Amazon and the Destruction Zone

“An unimaginable amount of unnecessary waste”: Hidden camera shows Amazon throwing away 124,000 brand-new or returned items, per week, from ONE warehouse. Cheaper for the vendor than paying for continued storage. The revelations about the scale of #AmazonWaste add to the picture of a business model based on exploiting it’s workers by denying them trade union representation, massive tax avoidance and huge “destruction”. This isn’t about one bad company. The “destruction zone” is capitalism. This isn’t system failure, this IS the system.

The recent revelations that Amazon destroys its stock will come as no surprise to many that can remember the butter mountains of Europe or those that understand Marx’s ‘tendency for the rate of profit to fall’. One of capitalism’s systemic contradictions Marx illustrated is that commodity production has to manufacture in greater quantities as human labour is replaced by machines in order to make profit.

This is debated & denied by a lot of people, but what Amazon just did, & notably Burberry’s before them, is evidence that Marx’s conclusions were justified. The process of commodity production to the purchase of them by the end consumer has some twists & turns, but I hope to put it simply below.

‘The source of profit is human labour’ – a statement fiercely denied by so many, yet its obviously true that labour is ‘a’ source of profit, if not the only provably stable source of profit. Monopolies have the ability to alter the market value of commodities to create greater profits by price fixing.

There is always some price fixing in the commodity market. The price of a commodity always includes some profit for producer, they need to make profit – that’s capitalism. It’s not a very high percentage of profit in most cases, most commodity production is carried out by large companies that can produce massive quantities of products in a short turnover time so the percentage of profit can be low because there’s a lot of product. The market forms an average price for the commodities based on the overall prices required by all the producers, some will make more profit than others, some less.

The tendency for the rate of profit to fall is not the percentage of profit the companies make. That is the first mistake a lot of people make. It is the rate of profit that falls at a fixed percentage of profit. For example, if the average producer of a certain commodity spends £100 to make 1 unit of the commodity & the percentage of profit is 10%, the price the commodity is sold at is £110. If the same producer finds a way to cut his cost in half to £50 to make 1 unit & the percentage of profit is still 10%, the price the commodity is sold at is £55.

What has happened, by reducing the cost of production, & the percentage of profit remaining the same, the rate of profit has been halved from £10 to £5. So now the producer has to make 2 units of his commodity to get £10 instead of 1.


The reality? 124,000 items from just one warehouse in one week exposed here. Amazon has 24 warehouses in the UK. 52 weeks. 154,752,000 items destroyed per year in the U.K. alone. A gigantic waste of people’s time, of the Earth’s precious resources, massive wasted energy and vast pollution. This is capitalism. This is systemic failure. This cannot be ‘greened’.

The tendency for the rate of profit to fall is where machines firstly remove human labour from part of the production process or increase the labour power of individual workers with machines that increase the rate of production. As wages for human labour are paid for as long as human labour is required, human labour is more expensive over time than buying an expensive machine to replace them, which may lead to halving the producers cost per unit from £100 to £50. The machine is eventually paid for & as long as every other supplier of the same commodity doesn’t have that machine, the amount of profit for machine owning producer will be greater.

But inevitably, most producers buy that machine too, then market modifies the average price for commodities downwards & the rate of profit falls once again.

Another way to cut production costs is to make commodities abroad where labour is cheaper. This has the same effect as replacing labour with machines as it costs the producer less to make 1 unit – until the average producer of the commodity does the same thing, & then the market adjusts the commodity price downwards again.

This is the tendency for the rate of to fall. The only solution to this spiral towards ‘near zero’ profitability is to make more & more units of a commodity to make the same amount of money. The end result is too many commodities on the market. With too many commodities on the market, either a company sells the commodities at a lower price, which could mean a loss or, in order to protect the current market price of the commodity, they destroy an amount of product so that supply is not outweighing demand.

Thirdly, we have the Boxing Day sales & Black Friday, days where the consumer gets to buy products at a discount. This is another way of dumping oversupply (but without literally destroying the products). The concept is that the consumer accepts these two days as special circumstances, not simply companies maintaining higher prices throughout the rest of the year.

