Friday, February 22, 2013

The Capitalist Wants an Exit, Short Fiction Edition

    "All these people have a sort of parlay mentality, and they need to get on the playing field before they can start running it up. I'm a trader. It all happens for me in the transition. The moment of liquidation is the essence of capitalism."
    "What about the man in Rigby?"
    "He's an end user. He wants to keep it."
    I reflected on the pathos of ownership, and the ways it could bog you down.

- from Tom McGuane, "Gallatin Canyon".

The guy may just be selling a car dealership, but he gets it: You're not a capitalist until you get to M'. Getting attached to C-C' for its own sake will just bog you down. But of course, organizing life around the moment of liquidation has its drawbacks as well.

UPDATE: Variation on a theme. From today's fascinating post by Felix Salmon on a lawsuit over some disputed Jackson Pollock paintings:

In this lawsuit, Mirvish has taken the idea of art-as-an-investment to a particularly bonkers extreme. In Mirvish’s world, it seems, artworks have no inherent value, just by dint of being beautiful or genuine or unique. Instead, an artwork is only an investment if it’s being shopped around — if someone’s trying to make a profit on it, by selling it. 
Similarly, in Mirvish’s world, if a gallery has a claim to 50% of the value of a painting, but again isn’t actively shopping that painting around, then the gallery’s claim is worthless. 
Value doesn't inhere in a thing, only in the process by which that thing is eventually converted to money. Bonkers, sure, yes, but also the organizing principle of the world we live in.


  1. Excellent bit. What does this imply about the class status of the numerous small business owners who will never pump up their business's capitalized value enough to sell? And, if they're in some sense also "workers", what does that imply for the New Deal approach to workplace regulation?

  2. Right! Now we are asking the interesting questions.

    I think the key thing is to recall that capitalism a process. It is, as Dumenil and Levy say, value in a movement of self-expansion. This process passes through various moments -- the classic M-C-C'-M', which can be further subdivided in various ways. "Capital", strictly speaking, is the process as a whole, but the "capitalist", as a concrete sociological phenomenon, or a particular person, has to occupy some moment in that process.

    So it seems to me -- and I'm not claiming any authority here -- that a small business is indeed acting as a capitalist insofar as it it buying labor power and other inputs for money an organizing production with an eye toward ending up with a greater sum of money. (Of course many businesses may not be fully capitalist even in this sense, in that they make decisions about hiring, products, etc. for reasons other than profit maximization.) But the business as a whole is still in some sense outside of capitalism as long as it itself is not eventually converted to money.

    I don't think this has implications for workplace regulation, tho -- with respect to its own employees, the small business is a capitalist employer, full stop. And to the extent that noncapitalist relations come into the picture -- ties of family, ethnicity, etc. -- they are just as likely to lead to more as to less exploitative employment conditions.