John’s question: Isn’t it fair to say that “capital” (as in, portable property not necessarily tied to wealth in the form of land) is inherently about privatization? If so, a capitalist society can do little other than drift toward further privatization, no?
My answer: Capital is a complex concept and Marx defines it in many ways including relating to it as crystallized labour. Marx argues that more and more capital derived from human productive activity is finding its way into the coffers of the ruling class. As Marx notes, the capitalist mode of production is based on the exploitation of labour-power by which surplus value is produced. Profit comes from surplus value and becomes capital. This applies to individual capitalists but Marx intends that it should apply principally to the ruling class as a whole. So, privatization, as much as anything means that the working class is getting less and less of ‘its’ share of the proceeds of social production. It’s being appropriated by the ruling class which, for Marx, includes capitalists, of course, but also the state. [The nature of the state and the ruling class is not by any means agreed upon by all Marxists. I may go into this in another post later.] But that’s not how we’ve come to understand the concept these days, at least not entirely.
Nowadays, we consider privatization as the simple movement of assets from the government to ‘private enterprise’ or business as in the case of the privatization of prisons. The transfer of public land, formerly ‘tree farm licenses’ (TFLs) to business corporations is another example. That kind of activity is proceeding apace. Harper is smacking his lips, there’s so much potential here and, believe me, we’re nowhere near seeing the end of it. But that’s not the whole story.
Essentially, capital is capital and it does not have to be concentrated in the ruling class, in the hands of a few, so to speak. It can and will be collectively controlled according to Marx. The irony for ruling classes throughout history has been that the more wealth gets concentrated in their hands, the harder it is for them to continue to accumulate capital. The margins get smaller and smaller the greater the concentration becomes. Where are we now?
Well, the concentration of capital is proceeding apace globally. Apple, my favourite computer company, has so much capital (in the form of cash) that it has to seriously consider what to do with it. It’s giving a lot to shareholders. It could lower its prices or pay its workers more in the sweatshops they work in all over the globe, but that would just be wrong…it would not be keeping the wealth in the right hands.