When companies like Amazon (who buy brands, not always just the products) or the producers themselves have to destroy products, it’s to protect their profitability. There is no turning back the amount of machines that can replace human labour, nor re-domesticating production to not exploit cheaper labour, not in a global commodity market where retailers buy from the cheapest supplier.

All of this will carry on happening, it’s systemic. More & more units will need to made, more resources used, more people made unemployed, prices falling to the point that profitability is not viable in the future without the destruction en masse of surplus stock. The world is damaged by the profit motive & it’s not like we weren’t told a century & half ago that this is the case. 

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  1. Colin Robinson says:

    An excellent analysis.

  2. Robbie says:

    All for something that’s man made “ Money”

  3. Mark Bevis says:

    Gaia is looking on and saying:
    “Abolish capitalism or go extinct.”
    And even now, as we’ve left it 30-40 years too late, even abolishing capitalism isn’t necessarily going to avoid extinction. Not any more.

    Abolish capitalism or go extinct.
    That is the choice facing our worlds’ leaders. Judging by the recent G7 meet, I doubt they even understand the concept.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      ‘Abolish capitalism!’

      That’s easy enough to say, Mark, but how do you go about it?

      Capitalism will abolish itself as and when profitability/impoverishment becomes no longer viable. Thus spake the sainted Karl. Let history take its course!

      1. Daniel Raphael says:

        That’s the perspective of those who view “scientific socialism” as some sort of perpetual-motion machine, somehow surmounting mere human wishes. As Marx made clear, the object isn’t just to contemplate this marvelous machine–but to change it. Right now, it is entirely plausible that capitalism is going to be the central engine powering destruction of all life on this planet. There is no Savior in the form of the dialectic or history or anything else…apart from our own consciousness and actions. We can’t just sit back and watch; doing *that* ensures that it won’t just be Rome that is serenaded by today’s analogue of Nero’s fiddle–it will be the world itself.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          No, it’s the perspective of those who view life as a self-perpetuating process and indifferent to human wishes, who view humanity as an emanation of that process, who eschew all narratives of man’s ‘fall’ and ‘salvation’.

          Humanity is a form of life, one of its myriad adapted forms. As a form of life, it will thrive or not, depending on how successful or otherwise that adaptation is in reproducing itself, on how fitted it is for survival in the godless self-perpetuating process. Indifferent to whether that particular form of life thrives or not, life itself goes on.

          Just as humanity is an emanation of life, capitalism is an emanation of humanity. It is the process through which life, in the form of humanity, currently reproduces itself as a form of life, reproduces what Marx called man’s ‘Gattungswesen’ or ‘species-being’. It is through the process of capitalism and its relations of production that life develops the capacities peculiar to its specifically human form and, crucially, generates as ideologies or forms of consciousness our interpretations of the world and of ourselves (including this one).

          Okay, so how does this change, given that life’s process is total and there is no ‘Archemedian point’ outside of the process by which it can be moved?

          Change occurs because the process is unstable and has an inherent tendency to deconstruct, to ‘abolish’ itself in and through its own internal ‘contradictions’. (John’s article above presents an excellent thumbnail analysis of capitalism’s deconstruction in and through its own internal contradictions.) The ‘revolutionary task’ of changing the world consists in our participating in the deconstructive process, in provoking crises through immanent critique and other subversive/transgressive acts.

          (Very basically, this is the outline of The German Ideology (composed 1846; first published 1932), for which Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach (one of which is ‘Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern.’) were preparatory notes.)

  4. Wul says:

    It has bothered me lately, when I look into our “Paper and Cardboard” recycling bin, to see it choc full of Amazon waste*. This means that my local authority is disposing of Amazon’s commercial by-product at no cost to Amazon, or at best a heavily subsidised cost, assuming Amazon pays it’s rates bill.

    Could the cost of waste disposal be increased to reflect the actual, real world cost and harm done to our planet by retail waste, including the cost of any remediation works needed to “neutralise” its carbon footprint?

    ( * I know, I know…”Don’t buy from them then!”. That ain’t going to work. For my family, for your family or any other people across the world.)

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The crucial question is whether the wealth created in the production of this waste is greater or lesser than the wealth consumed in the processing of it.

