Why Capitalism Requires Expanded Reproduction

A friend Nick wants to know why capitalism can only exist as expanded reproduction. In Volume II of “Capital,” Marx developed the diagrams for both simple and expanded reproduction. Why can’t capitalism function as a system of simple reproduction?

I examined the question of simple and expanded reproduction in my main posts, especially here and here. Here I want to focus on the question of why capitalism can’t exist as a system of simple reproduction. Didn’t Marx, after all, create a mathematical model that shows exactly how simple capitalist reproduction works? Yet in many places throughout “Capital,” Marx emphasized that capitalism can exist only as expanded reproduction.

Without going into detail, let’s review the basics of Marx’s diagrams of simple and expanded reproduction.

First, Marx assumed a pure capitalism. He was not interested in other modes of production such as simple commodity production that in the real world exist side by side with capitalist production.

Second, Marx was interested only in the two most economically important fractions of the two major classes in capitalist society. These are the industrial capitalists—defined as the capitalists who purchase the labor power of productive-of-surplus-value workers—on one side, and the industrial workers—the workers who produce surplus value—on the other. The non-industrial capitalists such as merchants and money capitalists and non-productive workers—workers who do not produce surplus value—play no role in the diagrams.

Simple reproduction

In Marx’s diagram, or mathematical model, of simple reproduction, the accumulation of capital is absent. The total social capital is simply conserved, not accumulated. All the surplus value produced by the working class is consumed in the form of items of personal consumption by the capitalist class. This consumption consists of what Marx called necessities, items that are also consumed by the working class, and luxury items that are consumed by the capitalist class alone.

The economy simply reproduces itself without any change. As machines are used up, they are replaced by identical machines. Raw materials and auxiliary materials that are consumed are replaced by identical raw and auxiliary materials. As workers die or retire, they are replaced by other workers with identical skills.

The market and the monetary system in Marx’s diagrams of reproduction

Many Marxists when they produce diagrams of simple reproduction—as well as expanded reproduction—simply leave out the question of money and the market. By leaving out money, they imply a system of barter where commodities exchange directly with commodities. They therefore build Says’s so-called law—that commodities are purchased by means of commodities, and therefore a general overproduction of commodities is impossible—right into the foundations of their model. Attempts to explain crises on the basis of mathematical models of either simple or expanded reproduction that leave out money are doomed to failure from the start.

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