Wednesday April 23rd, 2014, 9:18 pm (EDT)

Economics

Political Economy

The Neoclassical Apology for Monopoly Capital

While the global economy is mired in ever-deepening crisis, there is no abatement in the propaganda rationalizing free markets and perfect competition. In the world of “perfect competition” governed by the “invisible hand” of market forces, no single actor (or even a combination of a few) is in a position to influence the market equilibrium, and prices are determined by the balance of demand and supply. This is a win-win world, where actors have sufficient information for arriving at their respective choices, consumers are free to make the correct decisions, and this self-governing system leads to progressively increasing welfare for all.… In this mythological world, there is also a hell, whose name is monopoly or oligopoly, the exact opposite of perfect competition, where a few sellers or producers distort the markets and generate inefficiency, monopoly profits, and compromise consumer choice.… The only difficulty with this mythology is that, while we are constantly told that the world is increasingly being governed by competition and market forces, the real world of business and industry is moving rapidly away from such free competition, as concentration, domination, and control of most economic activities has become common place.… It might be that perfectly competitive markets will provide answers for all of our ills, but in the real world, there is an absence of “free markets,” with market rigging and failure everywhere in the economy.… | more |

The Crisis

A View from Occupied America

The theme of the 2012 Left Forum, “Occupy the System—Confronting Global Capitalism,” calls for a historical imagination informed by a realistic sense of where we are. To occupy the system is first to be aware of the system as a system—a system of unequal privilege and control. It requires that we occupy the narrative of public debate, which is something the Occupy movement, to a remarkable degree, has been able to achieve. Even President Obama, who so far has followed the economic policies of his Wall Street-friendly advisers, has used campaign rhetoric taken from Occupy Wall Street. But this time around voters are hardly convinced that the “Change” Obama promised last election will happen through the existing system. The breath of fresh air from Occupy and related activism challenges corporate power and capitalism.… | more |

What it means

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.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 3 (July-August 2012)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 3 (July-August 2012)

» Notes from the Editors

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”… | more |

Introduction to Special Issue on the Critique of Economics

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.”… | more |

Some Theoretical Implications

Some Theoretical Implications

That all is not well in the realm of bourgeois economic theory is strongly felt by its closest observers. Professor Mason’s blunt statement that “the functioning of the corporate system has not to date been adequately explained,” could hardly be contradicted by anyone familiar with contemporary economic literature. Its most conspicuous feature is, indeed, this very failure to come to grips with the most important aspects of what, one would think, should constitute its central problem.… The reasons for this striking reluctance to place the realities of modern capitalism where they belong: at the center of theoretical attention, are not far to seek… There can be no doubt that the model of a perfectly competitive market economy is “more tractable,” that the examination of its manifold properties is more readily achievable by means of conventional tools of economic analysis than that of a system dominated by oligopolistic corporations. It may not be economics’ claim to applause, but it is understandable that most of its practitioners prefer not to tackle “intractable” matters, but to move along the line of the least theoretic resistance.… | more |

Last Letters

Correspondence on “Some Theoretical Implications”

These “Last Letters” were written by Baran and Sweezy in late February and early March 1964 and concerned “Some Theoretical Implications,” a chapter that Baran had drafted in 1962 and that they were then revising for their book Monopoly Capital. The discussion was cut short by Baran’s death around two weeks later.… They are published here for the first time.… | more |

The Surplus in Monopoly Capitalism and the Imperialist Rent

Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy dared, and were able, to continue the work begun by Marx. Starting from the observation that capitalism’s inherent tendency was to allow increases in the value of labor power (wages) only at a rate lower than the rate of increase in the productivity of social labor, they deduced that the disequilibrium resulting from this distortion would lead to stagnation absent systematic organization of ways to absorb the excess profits stemming from that tendency.… This observation was the starting point for the definition that they gave to the new concept of ’surplus.”… I have always considered this bold stroke as a crucial contribution to the creative utilization of Marx’s thought.… but [Baran and Sweezy] refused to stop, like so many other Marxists, at the exegesis of his writings.… Having, for my part, completely accepted this crucial contribution from Baran and Sweezy, I would like, in this modest offering for the special issue that Monthly Review is devoting to honoring their work, to put forward a ’quantitative metric” of that surplus.… | more |

The GDP Illusion

Value Added versus Value Capture

The ’GDP Illusion” is a fault in perception caused by defects in the construction and interpretation of standard economic data. Its main symptom is a systematic underestimation of the real contribution of low-wage workers in the global South to global wealth, and a corresponding exaggerated measure of the domestic product of the United States and other imperialist countries. These defects and distorted perceptions spring from the neoclassical concepts of price, value, and value added which inform how GDP, trade, and productivity statistics are devised and comprehended. The result is that supposedly objective and untarnished raw data on GDP, productivity, and trade are anything but; and standard interpretations conceal at least as much as they reveal about the sources of value and profit in the global economy.… | more |