      The production and processing of waste is a major industry that contributes significantly to our economy. Just think of all the jobs and profits that would disappear if we stopped producing and processing waste!

      The importance of waste to capitalism in the postmodern economy is eulogised in Don DeLillo’s 1997 novel, Underworld.

      1. Wul says:

        Yeah, chucking litter out your car window “keeps someone in a job” and if you smash all the windows in your own house, you’ll increase GDP. Better to smash your neighbour’s windows though; that’s a “win-win”.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Indeed, that’s a good analogy; it illustrates John’s critique well. The waste industry does depend for its profitability on the demand created for its goods and services by the disposability of other goods and services, like windows and packaging and food.

          Concerning your joiner: to the extent that s/he’s in business to grow his/her capital, then s/he’s a capitalist and part of capitalism’s structural problematic; to the extent that s/he’s in business to sell his/her labour for reward, whether as an employee or as a self-employed gigger, then s/he’s a worker and at least potentially part of its solution.

  5. Wul says:

    Is it actually “capitalism” that is the problem? Do we even agree what “capitalism” is?

    Trading, entrepreneurship and invention seem to be an innate human behaviours. Enjoyable and worthwhile ones too. Perhaps the problem is the kind of distorted, sick, one-sided, imbalanced, privileged, irresponsible, unaccountable, unethical variant of capitalism that we have allowed to run rampant?

    Surely the real production “cost” of Amazon products includes all the CO2 emissions from it’s plastic goods and their transport, all the state subsidies needed to keep their employees decently fed and housed, all the mental health interventions needed to keep it’s stressed employees sane, the domestic rubbish disposal costs, roads infrastructure…etc.. etc. If these costs were factored in (and paid for in taxes), Amazon (and many others) would not have a viable business.

    There is clear and present danger in allowing money and business to control democracy; it will eventually kill us all. Money has no conscience. Profit doesn’t care.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Capitalism isn’t trading, entrepreneurship and invention. Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

      It’s a problem in that, as a form of life, it alienates us as producers and consumers from the products we produce and consume, as well as from one another in the social act of production and consumption.

      But don’t worry! It can’t last. It’s not viable as a form of life.

      1. Daniel Raphael says:

        There is nothing “inevitable” about the demise of capitalism, save in the sense that it destroys human society outright, in the death throes of global climate ecocide–an increasingly likely outcome. The quietism of “it’s all right, Karl,” is deadly. We are the agents of change, not some law “out there.” Such a perspective partakes of philosophical idealism, not historical reality.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          No, Daniel, nothing’s inevitable. Capitalism as a life-form might well survive the crises it generates.

          The problem with governing ideology of humanism is that it mystifies the economic relations of society and therefore places us in a state of false consciousness that serves to reproduce those relations.

          The revolutionary significance of Marx’s immanent critique of the German ideology (i.e. the humanism of the Left Hegelians) is that it frees us from the false consciousness of understanding history either antiquarianly, as a collection of facts, or humanistically, as the wilful activity of ‘author-subjects’, and to instead understand it structurally, as the impersonal process or ‘praxis’ by which society evolves imminently.

          This structuralist understanding of history is what makes scientific socialism ‘scientific’ in contrast to the ‘utopian’ socialism of bourgeois do-gooders (See Friedrich Engels’ essay on Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Of course, that should be ‘the impersonal process or ‘praxis’ by which society evolves immanently.’

      2. Wul says:

        “Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.”

        There must be more to it than that surely? It’s hard to see how my local joinery firm will lead to human extinction.

        I see it as the skewing of societal norms and laws in ways that means that people with enough capital, and their descendants, can be perpetually rich without having to work or contribute anything useful. Mind you, if we add “….at the expense of all else.” to your textbook definition it starts to feel closer to how we run things.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Indeed, that’s a good analogy; it illustrates John’s critique well. The waste industry does depend for its profitability on the demand created for its goods and services by the disposability of other goods and services, like windows and packaging and food.

          Concerning your joiner: to the extent that s/he’s in business to grow his/her capital, then s/he’s a capitalist and part of capitalism’s structural problematic; to the extent that s/he’s in business to sell his/her labour for reward, whether as an employee or as a self-employed gigger, then s/he’s a worker and at least potentially part of its solution.

