The Monthly Review sixtieth anniversary celebration at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on September 17, 2009, was a great success. A large crowd turned out to hear Grace Lee Boggs, John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, Fred Magdoff, Michael Tigar, Toshi Reagon (providing music), and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and to celebrate MR’s birthday. We would like to thank all those who participated in this extraordinary event. Dr. Wright captured the tone of the evening, declaring that: “Militarism, capitalism and racism, domestic oppression, foreign military aggression, victims of neo-colonialism, victims of community and national racism, and the Cold War days in its infancy to the needless war in Vietnam in its [MR‘s] second decade, through wars of greed in Afghanistan and Iraq in [its] sixth decade” were all incisively covered by the magazine. He spoke of Monthly Review‘s indefatigable insistence on the need to put “people before profits,” and its unflinching criticisms of inequality, injustice, and the realities of capitalism. (See Daa’iya L. Sanusi, Amsterdam News, September 24-30, 2009)
Volume 61, Issue 06 (November)
Today orthodox economics is reputedly being harnessed to an entirely new end: saving the planet from the ecological destruction wrought by capitalist expansion. It promises to accomplish this through the further expansion of capitalism itself, cleared of its excesses and excrescences. A growing army of self-styled “sustainable developers” argues that there is no contradiction between the unlimited accumulation of capital—the credo of economic liberalism from Adam Smith to the present—and the preservation of the earth. The system can continue to expand by creating a new “sustainable capitalism,” bringing the efficiency of the market to bear on nature and its reproduction. In reality, these visions amount to little more than a renewed strategy for profiting on planetary destruction.
Our Ecological Footprint by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees (1996) instigated a major strand in radical social thinking about construction of the future. The authors not only defined a new concept — that of an ecological footprint — they also developed a metric for it, whose units are defined in terms of “global hectares,” comparing the biological capacity of societies/countries (their ability to produce and reproduce the conditions for life on the planet) with their consumption of resources made available to them by this bio-capacity. The authors’ conclusions are worrying.
Today the capitalist economies of the world are in deep trouble. Some economists have theorized that the linkages between the United States and the rest of the world had been weakened as other nations gained more economic autonomy. A decoupling thesis was presented claiming that a crisis in one part of the system (say, North America) would not affect other major parts (say, Europe and Asia). We now know this is not true. Toxic assets were sold around the world, and banks in Europe, Asia, and Japan are in trouble too. Housing bubbles have burst in Ireland, Spain, and many other countries. In Eastern Europe, homes were bought with loans from Swiss, Austrian, and other European banks, payable in European currencies. As the economies of Hungary and other nations in the region, which financed their explosive growth with heavy borrowing from Western banks, have gone into recession, their currencies have suffered a sharp deterioration in exchange rates. This means that mortgage payments have risen sharply, as it now takes many more units of local currency to buy the Swiss francs or euros needed to pay the loans. In some cases, mortgage payments have doubled.
In a recent article entitled “The Penal State in an Age of Crisis” (Monthly Review, June 2009), Hannah Holleman, Robert W. McChesney, John Bellamy Foster, and R. Jamil Jonna sought to account for the surprising stability of civilian government spending (non-defense government consumption and investment) as a percentage of GDP during a period, roughly 1970 to the present, when the power of capital over labor increased, inequality grew, and cuts in government programs for the poor and working class continued more or less without abatement. One solution to the paradox, the authors persuasively argued, was the growth in spending for “the penal state,” a political regime marked by the mass incarceration of the poor and the vulnerable who posed risks to the stability of the prevailing economic and social order.
Something is wrong with our agricultural and food systems.1 Despite great progress in increasing productivity in the last century, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry and malnourished. Further hundreds of millions eat too much, or consume the wrong sorts of food, and it is making them ill. The health of the environment suffers too, as degradation of soil and water seems to accompany many of the agricultural systems we have developed in recent years. Can nothing be done, or is it time for the expansion of an agriculture founded more on ecological principles and in harmony with people, their societies, and cultures?
Adrienne Rich is the author of more than sixteen volumes of poetry and five nonfiction prose books, the most recent being A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society (Norton). She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1999 Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
We recently received a very thoughtful letter from Ted Trainer, an Australian ecological socialist (author of Abandon Affluence! and Saving the Environment) who teaches at the University of New South Wales, asking us about the “surplus problem” and its relation to borrowing in the present economic crisis. We wrote a short reply with our answers. —Eds.