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Economic Theory

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 |

The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know

The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know

The economic crisis has created a host of problems for working people: collapsing wages, lost jobs, ruined pensions, and the anxiety that comes with not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Compounding all this is a lack of reliable information that speaks to the realities of workers. Commentators and pundits seem more confused than anyone, and economists—the so-called “experts”—still cling to bankrupt ideologies that failed to predict the crisis and offer nothing to explain it.… | 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 |

The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy

The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy

In recent years, China has become a major actor in the global economy, making a remarkable switch from a planned and egalitarian socialism to a simultaneously wide-open and tightly controlled market economy. Against the establishment wisdom, Minqi Li argues in this provocative and startling book that far from strengthening capitalism, China’s full integration into the world capitalist system will, in fact and in the not too distant future, bring about its demise.… | more |

The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences

The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences

The bursting of the housing bubble and the ensuing financial debacle have left most people, including many economists and financial experts asking: Why did this happen? If they had been reading Monthly Review, and were familiar with such articles as “The Household Debt Bubble,” “The Explosion of Debt and Speculation,” and “The Financialization of Capitalism,” they would not have needed to ask. In their new book, The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences, Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster and long-time Monthly Review contributor, Fred Magdoff, update this analysis, exploring the whole course of what is now known as “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”: from the debt explosion and housing bubble to the subprime debacle and federal bailout. They argue that this latest financial crash, although greater than any since 1929, is itself a symptom of deeper problems connected to the stagnation of the “real” or productive economy of mature capitalism. Financial bubbles have become the chief means of countering stagnation, but these inevitably burst, bringing the underlying economic problems back to the surface. The only recourse of the system: new and bigger bubbles, leading, as they too pop, to still greater financial crises and worsening conditions of production—in what has now become a vicious cycle.… | 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 |

Why Stagnation?

The question “Why Stagnation?” has a rather special significance for me. I started my graduate work in economics exactly fifty years ago this year. The cyclical downturn which began in 1929 was nearing the bottom. Unemployment in that year, according to government figures, was 23.6 percent of the labor force, and it reached its high point in 1933 at 24.9 percent. It remained in the double-digit range throughout the decade. Still, a recovery began in 1933, and it turned out to be the longest on record up to that time. Even at the top in 1937, however, the unemployment rate was still 14.3 percent, and it jumped up by the end of the year. That also happens to be the year I got my Ph.D. Can you imagine a set of circumstances better calculated to impress upon a young economist the idea that the fundamental economic problem was not cyclical ups and downs but secular stagnation? … | more |

Monopoly Capitalism

Among Marxian economists “monopoly capitalism” is the term widely used to denote the stage of capitalism which dates from approximately the last quarter of the nineteenth century and reaches full maturity in the period after the Second World War. Marx’s Capital, like classical political economy from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, was based on the assumption that all commodities are produced by industries consisting of many firms, or capitals in Marx’s terminology, each accounting for a negligible fraction of total output and all responding to the price and profit signals generated by impersonal market forces. Unlike the classical economists, however, Marx recognized that such an economy was inherently unstable and impermanent. The way to succeed in a competitive market is to cut costs and expand production, a process which requires incessant accumulation of capital in ever new technological and organizational forms. In Marx’s words: “The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends, ceteris paribus, on the productiveness of labor, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller.” Further, the credit system which “begins as a modest helper of accumulation” soon “becomes a new and formidable weapon in the competition in the competitive struggle, and finally it transforms itself into an immense social mechanism for the centralization of capitals” (Marx, 1894, ch. 27)… | more |

Capitalism and the Environment

It is obvious that humankind has arrived at a crucial turning point in its long history. Nuclear war could terminate the whole human enterprise. But even if this catastrophic ending can be avoided, it is by no means certain that the essential conditions for the survival and development of civilized society as we know it today will continue to exist… | more |