November 8, 2023

A small shift

There’s a famous pair of formulae in Marx’s Capital that describe the difference between trade and capitalism.

The first is this: “C->M->C”, where C stands for what Marx calls commodities – the things we make or buy, which might actually be intangible services; and M stands for money.

This is how artisans, businesses and individuals operated in the market before capitalism. They made things and sold them to people who wanted them in exchange for money, which enabled them to buy the things they needed.

Most of the 5 million-odd small businesses in the UK still work this way. Money is a side-effect of doing what you do, it’s not the point of it.

Obviously, you need to make enough profit from your business to live, and to keep your business going (even if it’s a charity), and you might expand your needs to include a bigger house, private education for your kids, or flashier clothes, so you might expand your business in order to make more money each time. Whatever your ambitions, living well is the point.

Someone, somewhere, possibly almost by accident*, realised you could take this repeating sequence “C->M->C->M->C->M->C…” and isolate a different part of it – “M->C->M”. Now, someone with money puts it into making commodities that are produced to make money.

To start with they do this themselves. But soon it becomes getting other people to make things so you make money. This would of course be pointless if you only made the same money as you’d started with, so the formula quickly becomes “M->C->M+“. Money goes into making commodities that are sold to make more money. Money has become the point.

It’s a tiny shift, that’s the root of all our current woes.

Because once money is the point, the moneymakers don’t care how it’s made, or what damage making it does to the living world. Tragically, they can’t care, because they are in competition with each other to make more money, and however much is made it can never be enough. Nobody can win.

But most of us are not moneymakers (even if we’re profitable). And that’s where hope lies.

If we can each just get a little bigger doing things that do no harm, or even things that regenerate and restore our living world, we can be ready to replace capitalism when it finally breaks – if not before.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

*The Origin of Capitalism, Ellen Meiksins-Wood