Saturday April 19th, 2014, 3:35 pm (EDT)


Political Economy

The Political Economy of the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century came to a close in an atmosphere astonishingly reminiscent of that which had presided over its birth—the “belle époque” (and it was beautiful, at least for capital). The bourgeois choir of the European powers, the United States, and Japan (which I will call here “the triad” and which, by 1910, constituted a distinct group) were singing hymns to the glory of their definitive triumph. The working classes of the center were no longer the “dangerous classes” they had been during the nineteenth century and the other peoples of the world were called upon to accept the “civilizing mission” of the West… | more |

Working-Class Households and the Burden of Debt

It is an old axiom, common to both Marxian and Keynesian economics, that uneven, class-based distribution of income is a determining factor of consumption and investment. How much is spent for consumption goods depends on the income of the working class. Workers necessarily spend almost all of their income on consumption, with relatively little left over for savings or investment. Capitalists, on the other hand, spend only a small percent- age of their income for personal consumption. The overwhelming proportion of the income of capitalists and their corporations is devoted to investment … | more |

Rejoinder to Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin

In the early summer of 1999, libertarian John Stossel from ABC Television interviewed me at length on my views of unemployment and inequality in Europe and the United States. In the end, only a tiny video bite aired. In it, I stated that I did think Europeans might learn something from recent U.S. experience. Stossel portrayed this as a conversion to his own free-market views. It was a gross misinterpretation of the views I actually hold, as was quickly pointed out by the advocacy group FAIR, and eventually also in a story on Stossel by Brill’s Content early this year … | more |

Panitch and Gindin Reply

At one time, a defeated left in the United States, facing the onslaught of neoliberalism in the 1980s, pointed defensively to social democracy in Europe. This reduced socialist vision was founded on a static analysis that ignored emerging capitalist contradictions, already tearing apart even the Swedish model. Exemplifying the impoverishment of this kind of thinking, James Galbraith now designates the United States as a social democratic model for Europe—even after the social safety net has been further torn by Clinton’s Democrats. This is a so-called social democracy without a social democratic party (let alone government), with the lowest levels of unionization in the advanced capitalist world, no universal public healthcare program, the largest prison population anywhere, and a lower life expectancy for blacks than in many “underdeveloped” countries … | more |

Monopoly Capital at the Turn of the Millennium

Economic analysts, as everyone knows, have widely differing views on the way the economy works. The single most important division lies between right and left—a division that has its roots in class. But even among those on the left there are areas of sharp disagreement. One of these is over the centrality of the Keynesian revolution to the development of economics. Did the revolution in economic thought, associated with thinkers such as Keynes and Kalecki, teach things that Marxist political economists should view as essential? Another disagreement is over the role of monopoly and competition. How central is the concentration and centralization of capital to our understanding of the workings of capitalism today—a full century after Marxists and other radicals first raised the question of monopoly capitalism? Whatever one’s abstract theory is—and all theories by definition rely on a degree of abstraction—its usefulness lies in its capacity to make sense of everyday reality, while providing the strategic analysis necessary for practical revolutionary solutions … | 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 |

The Third Way

Myth and Reality

What is the Third Way? Both historically and in the contemporary world, there are numerous examples of political leaders and movements that declare their allegiance to a Third Way—defining alternatives in opposition to what they perceive to be dominant paradigms. In the contemporary world, the best known exponent of the Third Way is British Prime Minister Tony Blair, though a number of other political leaders in Europe and elsewhere have expressed sympathy or support for the rhetoric or substance of Blair’s version of the Third Way … | more |

The Necessity of Gangster Capitalism

Primitive Accumulation in Russia and China

The Russian bank laundering scandal in the newspapers last fall is only the latest installment in the ongoing saga of corruption coming out of the former Soviet Union. The more important question is: where did they get the money in the first place? How, for example, did the former Premier of the Ukraine manage to buy a seven million dollar mansion in Marin County, California, on his official salary of a few thou- sand dollars a year? The answer is only too apparent: Moscow’s gangster rule has become so well known that the term “Mafia” has lost its exclusively Italian connotation. China is not much better … | more |

APEC at Auckland

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is the name for a series of meetings that has taken place in various Asian and Pacific capitals since 1989. For September of this year, the venue was Auckland, a city of a million people in the North Island of New Zealand. According to Joan Spero, U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, “APEC is about business not about governments;” however, the role of governments has been crucial. In the past, laws and regulations used to protect economies had to be revoked by governments, if untrammelled entry of trade and investment was to take place. And getting rid of barriers erected by governments is what APEC is all about. It is part of the attack—by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—on those economies that try to maintain some degree of autonomy in the face of capital’s demand for open entry everywhere… | more |

Competition and Class

A Reply to Foster and McNally

The postwar economy is widely understood to have gone through two major phases. During the long boom between the end of the 1940s and the early 1970s, most of the advanced capitalist economies (outside the United States and the United Kingdom) experienced record-breaking rates of investment, output, productivity, and wage growth, along with low unemployment and only brief, mild recessions. But during the long downturn that followed, the growth of investment fell significantly, resulting in much-reduced productivity growth, sharply slowed wage growth (if not absolute decline), depression-level unemployment (outside the United States), and a succession of serious recessions and financial crises. My goal in The Economics of Global Turbulence was to explain why the long boom gave way to a long downturn, to reveal why stagnation has persisted on an international scale for such an exceedingly long period, and finally to demonstrate how the failure to resolve the problems underlying the long downturn opened the way to the world economic crisis of 1997-1998 … | more |

Are New Trade Wars Looming?

