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The Profits of Financialization

The financialization of capitalism has been marked by the sustained rise of financial profits. In the United States, financial profits as a proportion of total profits rose enormously from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, collapsed during 2007–09, and subsequently recovered, but without reaching previous heights. During this period, the trend of the average rate of profit has been largely flat. The relative rise of financial profits in spite of stagnant average profitability represents a theoretical and empirical conundrum. We will argue that the answer should be sought partly in financial expropriation, but also in public interest rates kept at extraordinarily low levels. In this light, the rise of financial profits represents a vast public subsidy to the financial system characteristic of financialization.… | more…

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Surplus Absorption and Waste in Neoliberal Monopoly Capitalism

The central problem in advanced monopoly capitalism is not one of scarce resources clashing against innate, insatiable wants. Rather, it is one of an abundance of production clashing against saturated consumption and investment markets. In order to absorb potential economic output and forestall excess capacity, business interests must continuously search for new markets to exploit or entice existing customers who stand ready to buy the latest product, iteration, or service, and to induce new investment. The key to business survival in a capitalist economy is continual expansion of market share and reach: grow or die.… The efforts applied to this relentless drive undermine the conventional wisdom of market-determined pricing—for were a competitive price system in place, the funds for these expenditures would not exist. As I will show, the resources and funds expended in this quixotic endeavor to grow can be broadly referred to as the “economic surplus.”… | more…

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Hydrocarbons and the Illusion of Sustainability

After fifty years, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital has stood the test of time. Not only did it provide a lucid description of midcentury American society, but Monopoly Capital established a framework for analyzing events to come.… By bringing Marxian theory into their historical moment, they fomented many debates and encouraged the development of various perspectives, a legacy that has expanded to include analyses of the labor process, imperialism, finance, globalization, and the environment.… They elucidated a fundamental contradiction of the time. Capitalism is a system of self-expanding value that must continually accumulate, yet is confined by a social and institutional order that precludes rapid accumulation. This framework is especially useful for analyzing the fundamental problems of the twenty-first century. Among those crucial problems is the demise of the hydrocarbon economy.… | more…

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Monopoly Capital in the Classroom

In 1964, I began my graduate studies at Cambridge University. The reading list included a book by Josef Steindl with the intriguing title Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism. I read it, and was immediately drawn to the last chapter, “Karl Marx and the Accumulation of Capital.” Aside from reading the first few chapters of Capital in a study group, I had not yet read any of Marx’s economic writings (predictably, none had been assigned in any of my college courses). However, that last chapter persuaded me that Steindl’s analysis aligned with what I understood to be Marx’s general vision about the “laws of motion” of capitalist economies.… This set the stage for my reading of Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital in the spring of 1966. I devoured that book. I doubt that I got up from the kitchen table until I had read it from cover to cover.… | more…

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UK Monopoly Capitalism

During the past decade, persistent excess productive capacity, at levels exceeding at times 25 percent, has blighted the British economy, along with rates of unemployment not experienced for two decades, with the result that a substantial proportion of the economy’s productive resources remain underutilized. Orthodox economic theory often ascribes such phenomena to a lack of capital for investment. However, in the same period, interest rates have been historically low, and the UK corporate sector has accumulated increasing reserves of surplus capital. Clearly, there has been no shortage of capital for investment. The failure to invest stems not from the supply of capital, but instead from the paucity of investment opportunities, suggesting that British capitalism is mired in stagnation.… | more…

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Multinational Corporations and the Globalization of Monopoly Capital

In 1964, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy wrote an essay entitled “Notes on the Theory of Imperialism” for a festschrift in honor of the sixty-fifth birthday of the great Polish Marxist economist Michał Kalecki.… [T]he essay offered the first major analysis of multinational corporations within Marxian theory. Parts of it were incorporated into Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital in 1966, two years after Baran’s death. Yet for all that book’s depth, “Notes on the Theory of Imperialism” provided a more complete view of their argument on the growth of multinationals. In October and November 1969, Harry Magdoff and Sweezy wrote their article “Notes on the Multinational Corporation,” picking up where Baran and Sweezy had left off. That same year, Magdoff published his landmark The Age of Imperialism, which systematically extended the analysis of the U.S. economy into the international domain.… In the analyses of Baran, Sweezy, and Magdoff, as distinct from the dominant liberal perspective, the multinational corporation was the product of the very same process of concentration and centralization of capital that had created monopoly capital itself.… | more…