          1. Wul says:

            I remember attending a “Business Breakfast” in a posh, Glasgow hotel, way back in the days when I had pretensions of becoming a “businessman”. The theme was “Expanding Your Business”.

            Bernard Ponsonby introduced the various inspirational entrepreneurs who had all grown their businesses successfully.

            One speaker stuck in my mind however; he had continued to run a successful small furniture making factory and had no plans to expand. What he did was plough profits into better pay and conditions for staff; paid works days out, training, good career progression, family friendly policies etc. Result; excellent staff morale and loyalty. Making a product that was more expensive than cheap rubbish from China, but ultimately better value in the long run. It seemed a much more sane way to do business than perpetual expansion.

            I suppose the risk is that you will go out of business some day…but so what…if you are an “entrepreneur” you will find some other way to make a living. Nothing lasts for ever.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            But that’s the whole point, Wull: capitalist enterprise is not about making a living, it’s about making a profit.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    The hideous inefficiency of capitalism ‘economy’ laid bare. Compare that with the magnificent efficiency of ecosystems. Death spiral versus sustenance. Corporate fronts are but the market’s Potemkin villages.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The efficiency of a system is relative to the results you want it to produce, efficiency being the condition or fact of producing the results you want with the minimum of waste. Rest assured that, in a capitalist economy, minimum investment is wasted in maximising the profits generated.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Colin Robinson, in terms of systems, you might be better thinking in terms of entropy, but in terms of processes, the energy expended for useful work done (that is, useful to living things) is an objective measure of (in)efficiency. In terms of resource-usage, no contest. Even from the perspective of the Angel of Apocalypse, capitalism is an inefficient slow death compared to global nuclear holocaust, but then the systems are related and may overlap.

        As a though experiment, it might be easier to imagine if capitalism would lead to efficient processes aboard a spaceship. I think there was a science fiction drama series that recently took a look at that.

        In terms of “capture all the useful energy from our sun” you would be thinking of a Dyson Sphere. In terms of “how do we efficiently feed, clothe, house, educate, entertain, cure and care for people” capitalism is inherently defective, and indeed creates its own monsters to prey on people and the living world. This is not to say that certain contained and smaller-scale capitalist systems are never useful.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          That’s true, but the usefulness of work done is still relative to the end for which that work is done. My kettle is more efficient than my hammer when it comes to boiling water, but less efficient when it comes to knocking in nails. Likewise, while capitalism might be inefficient when it comes to distributing wealth (social and environmental justice), it’s highly efficient at generating wealth. (Even Marx waxed lyrical about capitalism’s efficiency in this respect.)

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, there can be objective calculations of usefulness. Essentially usefulness applies to more ordered systems. Systems which generate unrecycled waste result in less-ordered systems (generally). That is, over time the system degrades. It is not a humanocentric concept in the same way as your hammer/kettle analogy (although I take your point that there are subjective measures of usefulness, of course there are).

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Are there, now? And what might those ‘objective measures of usefulness’ be?

            All use is related to some purpose, from which it logically follows that all usefulness and measures thereof are subject-dependent. You can’t measure the usefulness of anything without reference to the purpose of that thing or the interest some subject has in using it.

            I’d be interested in hearing your account of usefulness as an absolute rather than a relative concept.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, well, even by your description, there is a positive correlation between subjects and usefulness. The more subjects thriving on planetary resources, the more usefulness going around. You don’t need to get into tendentious claims of a hierarchy of lifeforms to show that. The Earth is more useful than the Moon, in that respect, whether humans existed or not. Another way of putting it, is that Earth has a user-base. Indeed, this forms the basis of the terraforming versus pristine barren planet argument (but does not apply to non-Earthlike planets teeming with alien life). If ecosystems return resources to use, and modern capitalism creates life-choking deserts, then the ecosystem model is more useful per se.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed, usefulness is relative to the user and the user’s interests, which is why there can be no objective measure of usefulness (no measure that doesn’t refer to a subjective interest).

            And indeed, capitalism might create choking deserts, but it also creates immense profits. As I said, while capitalism might be inefficient when it comes to distributing wealth (social and environmental justice), it’s highly efficient when it comes to generating wealth (profitability).

