The history of capitalism is replete with cases of successful captains of industry who, suddenly concerned with their place in history, decide to write a book celebrating their achievements, while articulating a new philosophy of philanthropic capitalism—usually with the help of a ghostwriter or “collaborator” of some sort.… [In this genre] is a new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, written by Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey in collaboration with Bentley University professor of marketing Raj Sisodia.… [I]n spite of all the references to a new form of “heroic capitalism,” which cares about employees and customers, Mackey, like most of his class, is a strong proponent of the most extreme forms of neoliberal exploitation. Both in Conscious Capitalism and in his public actions he has shown himself to be virulently anti-union, priding himself on keeping Whole Foods Market 100 percent union free, and slashing the wages of his workers even as profits have increased.
For a long time now orthodox economics has been hindered by its extreme irrealism—a refusal even to attempt a realistic theoretical understanding of how modern capitalism functions. The shift to using fanciful assumptions to explore largely minor issues, following a brief Keynesian moment in the post-Second World War era, has been in many ways self-reinforcing. Once fundamental characteristics of the capitalist economy such as labor exploitation, accumulation, built-in inequality, monopoly power, rent-seeking behavior, technological change, and the tendency to stagnation were removed from the analysis—as a result of an ideological process of system-rationalization—there was little recourse but to fall back in successive stages on more and more abstract models based on increasingly purified notions of individual rationality.… Nevertheless, the deepening crisis of today’s monopoly-finance capital has given rise to a new era of questioning within the economics profession, and some top-tier neoclassical economists are now struggling—though hindered at every step by their own training and inclinations—to recapture knowledge long abandoned.
As Fred Magdoff notes in his article in this issue, the Royal Society of London—one of the world’s oldest (founded in 1660) and most respected scientific bodies—declared in its 2012 report, People and the Planet, that the environmental threat to the planet as a place of human habitation is now so serious that it is necessary for humanity to “develop socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth.” In other words, a radical break with capitalism’s laws of motion is called for.… Behind this startling conclusion on the part of the Royal Society lies a nascent revolt of climate scientists against the dominance of capitalist economics in determining climate-change policy.
As we write these notes at the beginning of November climate change is once again in the headlines in the United States and around the world. This is because of the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, not only on islands in the Caribbean, but also on the northeastern United States and particularly New York and New Jersey, with the impact of the storm dramatized by the damage to New York City. Coincidentally almost twenty-five years ago it was a heat wave experienced in New York, coinciding with climatologist James Hansen’s famous testimony to Congress, that first made global warming a public issue, and increasingly an international one with the formation that year of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Whether Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in New York and New Jersey will lead to a similar elevation of climate change as a public issue this time around remains to be seen.
From September 10–18, 2012, …[the] rank-and-file-led Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in what is the third-largest school district in the nation with some 350,000 students.… Working-class communities in Chicago came massively to the aid of the strikers. More than a strike simply over wages, teachers were fighting against the corporatization, privatization, and degradation of schools, including: education cutbacks; school closings; teacher layoffs; merit-based pay and removal of teacher-seniority protections; loss of benefits; increased class sizes; shortages of textbooks and equipment; longer school days and longer working hours for teachers; excessive testing; teacher evaluation based mainly on student test scores…; the imposition of an increasingly standardized, corporate-derived curriculum; the charterization of schools; and a highly segregated school district.… The Chicago teachers won a number of partial victories as a result of the strike…. This struggle over elementary and secondary education…is at the very heart of class/social conflict in the United States today. Moreover, neoliberal attacks on public education are now occurring on a global level. Consequently, we intend to devote added attention to the battle over K–12 education in future issues of MR.
In universities today research, promotion, and tenure are increasingly based on publication in peer-reviewed academic journals. These journals are supposed to constitute the highest level of intellectual inquiry in the disciplines they represent. Yet, they are being transformed more and more into commodities subject to capitalist market conditions, subverting their purpose. Academic journal publication is now an oligopolistic industry with the five biggest commercial publishers accounting for about 40 percent of a $10 billion sector. Commercial academic journal publishers charge between three and nine times as much per page as scholarly society journals. Between 1970 and 1997 academic journal prices increased by a factor of thirty, growing by an average annual rate of more than 13 percent. Consequently, commercial publishers in this sector are currently reaping outsized profit margins on the order of 30–40 percent.… Given the growing monopolistic nature of academic journal publishing conflicts are inevitably deepening between the editors and authors, on the one hand, and the corporations that publish these journals, on the other.
Last May President Obama signed a proclamation establishing the “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War,” meant to last for thirteen years, from Memorial Day 2012 to Veterans Day 2025, and to be conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense. A few days later, on Memorial Day, Obama gave a speech…. [declaring] that the Vietnam War represented a “national shame, a disgrace that should never have happened.” But the “national shame” to which he referred was not due to the deaths of several million people, nor atrocities like the My Lai Massacre, the unleashing of chemical weapons (most notoriously Agent Orange), and the U.S. war machine’s use of more than twice the explosive power in the Vietnam War as employed by all sides in the Second World War…. [F]or Obama, the “national shame” was that returning U.S. troops were not always “welcomed home,” were often “blamed for the misdeeds of a few,” and were “sometimes…denigrated”—despite the fact that they had made enormous sacrifices in a war that they “didn’t start.”… It should be obvious…that the current plans for an extended Commemoration…. is an attempt to rewrite history and to erase from the national memory the basic facts about the most horrendous imperialist (North-South) war of the twentieth century, as well as the most unpopular war in U.S. history.
