Monday April 21st, 2014, 10:43 am (EDT)

Economics

Political Economy

‘No Radical Change in the Model’

In the 2006 presidential election campaign in Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT or Workers’ Party), was interviewed at length on July 11, 2006, by the Financial Times (which also interviewed Lula’s main rightist challenger Geraldo Alckmin). The interview touched on many topics but mainly concentrated on Lula’s adherence in his first term of office to the global neoliberal policies of monopoly-finance capital, particularly repayment of debt and “fiscal responsibility.” At two points in the interview the Financial Times bluntly asked whether Lula was looking toward a “radical change in the model,” i.e., whether he and his Workers’ Party intended to break with financial capital and neoliberalism in his second term of office. Lula gave them the answer they wanted: “There is no radical change in the model….What we need now, in economics and in politics, is to strengthen Brazil’s internal and external security.”… | more |

The State and Economy in Brazil: An Introduction

These articles were written five months before the first round of presidential elections in Brazil, on October 1, 2006. The second round, on October 29, saw Lula reelected with 58.3 million votes (60.78 percent of all valid votes), beating Geraldo Alckmin, the candidate for the Partido Social Democrata Brasileiro (PSDB), the party of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula’s predecessor in office. Lula won this second four-year mandate after a campaign revolving around ethical issues and allegations of corruption against government officials and high-ranking members of his Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT)—allegations from opposition parties, right and left. The campaign included the pathetic episode of PT officials trying to buy information on candidates from the PSDB in the State of São Paulo (economically and politically speaking, one of the most important states in the union, with a strong oppositional streak), and a concerted nationwide media campaign for Alckmin on a scale never before seen in Brazil… | more |

Lula and Social Policy: In the Service of Financial Capital

The Lula government’s concept of social protection is not to be found in any official document or in any paper from his Workers’ Party (PT) or his electoral platforms. This is why it is so difficult for the public at large, unfamiliar with the principles of social policy, to understand the meaning of his proposals and actual policies. In trying to explain this concept, we will discuss the government’s reform of the social security system, underlining its impact on the state apparatus. We will analyze the core of its social policy as represented by the Programa Bolsa Família (Family Basket Program) and describe the way the economic cabinet designs social policy. From this start, we make the point that Lula’s public policy puts on hold previous advances in the field of social rights, tries to create a private health care system, and erects welfare networks not founded upon rights. This last factor is crucial for the creation of a new base of support for the government, one not structured around social, union, and political workers’ organizations… | more |

The Financial Globalization of Brazil under Lula

François Chesnais has defined three stages in the process of financial globalization. The first took place in the 1970s and he calls it “indirect financial internationalization of closed national systems.” Latin American countries including Brazil took part in this process of attracting a substantial volume of loans. The second stage, 1980-85, started with Paul Volcker’s “dictatorship of creditors” and the discovery by Margaret Thatcher of neoliberalism as the doctrine for the new age. The center countries, starting with the United States and Great Britain, unlocked their financial markets by liberalizing the international flow of capital. The interlinking of national systems became more direct and immediate through market finances. In Latin America, the debt crisis exploded with rising interest rates (following the negative Volcker shock) involving massive debt contracted in the prior period brokered by the banking system… | more |

The Brazilian Economy under Lula: A Balance of Contradictions

n the 1980s the Brazilian economy suffered a long spell of stagnation and inflation caused by the foreign debt crisis affecting all indebted countries. That crisis triggered an acute inflationary process that reached 2,012.6 percent in 1989 and 2,851.3 percent in 1993, according to the general price index from the Getulio Vargas Foundation. The second half of the 1980s and the first of the 1990s saw the deployment of successive anti-inflationary plans, starting with the 1986 Plano Cruzado and ending with the 1994 Plano Real.* The period also marked the end of the industrialization strategy known as “import substitution” and the onset of neoliberal policies in Brazil… | more |

The Neoliberal Agrarian Model in Brazil

Since Fernando Collor’s 1989 presidential victory, and most notably since Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s two terms in office (1995-98 and 1999-2002, respectively), economic policies have been enacted in Brazil that represent a subordinate alliance of the country’s dominant classes with international capital. Unfortunately, under President Lula these same sectors have remained in control, and economic policy caters to their interests… | more |

