“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” This cliché is useful in revealing the tendency of capital to drive social and wealth inequality.
The reason the wealthy appear to exist in a rarefied place is not that they possess two heads. The wealthy own the capital that drives the growth and concentration of wealth and power, and that capital passes from one generation to the next. In today’s world, capital ownership is the main factor defining social class and who belongs to the elite. Then, there is also learning and talent.
Capital and its ownership create a culture that a minority inhabit. The power of supply-side economics is the reality that production — the supply of consumer goods and services for consumer demand — drives up profits of producers and their agencies, concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. In 2023, corporate stock ownership is the deciding factor in who joins the One Percent Club.
Inequality is nothing new, and neither is capital. In ancient times, the owners of land and the implements and people who worked the land — including the seafaring vessels that opened up foreign lands to barbarian conquerors — were the holders of wealth and power. It is the same today.
That capital has always appreciated is also nothing new. The steady rise in the stock market price is a reflection of the increasing value of capital. In fact, the success of capital to move through the centuries, adding value as it travels, has allowed for the establishment of wealth and power in the hands of the minority: European royal households, American industrial barons, owners of financial and corporate stock, business magnates, autocratic leaders, and today’s tech billionaires.
Capital is a beast that adopts the features and cultures of the historical epochs it passes through. It takes on the ideas, sciences and technologies at each stage. Capital discards and adopts as it moves through history.
Today, capital has arrived in the time of artificial intelligence: pilotless aircraft, ships without captains, driverless cars, robots, drone technology, trains with no navigator on board, and the list goes on. Where it ends, no one knows.
‘Flux and flow’
Capital is energy and motion. It is the flux and flow of assets and enterprise. Capital is dependent on human effort, exigence, and enterprise for value.
Capital appreciates because of the dynamism of human effort in satisfying the demands of life on earth. American psychologist Abraham Maslow decided there was a hierarchy of needs ranging from the most basic, such as food and water, to the most incredible, such as space travel. Capital provides the inputs and outputs for every human need and purpose.
We live in the Age of Capital in that the capitalist creed drives global society and economic culture. Science and technology reign supreme in driving up the value of corporations and their owners. Any assessment of inequality will reveal that the owners of capital have the advantage in the wealth stakes. Capital is power. That is not a revelation. History has evolved that way.