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Why Stagnation?

The question “Why Stagnation?” has a rather special significance for me. I started my graduate work in economics exactly fifty years ago this year. The cyclical downturn which began in 1929 was nearing the bottom. Unemployment in that year, according to government figures, was 23.6 percent of the labor force, and it reached its high point in 1933 at 24.9 percent. It remained in the double-digit range throughout the decade. Still, a recovery began in 1933, and it turned out to be the longest on record up to that time. Even at the top in 1937, however, the unemployment rate was still 14.3 percent, and it jumped up by the end of the year. That also happens to be the year I got my Ph.D. Can you imagine a set of circumstances better calculated to impress upon a young economist the idea that the fundamental economic problem was not cyclical ups and downs but secular stagnation? … | more…

Monopoly Capitalism

Among Marxian economists “monopoly capitalism” is the term widely used to denote the stage of capitalism which dates from approximately the last quarter of the nineteenth century and reaches full maturity in the period after the Second World War. Marx’s Capital, like classical political economy from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, was based on the assumption that all commodities are produced by industries consisting of many firms, or capitals in Marx’s terminology, each accounting for a negligible fraction of total output and all responding to the price and profit signals generated by impersonal market forces. Unlike the classical economists, however, Marx recognized that such an economy was inherently unstable and impermanent. The way to succeed in a competitive market is to cut costs and expand production, a process which requires incessant accumulation of capital in ever new technological and organizational forms. In Marx’s words: “The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends, ceteris paribus, on the productiveness of labor, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller.” Further, the credit system which “begins as a modest helper of accumulation” soon “becomes a new and formidable weapon in the competition in the competitive struggle, and finally it transforms itself into an immense social mechanism for the centralization of capitals” (Marx, 1894, ch. 27)… | more…

Capitalism and the Environment

It is obvious that humankind has arrived at a crucial turning point in its long history. Nuclear war could terminate the whole human enterprise. But even if this catastrophic ending can be avoided, it is by no means certain that the essential conditions for the survival and development of civilized society as we know it today will continue to exist… | more…

The New Face of Capitalism: Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt

For a long time now, the U.S. economy and the economies of the advanced capitalist world as a whole have been experiencing a slowdown in economic growth relative to the quarter-century following the Second World War. It is true that there have been cyclical upswings and long expansions that have been touted as full-fledged “economic booms” in this period, but the slowdown in the rate of growth of the economy has continued over the decades. Grasping this fact is crucial if one is to understand the continual economic restructuring over the last three decades, the rapidly worsening conditions in much of the underdeveloped world to which the crisis has been exported, and the larger significance of the present cyclical downturn of world capitalism… | more…

Cars and Cities

In Marxist theory the treatment of technology has generally referred to production, the means of production, the character of the labor process, and related matters. This follows the example set by Marx himself in his justly famous chapter on machinery and modern industry in Volume 1 of Capital which occurs in the part devoted to the production of relative surplus value. Neither there nor anywhere else in Capitalis there any discussion or analysis of the impact of technology on consumption and via consumption on processes of capital accumulation and social development … | more…

Statement to the New Hampshire Attorney General

What follows is Paul Sweezy’s statement defying the New Hampshire Attorney General’s inquiry into his political views and associations, as it appeared in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, June 17, 1957 (354 U.S. 234).

The Editors

The Communist Manifesto Today

I’ve probably read the Communist Manifesto a dozen times, more or less. But it never struck me as old hat. It was always worth reading again. So I thought that in preparation for this panel, I should read it once more, this time with special attention to insights and formulations that seem particularly relevant to the problems we face in the world as the twenty-first century approaches … | more…

More (or Less) on Globalization

Much has been written about “globalization” in the last few years. It is not my intention to add to this literature but only to put the topic into the context of my own understanding of the history of capitalism.…Globalization is not a condition or a phenomenon: it is a process that has been going on for a long time, in fact ever since capitalism came into the world as a viable form of society four or five centuries ago; (dating the birth of capitalism is an interesting problem but not relevant for present purposes). What is relevant and important, is to understand that capitalism is in its innermost essence an expanding system both internally and externally. Once rooted, it both grows and spreads. The classic analysis of this double movement is of course Marx’s Capital.… | more…

The Triumph of Financial Capital

The announced subject of this conference is “New Trends in Turkey and the World.” I shall not try to say anything about new trends in Turkey, partly because of my ignorance but more importantly because Turkey is very much part of the world, and in this period the mother of all new trends is global in nature. To understand what is happening in any part of the world, one must start from what is happening in the whole world. Never has Hegel’s dictum “The Truth is in the Whole” been as true and relevant as it is today.… | more…

The Irreversible Crisis (Economic History As It Happened, Vol. V)

The Irreversible Crisis (Economic History As It Happened, Vol. V)

The economies of the capitalist world-individually and as part of a closely knit global system-have been in an ongoing state of crisis since the early 1970s when the long post World War II boom finally came to an end. This crisis has gone through several phases but has not at any time shown signs of giving way to a renewed long wave of prosperity.… | more…

Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (Economic History As It Happened, Vol. IV)

Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (Economic History As It Happened, Vol. IV)

This is the fourth in the magisterial series of essays by the former editors of Monthly Review on the state of the U.S. economy and its relation to the global system. Like its predecessors, this volume focuses on the development of U.S. capitalism as it takes place, and covers the 1980s. The authors stress the profound contradictions of the underlying processes of capital accumulation and identify, before any other economic commentators, the immense implications of the use of the explosion of debt to attempt to solve the problems presented by the underlying stagnation in the real economy.… | more…

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