Sunday, 20 May 2007

Industry, Income and Prices

By: Socred - B.A., SCMP

The monetary system and the productive system are two distinct factors in an economy. Therefore; we must inquire how the money system and the productive system are linked? What is the purpose of a productive system? And how does the productive system satisfy our needs?

"It must be borne steadily in mind in considering this question that the object of industry is not work for its own sake; the industrial system exists firstly because society has need of goods and services." (C.H. Douglas, "Credit-Power and Democracy")

The goal of the productive system is to create goods and services. The production of goods is the transformation of matter, and its movement to where it is demanded. Services enhance the value we attribute to goods. Work is merely a bye-product of this system. Therefore, the purpose of the industrial system is not to provide work; although, some work is necessary to provide the goods and services that we desire. The amount of labour required for production is constantly decreasing through advances in technology. Man organizes himself for productive purposes because we are capable of producing far more when we work together than if we were to attempt to produce individually. The increased output achieved by working together is known as the increment of association. This increment is dependent on available physical capital (raw materials, machines, buildings etc. ), technology and processes; most of which were built, invented, and developed, by people who are long since dead. The invention of the wheel, or the harnessing of fire, have both brought great benefit to mankind, but the people who developed these technologies are long since gone. These technologies, or processes, belong to every man by birthright, and form a part of our cultural heritage. Production is mostly a function of our cultural heritage. Direct labour is constantly becoming a less important factor in production.

"The modern producer-not so much of course, the agricultural producer, although to some extent that is true by the use of harvesters, and gang plows and many other things, application of transportation and so forth--but taken over the whole world, the actual producer so called is more and more the delegate of the general community, delegated as you might say, to press the keys of an enormous productive machine which is over-whelmingly effective as a result of inherited knowledge and technique. You can prove that to yourselves if you consider the effectiveness as producers of ten men, let us say in Detroit, and ten men on a desert island. What ten men on a desert island can do, is what they can do as producers; what ten men can produce in a year in the way of wealth in Detroit is due to their value as producers plus their application of the heritage of civilization, and I suppose ten men in Detroit could probably produce ten thousand times as much real wealth in a year as the same ten men on a desert island. The difference between that productivity is due not to their own virtues but to their inheritance of this technique of civilization." (C.H. Douglas, Testimony before the Alberta Agricultural Commission)

The cultural inheritance of the technique of civilization is primarily responsible for the wealth that we are capable of producing today. The current generation of men who "press the keys" of this enormous productive machine add very little to its productivity, and as Douglas said, if someone is sceptical of this fact, they should compare the productivity of ten men on a deserted island who do not have access to the cultural heritage, as opposed to ten men in Detroit who do. Of course, the machine would not produce at all without those who "press the keys", but the productivity of those who press the keys is mostly a function of our cultural heritage.

"The industrial machine is a lever, continuously being lengthened by progress, which enables the burden of Atlas to be lifted with ever-increasing ease. As the number of men required to work the lever decreases, so the number set free to lengthen it increases." ( C.H. Douglas, "Credit-Power and Democracy")

The industrial machine acts as a lever, which allows man to free himself from the burden of Adam, by substituting solar power for human power. Progress, or advances in technology, decrease the amount of labour it takes to produce goods or services. As the amount of men freed from production increases, via advances in technology, so the amount of men available to devise technology that is labour saving, is increased. As an example, the productivity of farmers has increased dramatically since the advent of the industrial revolution, and this has led to a drastic decrease in the amount of people engaged in agricultural production.

"A factory or other productive organization has, besides its economic function as a producer of goods, a financial aspect - it may be regarded, on the one hand as a device for the distribution of purchasing-power to individuals through the media of wages, salaries, and dividends; and on the other hand as a manufactory of prices-financial values" ( C.H. Douglas, "Credit-Power and Democracy")

Companies have a dual role in the economy, because the modern economy is dependent on money for the distribution of goods and services. Firms not only create goods and services, but distribute incomes, at the same time creating price values. Income is distributed when a company pays wages and salaries to its employees, or distributes dividends to its owners, and that income is "repaid" when a consumer pays a price, thus acquiring a good or service in exchange for his money. We are now in a position to apprehend the accounting cycle of money. Money is created by banks through loans or overdrafts to businesses (excluding for the moment consumer debt), it is then distributed as income to workers, and owners, through the media of wages, salaries and dividends. It is eventually taken back in the form prices or taxes in exchange for a good or service,making its way back to the bank where the loan is repaid and, consequently, the money destroyed. Money operates in accounting cycle: it does not circulate. It is either creating costs or cancelling them. It has direction: it is either flowing from the bank and being distributed as income, or it is taken back as prices and flowing back to the bank (taxes being the government equivalent of prices) .