I have agreed to talk on the question “Are New Trade Wars Looming?” The answer is yes, but I must also tell you that I think this is the wrong question. What we are really interested in is why trade wars occur and where the economic philosophy we call protectionism comes from. A major cause of the worldwide war and depression that crippled much of the first half of the twentieth century was imperialism and the rivalry of nations for trade, commodities, raw materials, and labor—this produced protectionism. I want to suggest the special importance of finance capital in this process, both earlier in the twentieth century and now. Rather than worrying about trade wars, we should concentrate on the power of capital’s control over our political economy, especially the role of international financiers … | more |

The Politics of Capitalism

Our choice of political strategies clearly depends in large part on what we think is possible and impossible in any given conditions. And what we think is possible or impossible under capitalism obviously depends on what we think capitalism is. So let me, first, make some general observations about the nature of capitalism … | more |

Remarks on Paul Sweezy on the Occasion of His Receipt of the Veblen-Commons Award

I would like to quote at length from Paul Samuelson, who wrote a piece exactly thirty years ago for Newsweek magazine about a time thirty years before that “when giants walked the earth and Harvard Yard”: … | more |

Sub-Saharan Africa in Global Capitalism

If we define sub-Saharan Africa as excluding not only north Africa but also bracket off, for the moment, the continent’s southern cone, dominated by South Africa, the key fact about the rest—the greater part of the continent—is thrown sharply into relief: after 80 years of colonial rule and almost four decades of independence, in most of it there is some capital but not a lot of capitalism. The predominant social relations are still not capitalist, nor is the prevailing logic of production. Africa south of the Sahara exists in a capitalist world, which marks and constrains the lives of its inhabitants at every turn, but is not of it … | more |

Capitalism in Asia at the End of the Millennium

Two propositions dominated the Marxist perspective in most Asian countries during the period immediately following the Second World War. First, capitalism had entered the period of its “general crisis.” While not reducible to narrowly economic terms, this implied that economic progress would henceforth be stymied. Second, the kind of diffusion of industrial capitalism that had occurred from Britain to Europe, and then in the United States and other temperate regions of white settlement in the period leading up to the First World War, could not be expected to occur in the third world as well. It followed from these two propositions that the development of the Asian countries required their transition, through stages of democratic revolution, to socialism, and that the course of this transition would be made smoother when their proletarian comrades from the advanced countries marched to socialism as well, as they eventually would … | more |

Booming, Borrowing, and Consuming

The U.S. Economy in 1999

As we take our first steps across what Bill Clinton likes to call the bridge to the twenty-first century, we’re hearing a lot of praise for the state of the U.S. economy. The word “boom” is frequently used, as is the phrase “the best economy in a generation.” Wall Street economist Larry Kudlow, one of the most exuberant of his breed, calls it “the only adult economy in the world.” The United States, we’re told, is a natural to succeed in this post-industrial era—fast, flexible, polyglot, and decentered … | more |

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence … | more |

Turbulence in the World Economy

Two years ago, the tectonic plates of the world economy shifted. Within a matter of months, the crisis in Thailand had engulfed East Asia. Global financial markets were rocked a year later when Russia defaulted on forty billion dollars in foreign loans. Just as markets were starting to shrug that one off, economic panic hit Brazil this January, sending stock markets crashing and knocking down the country’s currency, the real, more than 40 percent. Pundits are no longer asking if another country will be next, but who will be next … | more |

A Second Wave of National Liberation?

Not so long ago, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) promoted a semi-official series of meetings (national, regional, and tri-continental), in preparation for its periodic international plenary conferences. UNCTAD was then the UN agency most seriously concerned with problems of third-world development as they related to international economic relations. The preparatory meetings had the double aim of engaging as many third-world officials, academics, and practitioners as possible in a serious dialogue on these problems, and mobilizing as much public opinion behind the proposed solutions as it could. The second aim was as important as the first, since those solutions, more often than not, ran up against fierce first-world opposition … | more |

January 1999, Volume 50, Number 8

January 1999, Volume 50, Number 8

» Notes from the Editors

Ideology comes, as we all know, in many guises, some more subtle and insidious than others. Children in the United States learn very early to think that capitalism means good things, like freedom and democracy, long before they’re taught it in so many words. It’s just something they take in by breathing the air … | more |