At the time of this writing (late August), the business news in the United States is full of discussions of “recovery” from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, while the economy appears to have bottomed out and a recovery of sorts may be in the works, this is in many ways misleading. Although a technical or formal recovery seems quite likely by the end of the year — with a small increase in economic growth mainly due to inventory restocking — it is unlikely to feel like a recovery to most individuals in the society. This is because official unemployment is projected to rise to the low double-digits by the end of this year or the beginning of next year — with the numbers of those dropping out of the labor market due to discouragement, or seeking part-time work because they are unable to obtain a full-time job, also growing. All of this points to a “jobless” and “wageless” recovery. As New York University economist Nouriel Roubini wrote in an August 13 column for Forbes.com, “It is very difficult to argue that the U.S. economy is not still in a recession while the labor market is still weak.” Indeed, what is really at issue is not simply recession and recovery but the longer-term structural crisis of capitalism. This is the subject of the Review of the Month, which seeks to place the current crisis in the context of the long-term development of capital accumulation and crisis.
Volume 61, Issue 05 (October)
This month marks the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that precipitated the Great Depression of the 1930s. Ironically, this comes at the very moment that the capitalist system is celebrating having narrowly escaped falling into a similar abyss. The financial crash and the decline in output a year ago, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, was as steep as at the beginning of the Great Depression. “For a while,” Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times in August, “key economic indicators — world trade, world industrial production, even stock prices—were falling as fast or faster than they did in 1929-30. But in the 1930s the trend lines kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year.” Big government, through the federal bailout and stimulus, as well as the shock-absorber effects of the continued payouts of unemployment and Social Security benefits, Medicare, etc., slowed the descent and helped the economy to level off, albeit at a point well below previous output.
The following essay is adapted from the concluding chapter of the new edition of Nancy Rose’s Put to Work, just published by Monthly Review Press. The book is an examination of the various work programs implemented by the New Deal during the Great Depression. This second edition is especially appropriate, as we are now experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s, what some are calling the “Great Recession,” and there is once again much talk about putting people to work.
Nothing before or after the 1930s has matched the magnitude of the FERA, CWA, and WPA-programs that provided work each month for several million people, paid decent wages, and developed innovative projects in construction, the arts, and the production of consumer goods.
Eduardo Galeano, who was born in Uruguay in 1940, has written big, thick books. Open Veins of Latin America (1973), which Hugo Chávez of Venezuela handed to Barack Obama in May, hoping it would teach him history, is more than 300 pages. Then there’s Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy: Genesis, Faces & Masks, and Century of the Wind that adds up to nearly 1,000 pages. More recently, he has written shorter books, and practiced a kind of ecology of the word. Mirrors, his newest work, contains more than one hundred short entries about almost everything — from salt to maps and money, and almost everyone, from Cleopatra to Alexander Hamilton and Che Guevara. None of the entries is longer than a single page. Not surprisingly, Galeano’s answers to the questions in this interview are pithy, poetic, humorous, and sometimes oblique. “I’m fighting word inflation, which in Latin America is worse than monetary inflation,” he says. “I try to say more with less — because less is more.” -J.R.
One of the great missteps in most of the future energy scenarios propagated in the popular media is the notion that we can transition to “alternative, renewable energy” and thereby “wean ourselves from Mideast oil.” The underlying assumptions in this scenario seem to be that energy supply is an isolated challenge that can be solved without major systemic changes, that we can meet that challenge by simply switching from one energy source to another—from fossil fuels to wind, solar, biofuels or a host of other alternatives—and that our current industrial culture and economy then can continue on the present course.
Stephen Jay Gould, best known to the general public for his nearly three decades of regular essays published in the popular magazine Natural History, was prolific and, although he always emphasized that he was a tradesman, specializing in paleontology and evolutionary theory, he was nonetheless a polymath, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of art, literature, philosophy, history, and a variety of sciences, both social and natural. The vast body of work he has bequeathed to the literate public — the Republic of Letters, as he affectionately called us — is filled with gems of insight, fascinating observations, and no shortage of controversy. No one who has read Gould with care can avoid noticing his abiding love for learning and teaching, his unbridled enthusiasm for grappling with nature’s mysteries, and his fascination with humanity in all of its many forms. In many ways, Gould’s writing was deeply personal, demonstrating one man’s struggle to understand the natural world and our place in it. However, in other ways, Gould, the man, remained elusive and inaccessible to those who only knew him through his writing.
Latin America and Global Capitalism delivers a scathing indictment of neoliberal globalization from an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective. Its scope is theoretically and empirically ambitious, beginning with a wide-ranging treatment of structural shifts in global capitalism since the early 1970s, before turning to rigorous examination of a range of themes in Latin American political economy in light of these global changes. Robinson then brings these threads together with an argument that neoliberalism entered its twilight phase in the region beginning with the recession of the late 1990s and early 2000s, as extra-parliamentary mass movements concomitantly exploded onto the scene and a variety of self-described left governments took office. The focus then tightens, with conjunctural analyses of the current upsurge in indigenous revolts, the immigrant rights movement in the United States, and the complicated and contradictory processes of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.