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Rentier capitalism is a Marxist term currently used to describe the belief in economic practices of monopolization of access to any (physical, financial, intellectual, etc.) kind of property, and gaining significant amounts of profit without contribution to society. The origins of the term are unclear; it is often said to be used in Marxism, yet the very combination of words rentier and capitalism was never used by Karl Marx himself.
Usage by Marxists
In his early works, Karl Marx juxtaposed the terms "rentier" and "capitalist" to show that a rentier tends to exhaust his profits, whereas a capitalist must perforce re-invest most of the surplus value in order to survive competition. He wrote, "Therefore, the means of the extravagant rentier diminish daily in inverse proportion to the growing possibilities and temptations of pleasure. He must, therefore, either consume his capital himself, and in so doing bring about his own ruin, or become an industrial capitalist...." However, Marx believed that capitalism was inherently built upon practices of usury and thus inevitably leading to the separation of society into two classes: one composed of those who produce value and the other, which feeds upon the first one. In "Theories of Surplus Value" (written 1862-1863), he states "...that interest (in contrast to industrial profit) and rent (that is the form of landed property created by capitalist production itself) are superfetations which are not essential to capitalist production and of which it can rid itself. If this bourgeois ideal were actually realisable, the only result would be that the whole of the surplus-value would go to the industrial capitalist directly, and society would be reduced (economically) to the simple contradiction between capital and wage-labour, a simplification which would indeed accelerate the dissolution of this mode of production."
Hence the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by 'clipping coupons' [in the sense of collecting interest payments on bonds], who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness. The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies.
It therefore becomes clear that the term "rentier capitalism" could not be coined by Marxists simply because of redundancy of the words composing it. Marxist thought perceives capitalism as inherently "rentier", or usury-based, which would lead eventually to its demise precisely because of this inner deficiency in its organization.
Probably because presently capitalism is perceived in a positive light, current usage of the term rentier capitalism is often derogatory and opposed to "normal" capitalism such as free enterprise and private enterprise. It is used to describe deviation from the beneficial practices of capitalists, and only when substantial harm to society becomes evident. Conversely, the term rentier state is mainly used not in its original meaning, as an imperialistic state thriving on labor of other countries and colonies, but as a state which derives all or a substantial portion of its national revenues from the rent of indigenous resources to external clients.
- Karl Marx, "The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts", Institute of Marxism-Leninism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1932.
- Karl Marx, "Theories of Surplus-Value", Progress Publishers, 1863
- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", Lenin’s Selected Works, Progress Publishers, 1963, Moscow, Volume 1, pp. 667–766.
- Robert Pollin, "Resurrection of the Rentier", in New Left Review 46, July–August 2007, pp. 140–153.
- Michael Hudson, "Financial Capitalism v. Industrial Capitalism". Contribution to The Other Canon Conference on Production Capitalism vs. Financial Capitalism, Oslo, September 3–4, 1998.
- Karl Marx, "The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts", Institute of Marxism–Leninism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1932.
- Karl Marx, "Theories of Surplus-Value", Progress Publishers, 1863.
- Vladimir Lenin, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", Lenin’s Selected Works, Progress Publishers, 1963, Moscow, Volume 1, pp. 667–766. '
- Ahmed Henni, Le capitalisme de rente: De la société du travail industriel à la société des rentiers. Paris: Harmattan, 2012.