"It is a widely spread delusion that price is simply a question of supply and demand, whereas, of course, only the upper limit of price is thus governed, the lower limit, which under free competition would be the ruling limit, being fixed by cost plus the minimum profit which will provide a financial inducement to produce." (C.H. Douglas, "Economic Democracy")

Companies will not produce for any length of time below cost. Profit is the incentive to produce. Obviously, any price below cost results in a negative profit and a disincentive to produce. Retailers may sell some items below cost (known as "loss leaders") in the hope that they can sell other products above cost in order to compensate for that loss, but no company can produce below the total cost of production for any length of time. Hence; cost is the lower limit of price. The upper limit of price is what people are willing to pay, and the more they are willing to pay, the more profit. Often, firms will engage in "economic sabotage", or the artificial restriction of output, in order to sell at a higher price; thus maximizing their profit. This restriction is made easier when there is differentiation between products. For example, an individual farmer has no affect on the price of wheat by restricting his output, because wheat is a homogeneous product. Consequently; the price of wheat is often at or below the cost of production. However; a Mazzerati can be sold well above the cost of production by merely limiting the amount of Mazzeratis produced: creating an artificial scarcity. If effective demand is well above the ability of all producers to supply consumer goods, then the price of all goods will eventually rise regardless of the ability to create artificial scarcity. This situation is also known as inflation.

"The essential point to notice, however, is not the profit, but that he cannot and will not produce unless his expenses on the average are not more than covered. These expenses may be of various descriptions, but they can all be resolved ultimately into labour charges of some sort (a fact which incidentally is responsible for the fallacy that labour, by which is meant the labour of the present population of the world, produces all wealth). Consider what this means. All past labour, represented by money charges, goes into cost and so into price. But a great part of the product of his labour -that part which represents consumption and depreciation - has become useless, and disappeared." (C.H. Douglas, "The Control and Distribution of Production")

All costs go into price, and represent the lower limit of price. And all costs can ultimately be resolved into labour charges of some sort. However; the portion of the labour that represents past consumption and depreciation is no longer income. The problem is clear: cost forms the lower limit of price, and all costs go into prices: these prices are paid by incomes, but the portion of cost represented by consumption and depreciation does not exist as income. Therefore, total incomes are less than total costs. If every firm sold their product at cost (i.e. without profit), total incomes would be incapable of purchasing all the products that are produced. This fundamental flaw would have been exposed a long time ago if it were not for an intervening factor - credit from an extraneous source. An obvious extraneous source of credit is consumer credit, which is really a mortgage on future incomes, and only goes to exacerbate the problem as future incomes are decreased by an equivalent amount. However; the gap is mainly hidden by capital production and exportation of product. There are two types of goods: 1) Consumer goods, and 2) Capital goods. Consumer goods are purchased by consumers and their cost is defrayed upon purchase. Capital goods are purchased by businesses in order to produce consumer goods. Capital goods are raw materials, buildings, equipment etc., and their cost is not defrayed upon purchase, but transferred, and the cost ultimately ends up in the cost of a consumer good, where it is eventually defrayed upon purchase by a consumer.

"In consequence, the production which is stimulated - the production which we are asked to increase - is that which is required by the industrial machine, intermediate products or semi-manufactures, not that required by humanity." (C.H. Douglas, "The Control and Distribution of Production")

The cost of capital production showing up in the cost of consumer goods is delayed, because it takes time for a capital good to make its way through productive system in order to be consumed. This fact allows the income from capital production to cover the gap between income and prices on consumer goods. In fact, massive amounts of capital production can lead to inflation in prices of consumer goods, if the effective demand created through capital production is in excess of this gap. Alberta is experiencing this situation currently, as capital production in heavy oil upgraders is dispersing massive amounts of income leading to the inflation of prices - especially for consumer goods whose supply increases slowly (i.e. housing). However; the cost of these capital projects eventually make their way into the cost of a consumer goods (i.e. the cost of the upgraders will eventually be included in the cost of gasoline), and if the money disbursed as income for these capital goods is used on current consumption (which it most likely the case), then it will not be available to meet the price of the consumer good created at a future date. By attempting to close the gap between income and prices of consumer goods through capital production, we are exacerbating the problem, as the gap between income and prices of consumer goods only widens at a future date. When there is a lack of capital production (i.e. investment), firms find their margins decreasing, and we experience a business "slump".