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson ecology uses objective measures such as Biomass (not the fuel)

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            Leaving aside the matter of its objectivity as a measure, how does biomass serve as a measure of capitalism’s efficiency in achieving its purpose? Explain!

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, alone, biomass is not a sufficient measurement, because capitalism can produce monocultures which are inherently less healthy and at the species level inherently less useful (to a variety of species). Biodiversity can also be objectively measured.
            Because capitalism is typically extractive, you can measure the loss of biomass and biodiversity from impacted ecosystems, such as forests, oceans, and lakes. Because ecosystems are inherently regenerative, they are measurably and demonstrably more efficient at returning resources to use, typically 100%.

            You talk about capitalism’s ‘purpose’, which is an oddly anthropomorphic way of putting it, but consider that if capitalism produces profits for the capitalist, how efficient are these in terms of producing measurable benefit? Anarchists would probably distinguish between ‘wealth’ which can be applied to make life better, and ‘riches’ the excess which cannot be spent in a life-improving way. So if capitalism is allegedly for producing wealth, then we can look at the percentage of wealth created against the total accumulation (of wealth + riches), and work out an efficiency rating from that. And that is without factoring in negatives from capitalism, like the harms caused by the arms industry, or the people dying in the USAmerican opioid crisis, or even diseases of affluence. And without a model projecting the progress of capitalist systems to their own destruction, which can be compared with ecosystems undamaged by capitalism.

          8. Colin Robinson says:

            I’m not doubting that biomass can serve as a measure; only a) that it can serve as an objective measure of capitalism’s usefulness and b) that there can be objective measures of usefulness generally.

            This is because the usefulness of anything (and therefore its efficiency) is relative to the end or purpose to which the user (subject) employs it as a means to that purpose or end. And this is why we can say, as I did, that capitalism is inefficient as a means of delivering some conceptions of social and environmental justice and highly efficient as a means of delivering some conception of wealth.

          9. SleepingDog says:

            @ Colin Robinson, well, I don’t really want to rehash some of limitations of such views on the efficiency of capitalism (where you would have to look at distribution of its fruits, and how the hours of labour of people at the bottom of the pyramid have increased in disproportion to their leisure time just to maintain a basic living) but the distinction between wealth and riches is so significant to such conceptual models that it is worth restating, especially as some may be unfamiliar with its exponents.

            At the start of the lecture/essay Art, Wealth and Riches (1883?), William Morris makes the point that his generation has seen the conflation of these terms, where in the past they were seen as distinct, where people:
            “would have understood a wealthy man to mean one who had plentiful livelihood, and a rich man one who had great dominion over his fellow-men.”
            whereas Morris would have us reclaim the meanings:
            “to understand wealth as signifying the means of living a decent life, and riches the means for exercising dominion over other people.”
            So that (to my mind, reasonable) distinction will let anarchists and socialist say they are for wealth but against riches, and distinguish the usages of each: wealth is used to have a decent life, riches are used to have dominion over others.

            You can find the essay in the collection Art and Society: Lectures and Essays by William Morris, though I imagine it will be readily found online for free.

          10. Colin Robinson says:

            ‘…limitations of such views on the efficiency of capitalism (where you would have to look at distribution of its fruits, and how the hours of labour of people at the bottom of the pyramid have increased in disproportion to their leisure time just to maintain a basic living)…’

            But my view explicitly took account of capitalism’s inefficiencies in relation to social and environmental justice.

            And William Morris was a utopian socialist. As I explained above, I’ve no time for utopian socialism.

          11. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, but I wasn’t talking about justice in that comment, I was talking about claims of wealth-creation as in the oft-used metaphor of capitalism being a rising tide that lifts all boats. I would say that the evidence is to the contrary, especially when considering other systems.

            And what your opinion on utopian socialism or William Morris (who was often extremely practical in the lectures and essays on arts and society) got to do will age-old popular distinction between wealth (having enough to be well off) and riches (having economic power over others)?

            You said that capitalism is “highly efficient when it comes to generating wealth (profitability)”. My argument is that is incorrect. Capitalism may be effective, efficient in a peculiar way, at creating riches; but it is not at all efficient in generating wealth (indeed our modern version tends to suck wealth out of many people). You are confusing wealth with profitability or riches, in my view. Can you be for wealth but against riches? Yes, in my view you can. William Morris gives just one example and it is nothing to do with utopian socialism. You might have just as well as ignored the whole article because you “have no time for marxism”.

