On November 16, 2013, Paul Krugman published a piece on his New York Times blog entitled “Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers,” consisting of an extended commentary on former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers’s November 8 presentation to the IMF’s Economic Forum.… Krugman, in following up on Summers’s IMF speech, highlighted Alvin Hansen’s theory of secular stagnation in the 1930s to ’50s.… [acknowledging that] long-term economic stagnation…was now “the norm” for the economy, not the exception.… Writing in a fashion that could have come straight out of Monthly Review at any point in the last forty years, he declared: “We now know that the economic expansion of 2003–2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the later part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate.” But in trying to understand how stagnation itself came about and created this whole irrational set of economic conditions, Krugman…failed to draw attention to the much more important problem of investment under conditions of overcapacity and mature industry, as well as the whole question of monopolistic/oligopolistic capitalism—all of which were taken seriously at some level by Hansen, and were developed in a far more radical way by socialist thinkers such as Michał Kalecki, Joseph Steindl, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy.
Volume 65, Issue 08 (January)
Modern capitalism, sociologist Max Weber famously observed early in the twentieth century, is based on “the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor.” But the “rationality” of the system in this sphere, as Weber was to acknowledge elsewhere, was so restrictive as to be in reality “irrational.” Despite its formal freedom, labor under capitalism was substantively unfree.… This was in accordance with the argument advanced in Karl Marx’s Capital. Since the vast majority of individuals in the capitalist system are divorced from the means of production they have no other way to survive but to sell their labor power to those who own these means, that is, the capitalist class.… The result is a strong tendency to the polarization of income and wealth in society. The more the social productivity of labor grows the more it serves to promote the wealth and power of private capital, while at the same time increasing the relative poverty and economic dependency of the workers.
In the past two decades, China’s economic growth has been increasingly dependent on investment. To maintain the growth of investment, China must sustain a fairly high rate of profit, and the fall in labor’s share has been seen as a crucial factor to sustain profitability.… Although the mainstream economists have widely admitted there is a downward trend for labor’s share in China, they explain this trend with a story that has nothing to do with class struggle. In this story, the decline of labor’s share is caused by sectoral changes, mainly the decrease of agriculture and the increase of industry and services as a percent of GDP in the reform era…. [But] Does the decline of labor’s share result from sectoral changes?… [In fact] the decline of labor’s share resulted from the loss in the power of the working class during the transition to capitalism. Sectoral changes have disguised the class conflicts in this historical process.
Acute economic and political drama mark contemporary Europe. The terrible trauma of the financial crisis has been followed by a sovereign-debt disaster. In the countries most deeply affected, the people have been faced with massive attacks on public services, wages, pensions, trade unions, and social rights. The draconian austerity policies have pushed the situation in those countries from bad to worse, leading them into a deep depression.… Confronted with these multiple crises, the traditional labor movements appear perplexed and partly paralyzed. Social democracy is in political and ideological disarray and confusion, reflecting a deep crisis in these movements. On the one hand, social democrats have played a leading role in fierce attacks on trade unions and the welfare state in countries where they have been in power. On the other hand, other social democrats adopt statements and support appeals that sharply condemn the political course now followed by the European Union.
Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.
Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the tone in his introduction to The Poorer Nations, arguing that the moment has arrived for scholars from the underdeveloped world of plundered resources and impoverished people to make the necessary statements themselves, rather than leaving that work to the first world left. Boutros-Ghali makes one other important point: that Prashad is hard at work rediscovering the hopes of earlier decades, the moment of anti-colonialist hopes, of common feeling among various nationalities and nations freeing themselves and looking forward to a kind of communitarian developmental process that was, often enough, called “socialism.”