Hal Draper

Maybe You’ve Wondered, Too —

Did Rube Goldberg
Really Invent Capitalism?

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 12, 1 April 1946, p. 2-M.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Everybody knows there’s something crazy about this capitalist system we live under.

I’ve got an idea about it that I’ll pass on to you, if you promise not to tell a soul except anybody who’ll listen.

But before I cut you in, please make a real effort and remember the Depression – the last one, not the one that’s just around the corner.

You know the story. They plowed under cotton because there was too much of it. Millions of people went without decent clothing. That’s because there was too much cotton to make them.

They burned oranges in California because there were too many of them; so the unemployed sold apples. They dumped “surplus” strawberries in the Susquehanna. They did away with every third pig.

There was TOO MUCH of everything, and people starved.

Then that “wonderful” war broke out, and how things changed. Pretty soon there was a shortage of everything, and it was called “Good Times” because everybody had a job. Everybody had a job because they were making things that would feed, clothe or shelter nobody. They were making things to destroy and be destroyed.

Now this was much more sensible than burning oranges. Did you ever try to burn an orange? Well, it can’t be done by just any old fool. You’ve got to know how. You’ve got to soak the oranges in kerosene first, and you know what kerosene costs.

When You Drop Bombs ... There’s No Surplus Left!

But when you make bombs – you don’t have to soak them in kerosene. You just drop them, and bang! you’re rid of them. No surplus left to produce a depression. Better still – when you get rid of them, they destroy a lot of other things too. They destroy other people’s food, clothing and shelter.

So war production was quite a scientific advance over burning oranges or plowing under cotton, and we had “Good Times.” Better than the depression anyway, if you don’t mind a few million corpses.

Now the destroying and killing are over for a while, and the blessings of Peace have descended on us. The war’s over and now we can produce too much of everything, all over again. Just to make sure of that, thousands of workers are laid off, so that they don’t have the purchasing power to buy goods.


In one war year this country produced nearly 200 billion dollars worth of goods. That’s one thousand times more than 200 million dollars.

Over half of it was war goods – which means the kind that is used to destroy, not to feed, clothe, or shelter any one. Why can’t we do it in peace time, NOW, to provide plenty for all?

Who Owns the Factories ... and Who Profits From Them

On one side, we have the factories and raw material that can produce a world of plenty. On the other side, we have the willing hands and brains to do the job. All we have to do is let the one work on the other, and distribute what is produced.

Sure, the factories and machines and raw materials are here. Sure, the labor is there to turn them into usable goods. But labor doesn’t own the factories and machines. It has nothing to say about whether they’ll be used and for what.

These factories and machines are owned by a small handful of capitalists, America’s Sixty Families. And these fat boys won’t let a wheel turn unless they can make a profit.

That profit comes out of the wealth which labor produces. It comes out of their purchasing power.

The workers can’t buy everything they produce. So the working stiff winds up without the purchasing power to buy a couple of cotton shirts.

Now what’s wrong here?

That’s where my idea comes in. It’s been a long way getting there but hold tight. The trouble is simply this:

This capitalist system was invented by Rube Goldberg, the gadget cartoonist.

It must have been.

How Rube Cracks Nuts ... and Capitalism Breeds War

You know how Rube Goldberg gets things done in his cartoons. Let’s say he invents a system showing How to Crack a Nut. An ignorant cuss would say. Use a nutcracker. Not Rube Goldberg. This is how he would do it:

Put a cat (A) outside next to chicken coop (B). Cat goes after chickens, chickens start running around with feathers (C) flying. Junkman (D) comes around to buy feathers, rings your doorbell (E), which wakes up dog (F) inside, dog barks and runs for door. A string (G) attached to his tail, pulls on knife (H) which cuts rope (I) holding up flatiron (J); flatiron drops down on nut (K) and cracks it.

That’s How to Crack a Nut, as per Rube Goldberg. Now look me square in the eye and deny that Rube Goldberg must have invented our capitalist system.

Capitalist (A), seeking profit (B), owns a factory (C), and starts producing.

Does he produce anything? He’s not a sucker. He hires workers (D) to do the actual producing.

They produce a billion dollars worth of goods (E) and get their wages (F).

How much do they get – a billion dollars in wages, for producing a billion dollars in goods? Don’t be silly. The capitalist has to get his profit (G).

So they get only – say – a half billion in wages, the rest is profit. So the workers can buy back only half the goods with their wages.

Pretty soon, the profit piles up in the coffers, and the unsold goods pile up on the shelves (H).

Economist (I) says: “Purchasing power not adequate.”

Capitalists stop making more goods, lay off. Presto – unemployment; and purchasing power (J) goes even lower.

The National Association of Manufacturers (K) says: What’s needed is more profit to spur production. The best way to raise profits is to cut wages.

Brain Truster (L) says: I disagree with everything the N.A.M. stands for, but on the other hand I agree with what they say. The more profits, the more capitalists will start up production. The more production, the more employment. The more employment, the more purchasing power. More purchasing power, and zingo, we’re around the corner.

So by cutting wages (or purchasing power), they are going to increase purchasing power. (A Rube Goldberg gadget if there ever was one!)

Wages are cut, or prices raised, more profits made, a bigger cut taken out of labor’s purchasing power – and round we go on the vicious circle.

Finally Statesman (X) says:

“I got it! We’ve got a surplus of coal, clothes and Rice Krispies. The natives of Madagascar wear no clothes and the Eskimoes eat blubber. This is uncivilized. Let’s teach the Eskimoes to eat Rice Krispies, and our own workers to eat blubber.”

(This is called Foreign Trade.)

So we knock the natives of Madagascar on the head to teach them to wear clothes, get drunk and respect white men. (This is called The Blessings of Civilization.)

The natives have to pay us, so we put them to work on plantations to work for a living, our living. (This is called The White Man’s Burden.)

Then to expand our foreign trade, we lend them the money to buy more from us. (This is called Foreign Investment.)

Just like Rube Goldberg. You start with the profit system and end up with world war.

Before we all go to the booby hatch or the breadlines, remember this:

The factories and machines and raw materials are there. We are the hands and brains of labor who do the producing. All we have to do is come together with the factories and machines, without any capitalist class holding us apart.

That means WE have to own and control the factories and machines we work on – WE, LABOR, organized collectively.

Abolish the capitalist profit-suckers. Take over our economic world, organize it democratically through a workers’ government. Produce to the full, produce to the sky’s the limit as science can provide, produce enough to give plenty for all. And distribute what we produce for the use of the masses of people!

Collective ownership of our economic machinery, by a democratic workers’ government – that’s socialism.

Last updated on 19 January 2019