Monopoly-Finance Capital

The year now ending marks the fortieth anniversary of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s classic work, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (Monthly Review Press, 1966). Compared to mainstream economic works of the early to mid-1960s (the most popular and influential of which were John Kenneth Galbraith’s New Industrial State and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom), Monopoly Capital stood out not simply in its radicalism but also in its historical specificity. What Baran and Sweezy sought to explain was not capitalism as such, the fundamental account of which was to be found in Marx’s Capital, but rather a particular stage of capitalist development. Their stated goal was nothing less than to provide a brief “essay-sketch” of the monopoly stage of capitalism by examining the interaction of its basic economic tendencies, narrowly conceived, with the historical, political, and social forces that helped to shape and support them… | more |

The Worldwide Class Struggle

A trademark of our times is the dominance of neoliberalism in the major economic, political, and social forums of the developed capitalist countries and in the international agencies they influence-including the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the technical agencies of the United Nations such as the World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, and UNICEF. Starting in the United States during the Carter administration, neoliberalism expanded its influence through the Reagan administration and, in the United Kingdom, the Thatcher administration, to become an international ideology. Neoliberalism holds to a theory (though not necessarily a practice) that posits the following… | more |

Trouble, Trouble, Debt, and Bubble

The questions regarding U.S. macroeconomic policy these days come down to whether the country can keep borrowing. Can consumers keep spending by increasing their debt level? Can the federal government keep running a large budget deficit without serious problems developing? Can the U.S. current account deficit keep growing? Will foreigners keep buying government bonds to cover this growing debt? If the answer is no to such questions, we can expect serious trouble and not just for the United States but for the rest of the world, which has grown used to the United States as the consumer of last resort. The United States buys 50 percent more than it sells overseas, enough to sink any other economy. In another economy, such a deficit would lead to a severe devaluation of the currency, sharply inflating the price of imports and forcing the monetary authorities to push interest rates up considerably… | more |

The Neoliberal ‘Rebirth’ of Development Economics

velopment economics, as a branch of economics that attempts to show how the world’s poor economies can develop, had its origins in the 1940s and 1950s. One of its earliest ideas was that the economies of the less developed countries were mired in a cycle of poverty and needed a “big push” to develop. This push was seen as a large boost in investment, helped by the state’s infrastructural and social spending, as well as by private foreign capital spending and aid from the governments of the developed nations… | more |

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities… | more |

Neoliberalism: Myths and Reality

Agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have enhanced transnational capitalist power and profits at the cost of growing economic instability and deteriorating working and living conditions. Despite this reality, neoliberal claims that liberalization, deregulation, and privatization produce unrivaled benefits have been repeated so often that many working people accept them as unchallengeable truths. Thus, business and political leaders in the United States and other developed capitalist countries routinely defend their efforts to expand the WTO and secure new agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as necessary to ensure a brighter future for the world’s people, especially those living in poverty… | more |

Privatizing Education

Education is an essential part of modern economic progress, yet in recent decades, the right wing has consistently been unfriendly to public education. For example, the Walton family’s donation of $20 billion to help conservative causes was weighted toward the privatization of public education.… The economic effects of privatization will not be felt immediately. Over time, however, as a larger share of the workforce suffers the handicap of inferior education, the negative effect on all aspects of society will be unmistakable.… | more |

December 2005, Volume 57, Number 7

December 2005, Volume 57, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

At the end of October John Bellamy Foster and Martin Hart-Landsberg (coauthor with Paul Burkett of China and Socialismand author of Korea: Division, Reunification and U.S. Foreign Policy—both published by Monthly Review Press) traveled to Mexico City to participate as representatives of Monthly Review in the Fifth Colloquium of Latin American Political Economists. John spoke on “Imperial Capital: The U.S. Empire and Accumulation.” Martin presented a paper (cowritten with Paul Burkett) on “China and the Dynamics of Transnational Capital Accumulation.” Among the conference participants who met with John and Martin in a special meeting for Monthly Review were Guillermo Gigliani of Economistas de Izquierda (EDI) in Argentina (see “Argentina: Program for a Popular Economic Recovery” in the September 2004 issue of MR), Alejandro Valle of Mexico, the chief organizer of the Fifth Colloquium, and Leda Maria Paulani, President of the Sociedade Brasileira de Economia Política (SEP). Our hope is that this important meeting will lead to the establishment of a strong connection between MR and Latin American political economists confronting neoliberalism. The final outcome of the Fifth Colloquium was itself a landmark event: the founding of the long-planned Sociedad Latinoamerica de Economía Política y Pensamiento Crítico (Latin American Society of Political Economy and Critical Thought). The new organization will not be simply (or mainly) an academic and professional organization but will be actively dedicated to opposing neoliberalism and to supporting political and social movements for radical change in Latin America. We salute our Latin American political-economic comrades in this important struggle… | more |