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Reading Capital, Reading Historical Capitalisms

Marx’s Capital presents a rigorous scientific analysis of the capitalist mode of production and capitalist society, and how they differ from earlier forms. Volume 1 delves into the heart of the problem. It directly clarifies the meaning of the generalization of commodity exchanges between private property owners (and this characteristic is unique to the modern world of capitalism, even if commodity exchanges had existed earlier), specifically the emergence and dominance of value and abstract social labor.… Volume 2 demonstrates why and how capital accumulation functions, more specifically, why and how accumulation successfully integrates the exploitation of labor in its reproduction and overcomes the effects of the social contradiction that it represents.… Volume 3 of Capital is different. Here Marx moves from the analysis of capitalism in its fundamental aspects (its “ideal average”) to that of the historical reality of capitalism.… To move from the reading of Capital (and particularly of volumes 1 and 2) to that of historical capitalisms at successive moments of their deployment has its own requirements, even beyond reading all of Marx and Engels.… | more…

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Monthly Review Volume 68, Number 2 (June 2016)

June 2016 (Volume 68, Number 2)

On April 8, 2016, in what has already become a historic case on the climate, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the United States District Court of Oregon ruled against a motion to dismiss, in favor of the youthful plaintiffs in the Children’s Trust lawsuit (Kelley Cascade Rose Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al.) and against the defendants, consisting of the federal government and the fossil-fuel industry.… The defendants’ argument to dismiss was directed principally at what they contended were limits on the federal government’s public trust responsibility. It thus turned on whether the United States was obligated simply to follow capitalist precepts with respect to the natural-physical environment, or whether the government had a public trust to maintain the environment for the population and for future generations, going beyond the rules of the market.… | more…

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Marx’s Ecology and the Left

One of the lasting contributions of the Frankfurt School of social theorists, represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, was the development of a philosophical critique of the domination of nature.… Yet their critique of the Enlightenment exploitation of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital.… So all-encompassing was the critique of the “dialectic of the Enlightenment” within the main line of the Frankfurt School, and within what came to be known as “Western Marxism”…, that it led to the estrangement of thinkers in this tradition not only from the later Marx, but also from natural science—and hence nature itself. Consequently, when the ecological movement emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, Western Marxism, with its abstract, philosophical notion of the domination of nature, was ill-equipped to analyze the changing and increasingly perilous forms of material interaction between humanity and nature.… | more…

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Radical Leisure

Connections, both real and hoped for, between the labor movement and environmentalists have been news for at least fifteen years now. The possibility of such a connection came into wider view at the Seattle World Trade Organization protests in 1999, when alliances between trade unionists and other protest groups made headlines…. Despite the once-exciting and novel possibility being now institutionalized in such organizations as the Labor Network for Sustainability, the Blue-Green Alliance, and SustainLabour, the thrill seems to be gone for mainstream environmentalist discourse, and labor has largely faded from view.… [The struggle to reduce work hours is fertile ground for uniting the efforts of workers and environmentalists.]… That fight for time, however, came to an end decades ago. Now those with jobs demand higher wages instead, and perhaps even overtime work, while the many unemployed and underemployed fight to work at all. Today the dominant idea of a working-class agenda is to fight to be allowed to sell one’s time.… | more…

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Beyond Opt Out

As the corporate takeover of public schools proceeds apace on a global scale, so too does the grassroots resistance. In the United States…. [o]ver 600,000 parents opted their children out of the tests in spring 2015; students have launched walkouts and boycotts; school boards are passing resolutions against overtesting; and teachers at a Seattle high school collectively refused to administer a test they deemed harmful to instruction. These actions and more demonstrate the hope and promise of public schools as sites for resilience and democratic resistance, even as corporate interests tighten their grip on schools under cover of “education reform.” This article reflects strategically on the fight for public education, with a special focus on the Opt Out movement, which was recently the subject of a special issue of Monthly Review. My treatment applauds opting out as a tactic in an organizing toolkit, but rejects it as a strategy, and takes issue with the analysis of corporate school reform proffered by the leading advocates of Opt Out.… | more…

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