Capitalism wastes humanity's time

The new Fortune Global 500 list was published in July, ranking the world’s 500 largest corporations by sales. Fourteen of the enterprises listed this year are controlled by the Chinese state, created by a socialist revolution. The remaining 486 are capitalist. They report record sales and profits for 2003. For all the records on Fortune’s glossy tables, the list lays bare the capitalist system’s exhaustion, its sheer poverty and inequities, its wasting of humanity’s time. Wall Street heads this waste. Of the 486 monopolies, 189 are U.S.-based, up from 151 in 1995. Japan is a distant second, with 83 corporations, down from 149 in 1995. Britain, France and Germany trail far behind, with around 35 corporations each. Size is important. Profitability is decisive. Of the five biggest profiteers on the Fortune list, four are U.S.-based. Among the 50 largest monopolies, those based in the U.S. reported profits averaging 6.5 percent of sales, twice the 3.2 percent profit rate of the non-U.S.-based. Plus, Wall Street holds a major share, through debt and direct ownership, in many non-U.S. monopolies, such as Shell and BP. Oil prices predictably jumped in 2003, “thanks” to the escalated U.S. aggression in the Middle East. Expensive oil amounts to a Wall Street “tax” that cuts wages worldwide and loots weaker exploiters and states. Oil monopolies’ profits leaped with the war. Exxon Mobil’s declared profits rose 87.7 percent from 2002, topping the world with an extraordinary $21.5 billion. Chevron Texaco’s profits leaped 539 percent, to $7.2 billion. High oil prices also boosted debt service to Wall Street banks. Citigroup’s profits climbed 17 percent, to $17.9 billion; J.P. Morgan Chase’s profits jumped 304 percent to $6.7 billion. Both banks’ profits were also helped by their speculation, another form of looting. Total profits of the 486 monopolies in 2003 exceeded $720 billion, an average of $16,000 in profits per employee. Exxon netted $259,000 per employee. Now, humanity’s need for more fuels, more food, more housing, for cleaner air and water, for public health, schools, electricity and roads, in the U.S. and worldwide, is immense and well documented. And there are well over 1 billion adults unemployed and underemployed worldwide, over 10 million in the U.S. Why don’t the capitalists expand production and employ more people, and increase their profits by $16,000 per employee? Because the system dominated by their monopolies is smashing against its own limits; it is suffering from “too much” food and “too much” housing, i.e. too much from the point of view of expanding profits. And so the world is awash in their wars and sanctions, their plunder, and the idling and destruction of production. If it weren’t for the rapid growth of China and Vietnam — states created by socialist revolutions, where production is mainly directed to meet human needs — the capitalist crisis of “overproduction” would rapidly accelerate. Indeed, the most telling result lodged in Fortune’s list is how capitalism is wasting humanity’s time. The Global 500’s revenues totaled $14.9 trillion. World GDP — worldwide production of goods and services — added up to only $36 trillion ($50 trillion by more generous “purchasing power” calculations). So the Fortune monopolies accounted for between 30 percent and 40 percent of world GDP. Allowing for double counting, they still accounted for at least 25 percent. But they employed a total of only 45 million people — 1.1 percent of the world’s working-age population! So 25 percent or more of the world’s goods and services were produced by 1.1 percent of the world’s potential workers! Awesome — except that this also tell us that capitalism’s contradictions are running so deep that the world economy is barely producing at 5 percent of its potential. Or to put it another way, capitalism is effectively wasting 95 percent of humanity’s time! Not to mention that a significant portion of their “production” is devoted to wars, prisons and oppression, with the wasted time and blood these entail. Labor is struggling today to defeat the ultra-right and defend democratic and union rights. It is struggling for good jobs, housing, education, health care and retirement for all. For these struggles to bear lasting fruit, workers will ultimately need to take power and reorganize society and production to meet human needs, rather than the profit of a few. Only then will humanity stop wasting time, and begin enjoying free time. The author can be reached at economics@cpusa.org.