At the time of this writing (late August), the business news in the United States is full of discussions of “recovery” from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, while the economy appears to have bottomed out and a recovery of sorts may be in the works, this is in many ways misleading. Although a technical or formal recovery seems quite likely by the end of the year — with a small increase in economic growth mainly due to inventory restocking — it is unlikely to feel like a recovery to most individuals in the society. This is because official unemployment is projected to rise to the low double-digits by the end of this year or the beginning of next year — with the numbers of those dropping out of the labor market due to discouragement, or seeking part-time work because they are unable to obtain a full-time job, also growing. All of this points to a “jobless” and “wageless” recovery. As New York University economist Nouriel Roubini wrote in an August 13 column for Forbes.com, “It is very difficult to argue that the U.S. economy is not still in a recession while the labor market is still weak.” Indeed, what is really at issue is not simply recession and recovery but the longer-term structural crisis of capitalism. This is the subject of the Review of the Month, which seeks to place the current crisis in the context of the long-term development of capital accumulation and crisis.
Notes from the Editors
This month’s Review of the Month by Martin Hart-Landsberg, which addresses the Bolivarian Alternative for the America’s (ALBA), was written before the June 28, 2009, military coup d’état in Honduras (an ALBA member country) that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, expelling him from the country. Here are seven facts on the coup:
A new book by economist Frank Ackerman, Can We Afford the Future?: The Economics of a Warming World (Zed, 2009), presents an important and startling thesis: “As the climate science debate is reaching closure, the climate economics debate is heating up. The controversial issue now is the fear that overly ambitious climate initiatives could hurt the economy”(6). With climate-change skeptics losing influence, mainstream economists—always the ultimate ideological defenders of the capitalist system—are stepping into the breach to ensure inaction on global warming. Armed with cost-benefit analyses, they report that saving the planet for its inhabitants may be all very well and good… but it is simply too expensive for the capitalist economy to afford.
The grim state of the U.S. economy in early 2009 was brought into sharp relief by economic data released at the end of April. Industrial production in the first quarter of this year dropped by an annual rate of 20 percent, while manufacturing capacity utilization (the operating rate of manufacturing plant and equipment) sank to 65.8 percent in March, the lowest level since the Federal Reserve Board series was introduced in 1948 (industrial capacity utilization as a whole is currently at 69.3 percent, its lowest point since that measurement began in 1967).
This issue of Monthly Review marks the sixtieth anniversary of the magazine. We are reprinting here Albert Einstein’s classic article “Why Socialism?,” written for volume 1, no. 1, of Monthly Review (May 1949). On Thursday, September 17, we will meet together at the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan to celebrate and to promote a global socialism for the twenty-first century. We invite all our subscribers and friends.
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.
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.
In 1987, in the introduction to their Stagnation and Financial Explosion, Monthly Review editors Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy wrote: “We both reached adulthood during the 1930s, and it was then that we received our initiation into the realities of capitalist economics and politics. For us economic stagnation in its most agonizing and pervasive form, including its far-reaching ramifications in every aspect of social life, was an overwhelming personal experience. We know what it is and what it can mean; we do not need elaborate definitions or explanations. But we have gradually learned, not altogether to our surprise of course, that younger people who grew up in the 1940s or later not only do not share but also do not understand these perceptions. The economic environment of the war and postwar periods that played such an important part in shaping their experiences was very different. For them stagnation tends to be a rather vague term, equivalent perhaps to a longer-than-usual recession but with no implication of possible grave political and international repercussions. Under these circumstances, they find it hard to relate to what they are likely to regard as our obsession with the problem of stagnation. They are not quite sure what we are talking about or what all the fuss is over.
This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in the history of capitalism. However, while the Great Depression has been very much in the news of late, this is not due so much to this anniversary as to the fact that for the first time since the 1930s an economic crisis has arisen on a scale and of a nature that invites direct comparison with that earlier deep downturn, which threatened the entire system and ended in the Second World War.
The historic testimony by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan before the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform on October 23, 2008, represented such a startling turnaround for an individual previously given such nicknames as “Maestro” and “Oracle,” that it might well have been entitled “The Education of Alan Greenspan.” Taken to task for the enormous and still growing economic disaster, Greenspan acknowledged that he was “shocked and dismayed” by the emergence of what he called a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami.” In his effort to account for the complete failure of foresight at the Fed, Greenspan explained that the supposedly sophisticated asset pricing models that he and others in the financial community had relied on had been based almost exclusively on the experience of the last two decades during a period of rapid financial expansion, and had failed to incorporate the negative shocks visible from a longer-term historical perspective. As Greenspan himself put it