed up by some 288,000 reservists and 93,000 civilian
staff. This compares to 1991 with a total of 282,000 full-timers,
341,000 reservists and 169,000 civilian personnel. 

This indicates that the military budgets have been reduced largely at
the expense of an increased workloads of the workers in uniform.
Regardless of this, however, it also shows the amount of human
resources being diverted to the cause of destruction and slaughter,
rather than producing useful items such as houses, hospitals or

Of course, military spending is not entirely unproductive, nor
unprofitable even if wasteful, and thousands more workers are engaged
in the process of producing the equipment and weapons with which the
soldiers are expected to kill and maim.

As ever with capitalist production, wherever it finds profits are to be
made, it gradually reduces the cost and effort that goes into chasing
those profits. So too, thus, do weapons, and particularly small arms,
become cheaper to produce and obtain, and thus so too do the small-time
capitalists of the criminal world find it easier to find suitable
military force to the scale of their operations. In so doing,
capitalism drives forward yet another harmful and wasteful aspect of
its own system.

Police and prisons

Accounting for the difficulties of recording crime, according to the
statistics on crimes reported to the police, there were 18,000 violent
crimes against the person in 1990, as compared with 23,300 in 2000.
Rising violence has become a concern for many people, fuelled by
squalid social conditions, the absence of hope, the alienation of
people from each other and by the increasing availability of weapons
with which to do harm. 

As these figures rise, the state finds itself obliged to plough money
and resources into combating both the ill effects of the market system
upon its subjects and also to thwart the ambitions of the entrepreneurs
seeking a violent short-cut to profit.

In mainland UK there are some 113,000 people employed as full time
police, accompanied by some 9,000 special constables, applied to
tackling this task for the capitalist class. As the recent
demonstration by police officers in the heart of London suggests, the
cost of paying for this manpower is beginning to become burdensome on
the capitalist state. In England and Wales the numbers of police
officers have fallen from 110,790 in 1990, to 101,683 in 2001: falling
over a time when their actual workload was increasing.

Part of the response to rising crime rates, has been to resort to more
imprisonment. The prison population in England and Wales has risen from
45,000 in 1990, to over 64,000 in 2001. The running costs of the prison
service in England and Wales in the latter year were £2.2 billion. 

Attempts to “privatise” prisons under deals similar to the public
private partnerships seen elsewhere in government policy, represent an
attempt to claw back some of the unprofitable expenditure the system
must waste on keeping so many people incarcerated; likewise, the
government's continuing attempt to find cheaper alternatives, such as
tagging and curfews.

This barrage of figures simply indicates the amount of resources that
the capitalist system is compelled to spend maintaining itself and
overcoming its anti-social logic; both in terms of the might of police
forces directed at, and the overall military force directed by those
who have decided that the opportunity costs of violence are reasonable.

The more capitalism severs social bonds at home, and is compelled into
war abroad, the more it must set aside from productive activity into
the sheer waste of maintaining the means of violence.

Socialism, based upon co-operation and the strong social bonds derived
from common ownership, will be freed from the imperative to spend on
such branches of activity, and will instead be able to direct them
towards satisfying our social needs as a priority, realising the
potential that our free and common labour can deliver for ourselves. 

Obviously, there are functions currently undertaken by the police and
military that will continue to be needed. Currently the police deal
with most aspects of sudden death, from investigating it to breaking
the sad news to relatives; and obviously, such a function will still be
required under socialism. 

Likewise, the armed forces carry out about twelve hundred search and
rescue missions each year, saving thousands of lives. However, we can
look to the world around us now, for examples of how such socially
necessary functions can be organised. A clear case being the life-boat
service, staffed by part-time volunteers who put their own lives at
risk to help their fellows in distress.


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