          12. Colin Robinson says:

            But ‘the oft-used metaphor of capitalism being a rising tide that lifts all boats’ pertains to its efficiency in distributing the wealth it produces (distributive justice). And I agree; capitalism is crap when it comes to distributive justice.

            ‘And what your opinion on utopian socialism or William Morris… got to do will age-old popular distinction between wealth… and riches…?’

            Nothing. But in his lecture, Morris basis his distinction on etymology, and his etymology is made-up. Etymologically both ‘wealth’ and ‘riches’ derive from Germanic words that both pertain to will and power.

            ‘Capitalism may be effective, efficient in a peculiar way, at creating riches…’

            There you go! We’re in agreement. Capitalism’s good at growing wealth, but it’s crap at distributing it according to some measures of social and environmental justice.

          13. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, rubbish! William Morris bases his distinction on past usage, not etymology. Therefore reflecting on the same traditions that rejected riches (as in the New Testament easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven) and embraced wealth in common: commonwealths (and now No doubt ‘wealth’ in those usages followed on from earlier meanings of ‘well-being’.

            Furthermore, William Morris was active in the arts and crafts movement, which is about as practical and hands-on as you can get. Calling Morris simply a ‘utopian socialist’ is like calling Marcus Rashford an armchair politician.

            Clearly I am *not* arguing the same as you. Modern capitalism is a net *destroyer* of wealth, even as it generates riches for the upper layers of world human hierarchies to dominate and exploit those on lower layers (indeed capitalism also parasites off other, real forms of wealth-creation based on anarchist goodwill, state funding and global communisms). Wealth in this old and often communal sense has nothing to do with your ‘will to power’, any more than a plant stores up starch during daylight, or a squirrel buries acorns for the winter, or ants farm fungus because they have a ‘will to power’.

          14. Colin Robinson says:

            Etymology IS the study of past usage. And Morris begins his lecture by explicitly stating that his distinction is based on etymology. Unfortunately, it’s based on poor etymology.

            Google ‘utopian socialism’! Morris wrote one of the best utopian socialist novels in the English language; News from Nowhere.

            Are you seriously suggesting that the advent of capitalism didn’t lead to an unprecedented period of economic growth in human history, of which the productivity or efficiency of its relations of production was the principal driving force?

            Capitalism has many faults. Among these are that it’s inherently exploitative, alienating, unstable, unsustainable, creates massive economic inequality, commodifies people, and degrades the environment. But that it’s failed to increase our productive capacities or power, to the extent that it has long since abolished real scarcity, isn’t one of them. None of the multifarious trade unions and left-wing socialist, communist, and anarchist groups that comprised the First International ever argued that as its critique of capitalism. With the exception of Marx, they all based their critiques rather on its shortcomings in delivering social justice.

          15. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, OK, I should have said common English usage as opposed to Teutonic origins. But you have not provided any evidence for a shared root for ‘riches’ and ‘wealth’ anyway, which would be extremely puzzling to non-linguist like me, since the words are entirely different, and none of the sources I checked backed your assertion. To your argument, ‘commonwealth’ = ‘commonriches’, which is absurd.

            Capitalism has destroyed wealth by draining natural resources and turning them into toxic waste products, being a major factor in European imperialism, genocides and military use of industry, and devoted ecosystems worldwide. However, European empires made use of the idea communism of printed book culture using Latin moveable type, which spread useful ideas around for people to build their own ideas on top of, virtually free of charge.

            Marx and his collaborators lived before the rise of modern ecological science, much of other modern science, and before a very large evidence base. It is to Marx’s credit that his predictions were largely falsifiable, therefore far more scientific than most of his economic rivals. The history of ideas has moved on a great deal from Marx’s time, for example it is alleged he largely ignored the role of women in his theories, and in a recent article economist Amartya Sen both praises Marx’s insights on India but criticises a fundamental flaw in his reasoning:
            In fact, it is the alchemist-style tendency of capitalists to cling on to their trade secrets and intellectual property that have proved a substantial barrier to progress throughout its history (one might consider the patent-squatter James Watt to have set back the development of the steam engine for decades).