"In other words, it is quite immaterial how many commodities there are in the world, the general public cannot touch them without doing more work and producing more commodities." (C.H. Douglas, "The Control and Distribution of Production")

Regardless of how many consumer goods are in existence, we are unable to purchase them unless we engage in capital production (i.e. there has to be sufficient investment to cover the gap between prices and income), or we engage in a policy of a "favorable balance of trade" (i.e. exports exceed imports) with other nations, disposing of production (i.e. doing more work than is necessary) in order to close the gap between income and prices . The more we engage in capital production, the more we are forced to seek a favorable balance of trade with other nations. This is a vicious cycle, because if we don't engage in excess capital production, or dispose of production by sending it to another country, companies find their margins decreasing, which in turn leads to layoffs, and a recession. However; it is impossible to keep following this path, because increasing investment ultimately leads to inflation as capital production makes its way into the cost of consumer goods, and all industrialized countries are seeking to continuously export their surplus production to foreign nations, which leads to ever increasing third world debt, and friction between industrialized nations, ultimately leading to war. Capitalism is plagued by periods of heavy investment, followed by rising prices, increasing interest rates in order to control prices, decreasing profit margins to businesses, unemployment, and finally a recession. In fact, some people have come to believe that this is a naturally occurring phenomenon like the rising of the sun or the law of gravity: what goes up must come down.

"By an accounting method of analysis, the conclusion is reached that the value, at the current retail price-level, of goods produced far exceeds the flow of purchasing-power from permanent sources. In other words, recurring periods of business depression are shown to be the result of present financial and business policies." (C.H. Douglas, "Social Credit")

Business cycles are simply caused by financial and business policy, and unless there is a change in our policy towards incomes and prices, this will be a recurring problem with our economic system. Attempts to close the gap between income and prices by increasing income through investment simply results in inflation: attempts to close the gap by giving surplus production to foreign nations leads to the struggle for markets, resulting in third world debt, friction between industrialized nations, and ultimately war. Attempts to reduce prices by restricting credit through increasing interest rates is also doomed to failure, because the upper limit of price is governed by the law of supply and demand, but the lower limit is governed by cost of production. It is the rising cost of production that is the primary culprit for inflation, not too much income. If effective demand is insufficient to cover the cost of production, plus the profit margin just large enough to provide incentive to produce, businesses will simply stop producing. This policy leads to bankruptcies and economic hardship.

"Now any attempt, by current financial methods, to reduce prices (or even to stabilise them, as the phrase goes) is a mathematical absurdity unless the cost of this stabilisation, or lowering of prices, is met from some extraneous source. Or to put the matter another way, the margin of profit which makes it possible for a producer to go on producing, disappears unless the financial cost, and consequently the price of production, is allowed to rise steadily in relation to direct labour cost." (C.H. Douglas, "Social Credit")

Central Banks attempts to arrest inflation through the use of interest rates to restrict the supply of money is futile, since it does not deal with the root cause of inflation, making the cure worse than the disease. The artificial restriction of credit causes margins to decrease leading to decreased production, which explains the common fallacy that there is a natural trade-off between inflation and decreased production. In reality, there is no trade-off. Prices can decrease, and production can increase, if part of the cost of production is defrayed with money that did not come from the productive system. Every debt created in the aid of production creates an equivalent cost, because the debt must be repaid. Debt is recovered in prices.

"the consumer cannot possibly obtain the advantage of improved process in the form of correspondingly lower prices, nor can he expect stable prices under stationary processes of production, nor can he obtain any control over the programme of production, unless he is provided with a supply of purchasing-power which is not included in the price of the goods produced. If the producer or distributor sells at a loss, this loss forms such a supply of purchasing-power to the consumer; but if the producer and distributor are not to sell at a loss, this supply of purchasing-power must be derived from some other source. There is only one source from which it can be derived, and that is the same source which enables a bank to lend more money than it originally received. That is to say, the general credit." (C.H. Douglas, "Social Credit")

Mankind will never have control over production, or stable prices, unless we are provided with a steady supply of purchasing power not included in the cost of goods sold. This purchasing power must be created debt free, and given to individuals in such a way that it's not derived from work, for all debt servicing charges, and labour costs, go into the cost of goods sold, and consequently, into price. In this way, improvement in processes, which decrease the real cost of production (i.e. the amount of energy used), will also reduce the financial cost of production, resulting in falling prices. By providing debt free credit to consumers in reduction of prices, and by virtue of a dividend not associated with work, not only will prices fall, but consumers will finally have control over production, and no longer will the productive system have control over mankind.