Karl Marx on the Credit System and Fictitious Capital

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“A few remarks remain to be made about credit capital.

How often the same piece of money can figure as loan capital, wholly depends, as we have already previously shown, on:

1) how often it realises commodity-values in sale or payment, thus transfers capital, and furthermore how often it realises revenue. How often it gets into other hands as realised value, either of capital or of revenue, obviously depends, therefore, on the extent and magnitude of the actual transactions;

2) this depends on the economy of payments and the development and organisation of the credit system;

3) finally, the concatenation and velocity of action of credits, so that when a deposit is made at one point it immediately starts off as a loan at another.

Even assuming that the form in which loan capital exists is exclusively that of real money, gold or silver — the commodity whose substance serves as a measure of value — a large portion of this money-capital is always necessarily purely fictitious, that is, a title to value — just as paper money. In so far as money functions in the circuit of capital, it constitutes indeed, for a moment, money-capital; but it does not transform itself into loanable money-capital; it is rather exchanged for the elements of productive capital, or paid out as a medium of circulation in the realisation of revenue, and cannot, therefore, transform itself into loan capital for its owner. But in so far as it is transformed into loan capital, and the same money repeatedly represents loan capital, it is evident that it exists only at one point in the form of metallic money; at all other points it exists only in the form of claims to capital. With the assumption made, the accumulation of these claims arises from actual accumulation, that is, from the transformation of the value of commodity-capital, etc., into money; but nevertheless the accumulation of these claims or titles as such differs from the actual accumulation from which it arises, as well as from the future accumulation (the new production process), which is promoted by the lending of this money.

Prima facie loan capital always exists in the form of money, later as a claim to money, since the money in which it originally exists is now in the hands of the borrower in actual money-form. For the lender it has been transformed into a claim to money, into a title of ownership. The same mass of actual money can, therefore, represent very different masses of money-capital. Mere money, whether it represents realised capital or realised revenue, becomes loan capital through the simple act of lending, through its transformation into a deposit, if we consider the general form in a developed credit system. The deposit is money-capital for the depositor. But in the hands of the banker it may be only potential money-capital, which lies idle in his safe instead of in its owner’s.

With the growth of material wealth the class of money-capitalists grows; on the one hand, the number and the wealth of retiring capitalists, rentiers, increases; and on the other hand, the development of the credit system is promoted, thereby increasing the number of bankers, money-lenders, financiers, etc. With the development of the available money-capital, the quantity of interest-bearing paper, government securities, stocks, etc., also grows as we have previously shown. However, at the same time the demand for available money-capital also grows, the jobbers, who speculate with this paper, playing a prominent role on the money-market. If all the purchases and sales of this paper were only an expression of actual investments of capital, it would be correct to say that they could have no influence on the demand for loan capital, since when A sells his paper, he draws exactly as much money as B puts into the paper. But even if the paper itself exists though not the capital (at least not as money-capital) originally represented by it, it always creates pro tanto a new demand for such money-capital.

[….]

With the development of the credit system; great concentrated money-markets are created, such as London, which are at the same time the main seats of trade in this paper. The bankers place huge quantities of the public’s money-capital at the disposal of this unsavoury crowd of dealers, and thus this brood of gamblers multiplies.”

 – Karl Marx, “Capital,” Vol. III, Part V, Chapter 32

“The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralisation, and gives to this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner — and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it. The Acts of 1844 and 1845 are proof of the growing power of these bandits, who are augmented by financiers and stock-jobbers.”

 – Karl Marx, “Capital,” Vol. III, Part V, Chapter 33

“An exhaustive analysis of the credit system and of the instruments which it creates for its own use (credit-money, etc.) lies beyond our plan. We merely wish to dwell here upon a few particular points, which are required to characterise the capitalist mode of production in general. We shall deal only with commercial and bank credit. The connection between the development of this form of credit and that of public credit will not be considered here.

I have shown earlier (Buch I, Kap. III, 3, b [English edition: Ch. III, 3, b. — Ed.]) how the function of money as a means of payment, and therewith a relation of creditor and debtor between the producer and trader of commodities, develop from the simple circulation of commodities. With the development of commerce and of the capitalist mode of production, which produces solely with an eye to circulation, this natural basis of the credit system is extended, generalised, and worked out. Money serves here, by and large, merely as a means of payment, i.e., commodities are not sold for money, but for a written promise to pay for them at a certain date. For brevity’s sake, we may put all these promissory notes under the general head of bills of exchange. Such bills of exchange, in their turn, circulate as means of payment until the day on which they fall due; and they form the actual commercial money. Inasmuch as they ultimately neutralise one another through the balancing of claims and debts, they act absolutely as money, although there is no eventual transformation into actual money. Just as these mutual advances of producers and merchants make up the real foundation of credit, so does the instrument of their circulation, the bill of exchange, form the basis of credit-money proper, of bank-notes, etc. These do not rest upon the circulation of money, be it metallic or government-issued paper money, but rather upon the circulation of bills of exchange.

[….]

The other side of the credit system is connected with the development of money-dealing, which, of course, keeps step under capitalist production with the development of dealing in commodity. We have seen in the preceding part (Chap. XIX) how the care of the reserve funds of businessmen, the technical operations of receiving and disbursing money, of international payments, and thus of the bullion trade, are concentrated in the hands of the money-dealers. The other side of the credit system — the management of interest-bearing capital, or money-capital, develops alongside this money-dealing as a special function of the money-dealers. Borrowing and lending money becomes their particular business. They act as middlemen between the actual lender and the borrower of money-capital. Generally speaking, this aspect of the banking business consists of concentrating large amounts of the loanable money-capital in the bankers’ hands, so that, in place of the individual money-lender, the bankers confront the industrial capitalists and commercial capitalists as representatives of all moneylenders. They become the general managers of money-capital. On the other hand by borrowing for the entire world of commerce, they concentrate all the borrowers vis-à-vis all the lenders. A bank represents a centralisation of money-capital, of the lenders, on the one hand, and on the other a centralisation of the borrowers. Its profit is generally made by borrowing at a lower rate of interest than it receives in loaning.”

 – Karl Marx, “Capital,” Vol. III, Part V, Chapter 25

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