Rethinking ‘Capitalist Restoration’ in China

Over a quarter century after China ventured onto the market path, it is high time to take a hard look and ask some very tough questions. That is what Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett did in “China and Socialism: Market Reforms and Class Struggle” (Monthly Review, July–August 2004) and they concluded that “market reforms” have fundamentally subverted Chinese socialism. The considerable costs of economic liberalization, they argued, reflect the inherent antagonisms of the capitalist system that is in the midst of being imposed. “Market socialism” is at best a contradiction in terms, an unstable formation that only awaits progressive degeneration: “the Chinese government’s program of ‘market reforms,’ which was allegedly to reinvigorate socialism, has instead led the country down a slippery slope toward an increasingly capitalist, foreign-dominated development path.”… | more |

Privatization at Gunpoint

The transfer of assets from peripheral states to international financial oligarchies is one of the defining tenets of the neoliberal counter-revolution. As a general rule, this latest form of neocolonial transfer of surplus to the industrialized core has proceeded relatively successfully in many peripheral states, with many Latin American states standing out as significant exceptions. In Pakistan, where the ruling state oligarchy has historically been the equivalent of a comprador bourgeoisie, this process has accelerated since it was initiated in the late 1980s… | more |

Internal Debate within the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)

This past winter we heard reports of a heated dispute within the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the guiding party of the revolutionary struggle in Nepal. The old regime in Nepal, a brutal military dictatorship under King Gyanendra Shah, on February 1st, 2005, carried out a coup against the remnants of legality within that part of the country it still controlled—the central valley of Nepal (containing the capital Kathmandu), and the area immediately surrounding the army’s fortified bases elsewhere, primarily in district towns. The rest of the country has been liberated, and is self-governing under revolutionary leadership, with the CPN(M) playing the leading role. But Nepal’s limited communication links with the rest of the world are concentrated in Kathmandu, and the royal military government was able to sever all links not under its control at the time of the February 1st coup. Under these circumstances it was not possible to determine the trustworthiness of the various reports of the dispute with the CPN(M) leadership … | more |

The Japanese Economy in Structural Difficulties

According to The Annual Economic Fiscal Report (July 2004) prepared by the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy, the Japanese economy is recovering from the prolonged stagnation that began with the bursting of the financial bubble in 1990-91. This recovery started at the beginning of 2002. It is characterized by the restored increase of both profitability and spending on plant and equipment in the private business sector and an increase in demand from abroad, while public spending (like public works) has been rather held down. In the fiscal year 2003 (up through March 2004) for instance, the Japanese real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was said to have grown by 3.2 percent. Contributions to this growth rate came from the growth of domestic demand in the private sector (2.9 percent) and the growth of foreign demand (0.8 percent), offset by a mild decline in government spending (minus 0.6 percent). The annualized rate of GDP growth in the quarter January-March 2004 was said to have reached 5.6 percent and especially encouraged the official expectation of a strong economic recovery… | more |

The End of Rational Capitalism

The twentieth century’s dominant myth was that of a “rational capitalism.” The two economists who did the most to promote this idea were John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. Both were responding to the great historical crisis of capitalism manifested in the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. In the wake of the greatest set of horrors the world had ever seen, accompanied also by the rise of an alternative, contending system in the Soviet Union, it was necessary for capitalism following the Second World War to reestablish itself ideologically as well as materially. In terms of the ideological requirement, the two economists who accomplished this most effectively were Keynes and Schumpeter—not simply because they epitomized the best in bourgeois economic ideology, but also because they were the leading representatives of bourgeois economic science. What they set out in their analyses were the requirements of a rational capitalism and at least the hope that these requirements would be achieved… | more |

Scarcity of What and for Whom?

Michael Perelman, The Perverse Economy: The Impact of Markets on People and the Environment (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 224 pages, hardcover $55.00.

There is no shortage of opinion within the circles of policy and punditry that the free market is, or ought to become, the new Atlas. The dominant discourse holds that the weight of the world, and its scourges from poverty to pollution, can only be borne and transcended through utter reliance on the market. Michael Perelman’s latest book confronts this position head on, arguing that far from providing a basis for sustainability and health, markets provide and respond to incentives which impoverish, dehumanize, mutilate, and kill workers, and which are leading us further into ecological ruin. Perelman scrutinizes a number of pillars of conventional economic theory, assessing them under the light of their implications for people and the environment, and emerges with an argument that economic theory justifies an unjustifiable system. This requires two separate points. First, the market produces disastrous results for workers and for nature. Second, economics as a profession has consistently functioned to obscure and apologize for those results… | more |