«Popular literature attributes enormous “power” to the capitalist and considers his owning a mass of capital goods as of enormous significance, giving him a great advantage over other people in the economy. We see, however, that this is far from the case; indeed, the opposite may well be true. For the capitalist has already saved from possible consumption and hired the services of factors to produce his capital goods. The owners of these factors have the money already for which they otherwise would have had to save and wait (and bear uncertainty), while the capitalist has only a mass of capital goods, a mass that will prove worthless to him unless it can be further worked on and the product sold to the consumers.
When the capitalist purchases factor services, what is the precise exchange that takes place? The capitalist gives money (a present good) in exchange for receiving factor services (labor and land), which work to supply him with capital goods. They supply him, in other words, with future goods. The capital goods for which he pays are way stations on the route to the final product—the consumers’ good. At the time when land and labor are hired to produce capital goods, therefore, these capital goods, and therefore the services of the land and labor, are future goods; they represent the embodiment of the expected yield of a good in the future—a good that can then be consumed. The capitalist who buys the services of land and labor in year one to work on a product that will eventually become a consumers’ good ready for sale in year two is advancing money (a present good) in exchange for a future good—for the present anticipation of a yield of money in the future from the sale of the final product. A present good is being exchanged for an expected future good. (...)
The classical discussion of productive income treats labor as earning wages whereas land earns rents, and the two are supposed to be subject to completely different laws. Actually, however, the earnings of labor and land services are analogous. Both are original and productive factors; and in the case in which land is hired rather than bought, both are rented per unit of time rather than sold outright. Generally, writers on economics have termed those capitalists “entrepreneurs” who buy labor and land factors in expectation of a future monetary return from the final product. They are entrepreneurs, however, only in the actual economy of uncertainty.
In an evenly rotating economy, where all the market actions are repeated in an endless round and there is therefore no uncertainty, entrepreneurship disappears. There is no uncertain future to be anticipated and about which forecasts are made. To call these capitalists simply entrepreneurs, then, is tacitly to imply that in the evenly rotating economy there will be no capitalists, i.e., no group that saves money and hires the services of factors, thereby acquiring capital and consumers’ goods to be sold to the consumers.
Actually, however, there is no reason why pure capitalists should not continue in the ERE (the evenly rotating economy). Even if final returns and consumer demand are certain, the capitalists are still providing present goods to the owners of labor and land and thus relieving them of the burden of waiting until the future goods are produced and finally transformed into consumers’ goods. Their function, therefore, remains in the ERE to provide present goods and to assume the burden of waiting for future returns over the period of the production process. Let us assume simply that the sum the capitalists paid out was 95 ounces and that the final sale was for 100 ounces. The five ounces accruing to the capitalists is payment for their function of supplying present goods and waiting for a future return. In short, the capitalists, in year one, bought future goods for 95 ounces and then sold the transformed product in year two for 100 ounces when it had become a present good. In other words, in year one the market price of an anticipated (certain) income of 100 ounces was only 95 ounces. It is clear that this arises out of the universal fact of time preference and of the resulting premium of a given good at present over the present prospect of its future acquisition.
In the monetary economy, since money enters into all transactions, the discount of a future good against a present good can, in all cases, be expressed in terms of one good: money. This is so because the money commodity is a present good and because claims to future goods are almost always expressed in terms of future money income. (...)
The classical writers erred grievously in their discussion of the income-earning process in production. They believed that wages were the “reward” of labor, rents the “reward” of land, and interest the “reward” of capital goods, the three supposedly co-ordinate and independent factors of production. But such a discussion of interest was completely fallacious. As we have seen and shall see further below, capital goods are not independently productive. They are the imputable creatures of land and labor (and time). Therefore, capital goods generate no interest income. We have seen above, in keeping with this analysis, that no income accrues to the owners of capital goods as such.
If the owners of land and labor factors receive all the income (e.g., 100 ounces) when they own the product jointly, why do their owners consent to sell their services for a total of five ounces less than their “full worth”? Is this not some form of “exploitation” by the capitalists? The answer again is that the capitalists do not earn income from their possession of capital goods or because capital goods generate any sort of monetary income. The capitalists earn income in their capacity as purchasers of future goods in exchange for supplying present goods to owners of factors. It is this time element, the result of the various individuals’ time preferences, and not the alleged independent productivity of capital goods, from which the interest rate and interest income arise.
The capitalists earn their interest income, therefore, by supplying the services of present goods to owners of factors in advance of the fruits of their production, acquiring their products by this purchase, and selling the products at the later date when they become present goods. Thus, capitalists supply present goods in exchange for future goods (the capital goods), hold the future goods, and have work done on them until they become present goods. They have given up money in the present for a greater sum of money in the future, and the interest rate that they have earned is the agio, or discount on future goods as compared with present goods, i.e., the premium commanded by present goods over future goods.» (p. 346-353)
Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy and State (1962)