            In fact, capitalism led down several calamitous paths, such as racialised chattel slavery, international drug cartels (we are still harvesting the blowback from the Opium Wars) and world wars leading towards exterminism due to the influence of the military-industrial cartel. All of which destroyed, are destroying, and/or are poised to destroy much more real wealth.

            Anyway, both the Soviet Union and the Chinese Republic managed to industrialise backwards peasant nations without capitalism, while being besieged and invaded by capitalist-imperialists. While the capitalist powers USA and the British Empire are built on genocidal resource theft and overseas exploitation.

            Has capitalism ever succeeded in one country? Has capitalism ever succeeded without exploiting non-nationals? If neither is the case, was any success really down to capitalism as a system, or was there necessary theft and outright large-scale criminality needed? It could even be the case that the necessary boost of seed capital for a critical phase of the British industrial revolution came from the taxpayer payout to compensate slave owners.

            As for abolishing scarcity, I think you are deeply confused. Not least that manufacturing scarcity is sometimes a business model, but that many famines have occurred under rampant capitalist (or capitalist-war) conditions, as again reading Amartya Sen will illustrate, whilst capitalism-induced ecocide is the premier force behind making things scarce these days. Moreover, the just-in-time profit-maximising strategies that stretch today’s supply lines (remember ‘big boat got stuck’?) means that we are perilously close to empty supermarket shelves, since, oh, whenever the last time that happened. Fresh air is scarce enough, unpolluted plastic-free water scarcer. Until, perhaps, we are prepared to pay for them. Peak minerals track the trend towards scarcity and eventual exhaustion of capital’s unregenerated inputs.

          16. Colin Robinson says:

            Where did I say the two words have a common root?

            And, yes, as I said: ‘Capitalism has many faults. Among these are that it’s inherently exploitative, alienating, unstable, unsustainable, creates massive economic inequality, commodifies people, and degrades the environment.’

            But how can you deny that capitalism has increased our productivity to such a degree that material want is no longer necessary (i.e. scarcity has been abolished) but still exists only because of its failure to distribute that wealth justly (i.e. according to need)?

          17. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, your Professor Yaffle schtick has made me re-read William Morris’ Art, Wealth and Riches again, you may be satisfied to learn. Sorry about the misread on the “two words/common root” claim, but it seems entirely irrelevant as the sense in which Morris uses ‘wealth’ is the ‘prosperity, well-being, happiness’ usage, which sadly Wiktionary labels today ‘Obsolete’, even though it clearly is not, given living examples.

            In the essay/lecture, Morris is interested in where art should belong, as the “helpmate of wealth or the slave of riches” (not a utopian question but of “great practical import”). I think today we only have to think of an artwork of public interest going under auction to see two very different measurements of its value, also reflected in the issue of returning once-looted artefacts from a museum to peoples who place quite different values on them.

            Your claim that it is Capitalism that has increased our productivity so as to eliminate material want is obviously false in many local senses (even the USA has had its dust bowl), and indeed exploitation of want is a key reason why unnecessary famines and shortages come about, such as speculation during crises, and price rises of food in famines until the poorest cannot afford it. As Amartya Sen reasons, it is a free press, the rule of law, elective democracy that acts against such capitalistic behaviour (I could add: a functional welfare state) to ensure people are still fed.

            Capitalism does not invent or even like to share productive innovations, and often acts to suppress them, as I have said, for instance by defining and controlling intellectual property. Processes like those associated with the British Agricultural Revolution came from idea communism, the sharing of best practice.

            In the most Capitalist nation/empire, the USA, far from being rich, the national debt is so many trillions, such a greatly increasing proportion of GDP, that the USA may be technically and effectively bankrupt and unable to pay back its debts. So in capitalist terms, the USA may be the poorest nation on the planet. While in arch-capitalist South Korea, young people live (or leave) in terror of poverty and destitution. What is causing this? A common explanation is that capitalism steals from the prosperity of future generations, who will one day have to pay the price of past squandering.

