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July-August 1998 (Volume 50, Number 3)

» Notes from the Editors
July-August 1998 (Volume 50, Number 3)

We write in early June, and these will be the last “Notes from the Editors” until some time in September when things will surely be a lot different from what they are now. Meanwhile you should not spend too much time trying to figure out what the difference will be. We are clearly in the last stages of one of capitalism’s periodic “business cycles,” and these are always periods of severe contradictions and much confusion. Later on, when things have calmed down a bit and the course of events seems to be following a more coherent pattern, there will be time enough to analyze the various tendencies and counter-tendencies that are combining to shape this phase of the twentieth century’s final cycle.

We suspect that what will then be learned will have a considerable similarity to what was learned in the aftermath of the cycle that culminated in the crash of 1929 and was followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Studies of the 1920s—especially the Brookings Institution’s America’s Capacity to Produce and America’s Capacity to Consume—revealed that the process of real capital accumulation was proceeding at a brisk pace, while the growth of consumption depended on several inherently unreliable supports like the booming stock market and a then brand-new system of consumer financing. When the stock market crashed, the whole house of cards went with it. What was left was an economy in ruins—generalized overcapacity to produce, rapidly mounting unemployment, etc.

We are not predicting that this is going to happen again. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it does tell us a lot about what can happen and it alerts us to keep an open mind to new developments. If the current boom is indeed followed by a new depression, a possibility strongly supported by the history of capitalism, we will soon find ourselves facing not only new forms of thinking but also new forms of action. If there is a breakdown, given the attacks on welfare and the so-called “safety net” even in the richest parts of the world there will be fear and distress unknown in recent times.

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