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April 2009 (Volume 60, Number 11)

» Notes from the Editors

It is now universally recognized that the U.S. economy is experiencing a deep downturn unlike anything seen since the 1930s. Hence, the question continually arises: How close is this to a depression? One way of answering is to look at the unemployment rate. The Great Depression hit bottom in 1933 when unemployment peaked at 25 percent. Today the United States is losing jobs at the rate of 600,000 a month. But the official unemployment rate currently stands at 8.1 percent (seasonally adjusted, February 2009). This is the highest rate of official unemployment in a quarter-century, but hardly what is considered a depression-level rate, which is usually thought of as well into the double-digits.… | more…

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The Sales Effort and Monopoly Capital

On the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that led to the Great Depression, the United States is once again caught in a Great Financial Crisis and deep downturn of an order of magnitude comparable to the 1930s. At the center of this crisis is plunging consumer spending, caused by the destruction of household finance as a result of decades of wage stagnation and the piling up of debt. Consumer spending in today’s economy, dominated by giant firms, is significantly dependent on the sales effort, i.e., marketing as a whole, with advertising as its most conspicuous form. But the sales effort is also ebbing in the crisis, contributing to the general decline. So integral is the sales effort to the regime of monopoly capital that one cannot be understood without the other.… | more…

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The Credit Crisis: Is the International Role of the Dollar at Stake?

As the first tremors of the looming financial crisis ripped through Wall Street, with the meltdown of the subprime mortgage market in the summer of 2007, the dollar plunged sharply. Perversely however, even as some financial pundits were foretelling its collapse, the deepening of the crisis following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 actually saw the dollar gain ground sharply (for the first time since the steady decline that began in 2002.… | more…

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The Neoliberal Restructuring of Turkey’s Social Security System

For almost thirty years Turkish capitalism has taken the form of neoliberalism. Turkey’s subordination to the world neoliberal order started in the late 1970s and was pursued consistently after the 1980 military coup. The coup reflected Hayek’s contention that a transition to “free markets” may require a dictatorship.1 By dissolving political and social opposition, the coup provided the necessary political environment for the shift from the import substitution industrialization that framed economic policy since the 1960s to an export-oriented economics. During the interim regime (1980–83), Turkey experienced a fierce process of depoliticization, which limited the opportunities for an effective opposition against the launch of neoliberal policies. All segments of the labor movement that had made political gains in the preceding decade were banned from politics and the majority of prominent activists were imprisoned. The general elections held in 1983 were a farce. The military rulers banned all political parties that had organic links to pre-coup political organizations and that were in opposition to the coup and the interim regime, and allowed only three political parties to participate.… | more…

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The Promise and Perils of Korean Reunification

It seems that nearly everyone publicly supports the reunification of Korea — the governments of the United States, North Korea, and South Korea, as well as the great majority of people in both North and South Korea. This should make us all nervous because it means that different people mean different things when they talk about reunification. We need to think carefully about what we mean when we offer our own support for reunification or, said differently, we need to stop thinking about reunification as unambiguously good and start thinking about it as a contested process. The obvious point is that a sound reunification process will greatly increase the likelihood of a desirable reunification outcome. One of our tasks then is to support Korean efforts to advance a reunification process that will be truly responsive to the needs of the Korean people.… | more…

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March 2009 (Volume 60, Number 10)

As we write these notes in late January 2009 the economic depression is worsening with each passing day, creating previously unthinkable conditions. Even as production sinks and unemployment soars in the “real economy,” the implosion of the financial sector remains at the center of the crisis. It is now widely acknowledged in financial and policy circles that nationalization of the U.S. banking system, under one or another description, is inevitable. The Obama administration still resists what is referred to as a “complete nationalization,” with the government wiping out the bank shareholders and taking over the running of the banks. But every other option on the table involves further steps in this direction. Already the U.S. Treasury has received shares and other securities from 314 financial institutions in return for $350 billion in government bailout money.… | more…

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A Failed System: The World Crisis of Capitalist Globalization and its Impact on China

In referring in my title here to “A Failed System” I do not of course mean that capitalism as a system is in any sense at an end. Rather I mean by “failed system” a global economic and social order that increasingly exhibits a fatal contradiction between reality and reason—to the point, in our time, where it threatens not only human welfare but also the continuation of most sentient forms of life on the planet. Three critical contradictions make up the contemporary world crisis emanating from capitalist development: (1) the current Great Financial Crisis and stagnation/depression; (2) the growing threat of planetary ecological collapse; and (3) the emergence of global imperial instability associated with shifting world hegemony and the struggle for resources. Such structural weaknesses of the system, as Joseph Schumpeter might have said, are the product of capitalism’s past successes, but they raise catastrophic problems and failures in the present nonetheless. How we choose to act today in response to this failed system is therefore the most critical question that humanity has ever faced.… | more…

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The Reichstag Fire Trial, 1933-2008: The Production of Law and History

In the opening decade of the twentieth century the German national state united the great majority of the German speaking population of Europe, excluding only those in Switzerland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was among the leading states of the world. It boasted technologically advanced industry, among the highest per capita GDP, and the second largest army and third largest navy in the world. Germany was at peace, save for minor military operations against disobedient natives in Southwest Africa. It was a state that was among world leaders in providing basic social insurance, yet held sacred private property and the rule of law, except only in strictly prescribed areas of national security. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century the German national state unites the great majority of the German speaking population of Europe, excepting only those in Switzerland and Austria, its industry is technologically advanced and its per capita GDP high. Its military budget is the sixth largest in the world, and it is at peace, save for minor military operations against disobedient natives in Afghanistan. Despite cutbacks, few states in the world have better provision of basic social insurance, and Germany today prides itself on holding private property to be sacred and on its adherence to the rule of law, except for a few strictly prescribed areas of national security. In the fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century the German national state committed crimes universally agreed to be the most horrendous in human history.… | more…

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What Race Has to Do With It

Who could have imagined the 2008 presidential campaign?

Commentators, media people, and especially politicians fell all over themselves proclaiming that the 2008 election had, “nothing at all to do with race.” And yet every event, every speech and comment, every debate and appearance had race written all over it. Stephen Colbert, the brilliant satirist, hit it on the head when he asked a Republican operative, “How many euphemisms have you come up with so far so that you won’t have to use the word ‘Black?’” Everyone laughed good-naturedly.… | more…

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The Rise and Fall of the Third World

Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: New Press, 2008), 384 pages, paper, $19.95.

Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations opens with the assertion that the third world was not so much a place as a project. His goal is to provide an account of the anticolonial and nonaligned movement rather than a full history of the under-developed world in the last half of the twentieth century. However, in this remarkable book, he does both. Born in the wake of the upheavals of the Second World War, the third world movement that took form at the Bandung Conference in 1955 was championed by the likes of Nehru, Nasser, Tito, Sukarno, and Nkrumah. Its leaders collectively called for national independence, economic development, and Cold War nonalignment while basing themselves on the support of millions of followers in the under-developed nations.… | more…

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