            A lot of these riches are columns of numbers, electronic currency, often generated by who-knows-what scams and price manipulations and accountancy tricks and pyramids schemes. Is mining crypto-currency producing wealth? Are corporation schemes to inflate their own share prices producing wealth? Is the legal financial-capitalist sector skimming producing wealth? No.

            Like me, Morris argues that the natural world *is* wealth, “Were not the brown moors and the meadows, the clear streams and the sunny skies, wealth?” although he also argues that there are two kinds of wealth that capitalism (or ‘commercial competitiveness’) destroys: the physical and the mental. “To my mind real wealth is of two kinds; the first kind, food, raiment, shelter, and the like; the second, matters of art and knowledge; that is, things good and necessary for the body, and things good and necessary for the mind.”

            The arts and crafts movement, to which Morris belonged, has probably to a large extent won the kinds of arguments made in the piece, if not all the battles to gain and keep them (otherwise we would not have public libraries under threat today). My point about labelling Morris a utopian socialist and Marcus Rashford an armchair politician is that in both contexts, it is an odd label to apply to practical activists, even if applicable. But maybe the sudden intrusion of the 21st Century was alarming and discombobulating.

            Anyway, Morris’ slightly tongue-in-cheek discourse ends with a prophetic warning that we need to rid ourselves of the pestilential rubbish we create before we have to burn ourselves with it.

            Which brings me finally to the point of: why confuse wealth and riches at all, then? There may be in some cases a matter of degree, as Morris says, the degree between farmer’s dog and wolf. But why insist that wealth and riches are the same? Well, there is a tax implication in this. If you are riding high on the status quo and want to keep your riches, then call them wealth just like the little people have, and claim that taxing your riches is just like taxing their wealth. Meanwhile you use your riches to influence others so as to keep and expand your riches. Perhaps all the way until your society becomes a plutocracy. Whereas campaigning to abolish the rich may, in this confusion, sound like you are trying to abolish wealth, and the ‘prosperity, well-being, happiness’ that goes along with it.

            Wul makes the same distinction attributed to Jesus, who works for the family carpentry firm but chucks the moneylenders out of the temple. One creates wealth, the other riches. A rich man is forbidden from entering God’s commonwealth. But we don’t need pie in the sky. Our planet is our commonwealth. Pity that capitalism is destroying our wealth. Let’s do something about it, and one day Wiktionary’s entry for wealth will read:
            x. (economics, obsolete) Riches; a great amount of valuable assets or material possessions.

          18. Colin Robinson says:

            Yes, capitalism causes famine and shortages. But that’s not because capitalist relations of production generates a lack of wealth; it’s because capitalism is inefficient in its distribution of the wealth we create through those relations.

            That’s the structural problem that besets capitalism. Its immense productive power abolishes the scarcity it needs to continue growing that productive power; the so-called problem of overproduction. It subsequently needs to manufacture artificial scarcity through phenomena like planned obsolescence and waste in order to relieve the contradiction that tends towards its deconstruction.

  7. Dougie Harrison says:

    It seems that ‘Sleeping dog’ is unaware that William Morris was a self-proclaimed marxist, and a friend of Engels to boot. Read about the real man. Don’t learn from coffee-table books about his wallpapers. No man in English history -or at least not many -has been as misrepresented as Morris. When I tell prim ladies sampling expensive wallpaper that, they don’t believe me.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      He was also pals with Stepniak and Kropotkin. In fact, he did his damnedest to hold the socialist community in fin de siècle London together in an ecumenia against its chronic sectarianism.

      It’s true that Morris read Capital and declared himself ‘a Marxist’. But it’s anachronistic to simply dub Morris’s own intuitive analysis of capitalism ‘Marxist’. From the early 1830s at least, the idea that capitalism was fundamentally parasitic on labour was common to those calling themselves ‘socialists’. Indeed, a reading of the Owenite journal, ‘The Pioneer’ demonstrates just how central this economic analysis was to pre-Marxian socialism.

      The whole point of a Marxist analysis of alienated labour, and its point of departure from utopian socialism, is that it can’t be overcome voluntarily, through political action, but only ‘world-historically’ through the immanent transformation of the relations of production themselves. This isn’t an idea you’ll find anywhere in Morris’s writings.

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