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December 2000 (Volume 52, Number 7)

Notes from the Editors

Praise for Karl Marx—albeit of a somewhat mocking kind—comes from the strangest places nowadays. In their new book Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, bestselling business authors and correspondents for the adamantly procapitalist Economist magazine, declare that, “as a prophet of socialism Marx may be kaput; but as a prophet of ‘the universal interdependence of nations,’ as he called globalization, he can still seem startlingly relevant. His description of globalization remains as sharp today as it was 150 years ago” (pp. 332-333). The same thing has been noticed in a quite different way in colleges and universities, as demand for courses on Marx, Marxism, and political economy appear once again to be on the rise.

Capitalism’s Environmental Crisis—Is Technology the Answer?

The standard solution offered to the environmental problem in advanced capitalist economies is to shift technology in a more benign direction: more energy-efficient production, cars that get better mileage, replacement of fossil fuels with solar power, and recycling of resources. Other environmental reforms, such as reductions in population growth and even cuts in consumption, are often advocated as well. The magic bullet of technology, however, is by far the favorite, seeming to hold out the possibility of environmental improvement with the least effect on the smooth working of the capitalist machine. The 1997 International Kyoto Protocol on global warming, designed to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions of nations, has only reinforced this attitude, encouraging many environmental advocates in the United States (including Al Gore in his presidential campaign) to advocate technological improvement in energy efficiency as the main escape from the environmental mess.

Iraq Under Siege

Ten Years On

It has been ten years since the United Nations imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iraq. The sanctions were adopted on August 6, 1990, forty-five years to the day after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing an estimated one hundred thousand people and leaving a toxic legacy that still affects the population of the area. The bombing was soon followed by an attack on Nagasaki. The coincidence is a telling one. For all the US government’s rhetoric about halting the use of weapons of mass destruction, the United States stands in a league of its own in using and proliferating them. As horrific as the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was, perhaps five to ten times as many people have died in Iraq as a consequence of the war led by the United States and Britain, under United Nations (UN) auspices, during the last decade

“Saving” Social Security

A Neoliberal Recapitulation of Primitive Accumulation

Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, Social Security: The Phony Crisis (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 175 pp., $22.

The pronounced insecurity that inevitably attends capitalism’s historic tendency to commodify, and hence privatize, everything that can be commodified and privatized has been met with two major forms of resistance. The first is revolutionary communism, which emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the second is social democracy, which developed in its strongest form in Europe after the Second World War. A defining feature of our present situation is that neither of these forms of resistance to capitalist hegemony is currently a major historical force.

November 2000 (Volume 52, Number 6)

Notes from the Editors

Dissatisfaction with what has happened to the study of economics is producing a rapidly growing revolt among economics students in France, Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. Within a matter of months, this new movement has made considerable inroads in exposing the meaninglessness of orthodox economics in contemporary capitalist societies. Students are eagerly looking for answers about the issues of the day, such as expanding globalization, growing dominance of international finance, increasing polarization between the rich and poor nations and between the rich and poor of each nation. But orthodox economics has no meaningful answers to any of these questions—a fact that has fed the widening rebellion among economics students in numerous countries. Before reporting on this new discontent, we need to provide some background on how economics has been transformed, since its classical period, into a study that is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Journalism, Democracy, … and Class Struggle

Socialists since the time of Marx have been proponents of democracy, but they have argued that democracy in capitalist societies is fundamentally flawed. In capitalist societies, the wealthy have tremendous social and economic advantages over the working class that undermine political equality, a presupposition for viable democracy. In addition, under capitalism the most important economic issues—investment and control over production—are not the province of democratic politics but, rather, the domain of a small number of wealthy firms and individuals seeking to maximize their profit in competition with each other. This means that political affairs can only indirectly influence economics, and that any party or individual in power has to be careful not to antagonize wealthy investors so as to instigate an investment strike and an economic collapse that would generally mean political disaster

A “Red” Government in the Soul of Brazil

For ten years, the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) has run city hall in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state (on the border with Uruguay) and one of the main cities in the country. The PT is quite an original party, founded in 1980 by unionists, leftist Christians, and Marxist militants, all convinced that the emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves and stirred by the desire to invent a different, radical, democratic, libertarian socialism that breaks with the old models of Stalinism and social democracy. The current mayor, Raul Pont, a former director of the teachers’ union, belongs to the PT’s most radical current, the Socialist Democracy tendency, which bases itself on the Fourth International

Capital Crimes

The Political Economy of Crime in America

American politicians have been declaring victory in the war against crime at least since Richard Nixon said in 1972 that “[c]rime…[is] finally beginning to go back down…[because] we have a remarkable record on the law-and-order issues, with crime legislation…and narcotics bills.” In other words, crime declines because the government passes laws and spends money; larger prisons, more police, fewer civil liberties, and tougher punishments are winning the war on crime

The Levittown Legacy

Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 352 pp., $27.50, cloth. (Due out in paperback in January 2001.)

Judging by the number of column inches now devoted to the subject in the national press, suburban sprawl has at last come of age. The sudden popularity of the topic may reflect the fact that suburbanites now constitute a majority of Americans. The impact of 132 million Americans on the landscape is hard to ignore. If, as environmentalists claim, more than four thousand acres of farmland are being devoured by suburban sprawl every day, then the prospect of a countryside bereft of open space can no longer be dismissed as alarmist. Sprawl is so pervasive and its predations so disturbing that its dynamics appear as almost a force of nature, inevitable and uncontrollable. So it is good to be reminded, as we are in the pages of Picture Windows, that the origins of large-scale suburbs were, in fact, anything but accidental and that the prime mover behind their massive postwar expansion was the federal government itself