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Cooking the Books 3: Acceptable capitalism?

Addressing a press dinner in London in November, the head of BMW in Britain, Jim O’Donnell, attacked the behaviour of the four businessman who BMW sold Rover to in 2000 for £10. Apparently, they paid themselves an average of £3 million each in 2002 as well as setting up a generous pension scheme for themselves, despite MG Rover still making heavy losses. This, said O’Donnell, was “the unacceptable face of capitalism” (Times, 12 November).

Edward Heath, when Prime Minister, had famously said the same thing about Tiny Rowland and Lonrho in 1973. But this criticism implies that there is an acceptable face of capitalism. If so, what is it? Is it acceptable that capitalist firms (such as BMW, for instance) make a profit out of the difference between the value of what their workers produce and what they are paid as wages and salaries? Is it acceptable that capitalist firms should direct their investment to producing what is the most profitable, while essential human needs are left unmet? Is it acceptable that governments should support and encourage all this?

Apparently so. Supporters of capitalism only get worked up when some capitalist lines his pockets at the expense of other capitalists. But the four businessmen can easily reply that they did nothing illegal, and that in fact they were following the economic law of capitalism by taking money out of an unprofitable line of production and investing it, or making it available for investment, in some line that is profitable.

As far as Socialists are concerned, capitalism has no acceptable face. Everything about it is unacceptable. Its accumulation for accumulation’s sake. Its exploitation of wage-labour. Its putting of profits before satisfying people’s needs.