In the short time available to me in this talk it is impossible to go too far with a discussion of the state of ecological Marxism as I understand it. However, I plan to discuss briefly a significant feature of the program of ecological Marxist analysis and practice of which I consider myself a part. Specifically, I will discuss the methodological commitments responsible for much of the strength and insight of the ecological Marxism associated with what John Bellamy Foster has called the “third stage of ecosocialism research…in which the goal is to employ the ecological foundations of classical Marxian thought to confront present-day capitalism and the planetary ecological crisis that it has engendered—together with the ruling forms of ideology that block the development of a genuine alternative.” This, I believe, will interest scholars and activists working toward a deeper understanding of the world with the ultimate goal of changing it, and should interest those involved in debates regarding Marxian theory and praxis.
Has the power of financial interests in U.S. society increased? Has Wall Street’s growing clout affected the U.S. state itself? How is this connected to the present crisis? We will argue that the financialization of U.S. capitalism over the last four decades has been accompanied by a dramatic and probably long-lasting shift in the location of the capitalist class, a growing proportion of which now derives its wealth from finance as opposed to production. This growing dominance of finance can be seen today in the inner corridors of state power.
As a rule, crime and social protest rise in periods of economic crisis in capitalist society. During times of economic and social instability, the well-to-do become increasingly fearful of the general population, more disposed to adopt harsh measures to safeguard their positions at the apex of the social pyramid. The slowdown in the economic growth rate of U.S. capitalism beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s—converging with the emergence of radical social protest around the same period—was accompanied by a rapid rise in public safety spending as a share of civilian government expenditures. So significant was this shift that we can speak of a crowding out of welfare state spending (health, education, social services) by penal state spending (law enforcement, courts, and prisons) in the United States during the last third of a century.
On the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that led to the Great Depression, the United States is once again caught in a Great Financial Crisis and deep downturn of an order of magnitude comparable to the 1930s. At the center of this crisis is plunging consumer spending, caused by the destruction of household finance as a result of decades of wage stagnation and the piling up of debt. Consumer spending in today’s economy, dominated by giant firms, is significantly dependent on the sales effort, i.e., marketing as a whole, with advertising as its most conspicuous form. But the sales effort is also ebbing in the crisis, contributing to the general decline. So integral is the sales effort to the regime of monopoly capital that one cannot be understood without the other.
The United States is unique today among major states in the degree of its reliance on military spending, and its determination to stand astride the world, militarily as well as economically. No other country in the post–Second World War world has been so globally destructive or inflicted so many war fatalities. Since 2001, acknowledged U.S. national defense spending has increased by almost 60 percent in real dollar terms to a level in 2007 of $553 billion. This is higher than at any point since the Second World War (though lower than previous decades as a percentage of GDP). Based on such official figures, the United States is reported by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as accounting for 45 percent of world military expenditures. Yet, so gargantuan and labyrinthine are U.S. military expenditures that the above grossly understates their true magnitude, which, as we shall see below, reached $1 trillion in 2007.
Just before John Perkins, author of the bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, decided it was no longer possible to remain silent about his intimate involvement in the economic warfare waged against the Global South, he sat despondently before the ruins of Ground Zero, totally incapable of visualizing the tragedy: all he could see was a U.S. contractor delivering millions of dollars of weapons to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Perkins understood himself—a former economic advisor for a multinational utilities contractor, similar to Bechtel—and others like him, to be products of a “system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed.” Mainstream commentators addressing Perkins’s book ignored the vivid recounting of his own personal involvement as an economic hit man. This is undoubtedly because Perkins used this experience to emphasize the substantial connections between U.S. intelligence agencies, multinational corporations, and political elites of the Global South, laying bare the true motives of “development.” As an “economic hit man,” Perkins fabricated nearly every economic forecast he was asked to produce—as his bosses clearly expected him to do. This led him to repeatedly attack U.S. economic dogma in Confessions