Duvinrouge: Can you tell me what the key message of your new book, The Failure of Capitalist Production, is?
Andrew Kliman: The Great Recession was waiting to happen. There were unresolved problems in the system of capitalist production that had been building up over a third of a century. The rate of profit fell and never recovered in a sustained manner, which resulted in persistently sluggish investment and economic growth, which in turn resulted in rising debt burdens. And these problems induced governments to solve them or paper them over with policies that made the debt build-up even bigger.
DVR: Your book is full of statistics and as we know interpretations of statistics can be very different. It would appear that your choice of historical cost as opposed to current cost is crucial. Please can you explain the difference?
Accountants can value assets at their current cost or at their original cost when they were acquired. The latter is usually called their “historical cost.” Both methods have their place. But one thing you can’t do is compute the rate of profit, i.e., the rate of return on investment, by dividing profit by the current cost of the capital assets. It’s not wrong to do this; it’s impossible. What you wind up with just isn’t a rate of return on investment. What the assets are currently worth is simply not the same thing as the amount of money that has actually been invested in them. To measure the latter, you have to take their historical cost and subtract depreciation.