Making capital pay for the GND
Christian Parenti has an excellent piece up at Jacobin arguing that Corporate America could pay for a lot of the Green New Deal. They’re rolling in cash, and through a combination of regulation, taxation, coercion, and incentives, all that surplus capital could be steered into environmentally beneficial investment. I endorse this completely. I’m just here to underscore how much cash they have and show what they’re now doing with it.
According to the latest edition of the Federal Reserve’s financial accounts*, as of the end of 2018, nonfinancial corporations had $4.4 trillion in cash and other liquid assets (meaning they could quickly be turned into cash). And that doesn’t include unincorporated businesses, which have another $1.6 trillion on hand. (I’m leaving out financial firms, since a lot of what they hold is other people’s money.)
But that’s not all. Businesses are making far more in profits than they know what to do with. They do invest and hire, but they’ve also been shoveling vast pots of cash into the pockets of shareholders. They do this through several routes—traditional dividends, buying back their own stock to boost its price (which not only makes shareholders happy, it also makes top executives smile, since they typically own lots of stock in their employer), and taking each other over. (Stock buybacks were essentially illegal before 1982; they could be made illegal again.) Put all those together into something you could call transfers to shareholders, and you get some really staggering numbers. Between 2012 and 2018, firms paid their shareholders a total of almost $6 trillion dollars. Since 2000, the total is $14 trillion. Both totals are equal to about half what they spent on investment in real things like plant and equipment over those periods.
In other words, they’ve got plenty of money to spend on building a green infrastructure. Of course, they don’t want to, and even if forced, they’d do everything they could to avoid complying. But one thing they can’t do is plead poverty.
* The more familiar national income and product accounts (NIPAs), the source of GDP and related data, cover production of goods and services and incomes earned in production (like wages and profits). You might think of them as an accounting of the “real” economy, though there’s no shortage of unreality under the regime of capitalist production. The NIPAs do not cover purely financial things like assets and debts. That’s what the financial accounts, formerly known as the flow of funds, do. The figures in this post come mainly from tables B.103 (balance sheets of nonfinancial corporate business) and F.103 (flows of nonfinancial corporate business).