Keynes, Steindl, and the Critique of Austerity Economics

Austerity is now ’in fashion,” as governments respond to the revenue shortfalls of the crisis through deficit reduction plans and fiscal stability pacts, and economists blame it on the profligate spending of households and countries. Consumers, they say, bought houses they could not afford and countries consumed more than they produced, while loose monetary policies made this spending possible. Governments ’got prices wrong,” keeping interest rates too low for too long, and while increases in government spending might alleviate current employment problems, this deficit spending is inflationary, and in any case will not help in the long run as budget deficits raise interest rates, ’crowding out” business and household spending. It is as if we have stepped back in time, to the depression years of the 1930s, when monetary theories of the cycle were dominant, the ’overinvestment” of the boom blamed for the downturn, and effective fiscal actions proposed by Keynes and others blocked by preoccupation with the public debt and its burdens.… The analysis here is concerned with the systematic rejection of Keynes’s and Kalecki’s revolution in economics and the resurrection of Say’s Law (supply creates its own demand) of pre-Keynesian economics in all but name—a view that underlies today’s austerity economics. … | more |

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 |

The Endless Crisis

The Great Financial Crisis and the Great Recession began in the United States in 2007 and quickly spread across the globe, marking what appears to be a turning point in world history. Although this was followed within two years by a recovery phase, the world economy five years after the onset of the crisis is still in the doldrums…. The one bright spot in the world economy, from a growth standpoint, has been the seemingly unstoppable expansion of a handful of emerging economies, particularly China. Yet, the continuing stability of China is now also in question. Hence, the general consensus among informed economic observers is that the world capitalist economy is facing the threat of long-run economic stagnation (complicated by the prospect of further financial deleveraging)…. It is this issue of the stagnation of the capitalist economy, even more than that of financial crisis or recession that has now emerged as the big question worldwide.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 63, Number 11 (April 2012)

Monthly Review Volume 63, Number 11 (April 2012)

» Notes from the Editors

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.… | more |

Sado-Monetarism

The Role of the Federal Reserve System in Keeping Wages Low

Economist Edwin Dickens has written a series of significant articles analyzing the minutes of the meetings, dating back to the 1950s, of the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve Board. (The Committee is the main policy-making body of the Board.) Dickens’s research shows convincingly that the Federal Reserve’s partisan behavior is designed to tilt the economy in the direction of the wealthy by making workers more compliant.… A recent study formalized Dickens’s work by attempting to distinguish whether the policy actions of the Federal Reserve were responses to inflation or to low unemployment. The study concluded that “a baseless fear of full employment,” rather than the prevention of inflation, was the guiding principal of the Federal Reserve. The conclusion of this study should come as little surprise to people familiar with the Federal Reserve’s obsession with the danger of high wages.… | more |

March 2012, Volume 63, Number 10

March 2012, Volume 63, Number 10

» Notes from the Editors

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.… | more |

The Great Inequality

Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures.… | more |

Recessions and Human Misery

Dating the Cycle

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) decides the peak and trough dates of the business cycle. Most economists, including the government economists, accept their dates as the bible of research. Their dates do accomplish what they set out to do: they reflect the highest and lowest levels of business activity. This was the definition set by the founder of the NBER and it is very useful for many purposes. Certainly, there is a major gain if all economists use the same dates. Nevertheless, it is useful to ask a different question and use different dates for some purposes. Suppose we do not want to know the peaks and troughs of business activity, but instead we ask: How much human misery is caused by the cycle? There are many ways to answer that question, but the easiest is just to examine the duration of recessions in terms of human misery.… | more |

February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9

February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9

» Notes from the Editors

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.… | more |

The Global Stagnation and China

Five years after the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–09 began there is still no sign of a full recovery of the world economy. Consequently, concern has increasingly shifted from financial crisis and recession to slow growth or stagnation, causing some to dub the current era the Great Stagnation. Stagnation and financial crisis are now seen as feeding into one another.… To be sure, a few emerging economies have seemingly bucked the general trend, continuing to grow rapidly—most notably China, now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. Yet, as [IMF Managing Director Christine] Lagarde warned her Chinese listeners, “Asia is not immune” to the general economic slowdown, “emerging Asia is also vulnerable to developments in the financial sector.” So sharp were the IMF’s warnings, dovetailing with widespread fears of a sharp Chinese economic slowdown, that Lagarde in late November was forced to reassure world business, declaring that stagnation was probably not imminent in China (the Bloomberg.com headline ran: “IMF Sees Chinese Economy Avoiding Stagnation.”)… | more |

Ecological Civilization, Indigenous Culture, and Rural Reconstruction in China

The governments of almost all developing countries are facing the long-term twin problems of capital shortages and high fiscal debts, resulting from their attempts to modernize the state forms and economic and financial relations left by colonialism or copied from western political culture. Whether they claimed to be of the left or the right ideologically, they almost invariably undertook policies to attract foreign investment and encourage domestic private investors to join the global industrialization competition during the twentieth century…. Continental China, the biggest developing country, with the largest population (but also with significant natural resource constraints) has close to 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 9 percent of its arable land and a mere 6 percent of its fresh water. Over the centuries, China had its share of drought- or flood-induced famines. But if not for a 6,000-year history of irrigated agriculture, with its related “village rationality” based on traditional indigenous knowledge—which internalizes risks by its multifunctional rural cultures of sustainable self-reliance—China would have been a land of perpetual hunger.… | more |