As the economies of Europe, North America, and Japan continue to stagnate orthodox economics has revealed itself to be bankrupt, unable to explain what is happening much less what to do about it. It was not the failure to see the “Crisis of 2008” coming that represents the economics profession’s biggest failure, Paul Krugman declared in a recent talk, but what came after: “the profession’s descent into uninformed quarreling,” coupled with its reversion to Say’s Law (the notion that supply creates its own demand)—the disproof of which was the main achievement of the Keynesian revolution.… Yet… [no] prominent orthodox analyst, has sought to engage in a genuine overhaul of received economics on the level of what Keynes accomplished in the 1930s. Indeed, no such scientific revolution appears possible within mainstream economics today, which is characterized not by its realism but its irrealism—serving now an entirely ideological function. Here one is reminded of Paul Sweezy’s observation nearly fifty years ago: “Bourgeois economics, I fear, has irrevocably committed itself to what Marx called ‘the bad conscience and evil intent of apologetic.’ If I am right, Keynes may turn out to be its last great representative”
Fifty years ago this month two chapters, “The Giant Corporation” and “On the Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society—I,” of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s then forthcoming book, Monopoly Capital, were published in a special issue of Monthly Review. Among the other chapters in rough draft form by the end of 1962 were “Some Implications for Economic Theory” (later to be re-entitled “Some Theoretical Implications”) and “On the Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society—II.” However, Baran’s death in March 1964, before the book was finished, left some unresolved questions with regard to these chapters. Consequently, Sweezy decided to leave these two chapters out of the book when it was finally published in 1966.… This special issue of Monthly Review is organized around the publication of one of these missing chapters of Monopoly Capital: “Some Theoretical Implications.”
By any measure, Adrienne Rich lived an exemplary life. When she died last March 27, aged eighty-two, she was acknowledged by many critics as perhaps this country’s foremost poet.… Throughout her writing life, Adrienne Rich’s vision of a better world was clear. In her 2008 collection A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society Rich claimed Che Guevara, Karl Marx, and Rosa Luxemburg as defining heroes. It did not matter if she was speaking to a room full of undergraduates or, having made the long painful climb up the hill to the Women’s Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, to teach poetry to its inmates, Adrienne’s voice was trenchant. So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).
University of Nevada, Las Vegas physicist John W. Farley’s very important review essay on James Lawrence Powell’s new book, The Inquisition of Climate Science, in this month’s issue of MR raises critical questions with respect to science, corporate propaganda, and the future of humanity.… To understand the serious propaganda challenge that has confronted capitalist interests intent on denying climate change and the devious means used to get around this, one needs to recognize that the scientific consensus on climate change is an extremely strong one. Science, which generally encourages controversy, is in this case speaking with one voice. Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego…published an article in Science in 2005 studying global climate change articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003. She found a total of 928 peer-reviewed scientific articles on global climate change. Of these 928 pointed to human-caused climate change, while on the “other side” there were exactly zero denying this.
For decades we have been arguing in Monthly Review that stagnation is the normal state of the mature monopoly-capitalist economies. Today the reality of stagnation is increasingly gaining the attention of the corporate media itself.… For those accustomed to thinking of the capitalist economy as either growing rapidly or occasionally falling into a severe crisis (from which it quickly bounces back), long-run stagnation is a difficult to understand phenomenon. [A stagnating economy] neither collapses into a full (or “classic”) crisis, which would allow it to clear out (or devalue) its overaccumulated capital, nor is it able to achieve a full recovery. Instead, it remains caught in a stagnation trap, limping along at a low rate of growth, with high unemployment and excess capacity. Under the circumstances—and without the help of some external stimulus like a major war, a financial bubble, or an epoch-making innovation—the capital accumulation process is unable to move off dead center.
As we write this, in late January 2012, international representatives of the ruling class and its power elite—wealthy investors, corporate executives, politicians, state bureaucrats, economists, pundits, and sundry celebrities—are gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the state of the world. Today there is no disguising the fact that some five years since the Great Financial Crisis began, the United States, Europe, and Japan all remain caught in an economic slump that will not go away.… From MR‘s standpoint, the current stagnation is not at all unexpected but represents the normal tendency of global monopoly-finance capital, especially in the mature economies. This tendency was disguised in part during the last three decades or more by a series of financial bubbles (and before that by Cold War military spending). Now with financialization on the rocks capitalism is once again face-to-face with the specter of stagnation, with no visible way out.
This issue of Monthly Review focuses particularly on China. Aside from the Review of the Month by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, which addresses the Chinese economy and its relation to the current phase of the capitalist world economy, we are publishing two separate contributions by Chinese scholars, one by Wen Tiejun, et. al., on the new rural reconstruction movement in China, and one by Zhihe Wang on the development of ecological Marxism in China. Our own thesis is that the era of rapid growth in China is leading to a period of deepening contradiction. The present accelerated growth is based on the intensive exploitation of migrant labor and the capitalization of newly urban land. For various reasons this model is reaching its outer limits, economically, socially, and ecologically. This suggests that China is on the wrong road, and must change directions.
In a little more than two months at this writing (December 3, 2011) the Occupy Wall Street movement has ushered in a new dialectic of world revolt. Occupy movements now exist in more than 2,600 cities across the globe. The response of the system has been increased repression. Yet, everywhere the movement has come up with new means of revolt. Had we tried in early October to predict how things would be at the start of November we would never have succeeded. Likewise we cannot predict now at the start of December how things will look even at the start of January. And it is precisely this quality of emergence, i.e. of not being predictable from the current state of affairs, which suggests that we are at a turning point. This global rip in the cloth of imperial capital’s supposed inevitability is irreversible; that we are fully ready to predict. Looking back it will be clear that as of late 2011, we are much closer to the start of a great global revolt against the plutocracy, the “one percent,” than to its end.