By Alan Shipman
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Additional resources for Capitalism without Capital: Accounting for the crash
46 Capitalism without Capital Optimistic American commentators insisted that the same could not happen in the US because stronger shareholders acting in competitive markets (for ‘corporate control’ as well as bonds and shares) would force the immediate disposal of old capacity that was merely breaking even. Whole businesses were expected to ‘fail’, the outdated tail preventing the state-of-the-art head from staying above water, if attachment to existing customers and technologies stopped their management embracing the new and erasing the old (Christensen 1997, Sobel 1999: Ch.
It could be noted that, for many years before and after the crisis year of 2008, managers were happy to withdraw financial capital from their enterprises in order to repurchase shares. They had no problem returning capital, in the form of money, to shareholders who could then redeploy it to other parts of the economy. But this change in their companies’ financial structure (substituting debt for equity if the buyback funds were borrowed, shrinking equity if the buyback were profit financed) was partly designed to defend the firm and its management against the withdrawal of capital in its ‘physical’ and ‘human’ forms.
So the interest and dividends from corporate capital went mainly to an elite, rich enough to hold portfolios that would not crumble if a few of their shares wilted or bonds defaulted. A clearing-out of redundant physical capital, by downsizing or bankrupting the firms that had clung to obsolete technology, could be achieved without socially disruptive effects on those who drew income from capital. Today such a culling of unprofitable plants is rarely palatable because shares are held by pension funds and other institutional investors representing a far broader segment of society, including many employees.
Capitalism without Capital: Accounting for the crash by Alan Shipman