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Economic Theory

Piketty and the Crisis of Neoclassical Economics

Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has it been so apparent that the core capitalist economies are experiencing secular stagnation, characterized by slow growth, rising unemployment and underemployment, and idle productive capacity. Consequently, mainstream economics is finally beginning to recognize the economic stagnation tendency that has long been a focus in these pages, although it has yet to develop a coherent analysis of the phenomenon. Accompanying the long-term decline in the growth trend has been an extraordinary increase in economic inequality, which one of us labeled “The Great Inequality,” and which has recently been dramatized by the publication of French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Taken together, these two realities of deepening stagnation and growing inequality have created a severe crisis for orthodox (or neoclassical) economics.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 66, Number 5 (October 2014)

October 2014 (Volume 66, Number 5)

Notes from the Editors

Secular stagnation (or the trend towards long-term slow growth and continuing high unemployment/underemployment) has become a big issue in the mature economies since 2013, when former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers raised the question at an IMF economic forum. Compilations of work on the subject can now be found on the Internet, such as the one by economists Coen Teulings and Richard Baldwin; which however leaves out all contributions by heterodox economists. Teulings and Baldwin credit Summers with having “resurrected” the secular stagnation issue. But is this true? Only in the sense that he reintroduced it to mainstream neoclassical economics. It has long been a topic on the left, and particularly in Monthly Review, where editor Paul Sweezy explicitly drew attention to the “secular stagnation” question more than forty years ago—with MR tracking the stagnation trend month by month in the four decades that followed.… Isn’t it about time…that orthodox economists, Summers included, began to acknowledge the enormous work done on this topic on the left over decades, and indeed the greater complexity and historicity of the analysis to be found there—not only in MR but within heterodox economics more generally? Such an admission might even do orthodox economists some good.… | more…

Australian Coal: Should It Be Left in the Ground?

Many Australians view themselves as living in a “lucky country” because it has an abundance of mineral resources. James Goodman and David Worth, however, maintain that the mining boom has been a “curse” in disguise. It has sharpened socioeconomic and community divisions, contributed to political conflict, and resulted in “ecological mal-development” with serious environmental consequences. This applies to coal in that it not only contributes to air and water pollution, but is also a major source of carbon dioxide emissions and thus a major contributor to climate change.… | more…

Social Inequities and Exclusions in Kerala’s ‘Egalitarian’ Development

Social inequalities and exclusions can devastate people’s lives, especially when they are far from the centers of power and control. This wreckage can be seen in many different parts of their lives, but particularly in their health. The health of any given country’s population is primarily determined by politics, and public policies play a critical role. All over the world, countries with a history of egalitarian ideologies, and corresponding policies aimed at reducing social inequalities, have healthier populations. The Indian state of Kerala, which has a long-running radical political tradition and a history of social-reform movements in the early twentieth century, is acclaimed for its achievements in health and social-sector development, including low levels of mortality and fertility, and high levels of life expectancy and literacy—all despite its low-performing economy. Kerala has become a veritable mecca for other low-income nations in social development and health advancement.… | more…

The Labor Share Question in China

In the past two decades, China’s economic growth has been increasingly dependent on investment. To maintain the growth of investment, China must sustain a fairly high rate of profit, and the fall in labor’s share has been seen as a crucial factor to sustain profitability.… Although the mainstream economists have widely admitted there is a downward trend for labor’s share in China, they explain this trend with a story that has nothing to do with class struggle. In this story, the decline of labor’s share is caused by sectoral changes, mainly the decrease of agriculture and the increase of industry and services as a percent of GDP in the reform era…. [But] Does the decline of labor’s share result from sectoral changes?… [In fact] the decline of labor’s share resulted from the loss in the power of the working class during the transition to capitalism. Sectoral changes have disguised the class conflicts in this historical process.… | more…

European Labor

Political and Ideological Crisis in an Increasingly More Authoritarian European Union

Acute economic and political drama mark contemporary Europe. The terrible trauma of the financial crisis has been followed by a sovereign-debt disaster. In the countries most deeply affected, the people have been faced with massive attacks on public services, wages, pensions, trade unions, and social rights. The draconian austerity policies have pushed the situation in those countries from bad to worse, leading them into a deep depression.… Confronted with these multiple crises, the traditional labor movements appear perplexed and partly paralyzed. Social democracy is in political and ideological disarray and confusion, reflecting a deep crisis in these movements. On the one hand, social democrats have played a leading role in fierce attacks on trade unions and the welfare state in countries where they have been in power. On the other hand, other social democrats adopt statements and support appeals that sharply condemn the political course now followed by the European Union.… | more…

Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature

The rediscovery over the last decade and a half of Marx’s theory of metabolic rift has come to be seen by many on the left as offering a powerful critique of the relation between nature and contemporary capitalist society. The result has been the development of a more unified ecological world view transcending the divisions between natural and social science, and allowing us to perceive the concrete ways in which the contradictions of capital accumulation are generating ecological crises and catastrophes.… Yet, this recovery of Marx’s ecological argument has given rise to further questions and criticisms.… | more…

The Epochal Crisis

It is an indication of the sheer enormity of the historical challenge confronting humanity in our time that the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, sometimes now called the Second Great Depression, is overshadowed by the larger threat of planetary catastrophe, raising the question of the long-term survival of innumerable species—including our own. An urgent necessity for the world today is therefore to develop an understanding of the interconnections between the deepening impasse of the capitalist economy and the rapidly accelerating ecological threat—itself a by-product of capitalist development.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 4 (September 2013)

September 2013 (Volume 65, Number 4)

» Notes from the Editors

When confronted in the 1980s with the failure of the younger generation of economists (both mainstream and radical) to take seriously the issue of the return of economic stagnation, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy stated in their book Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (Monthly Review Press, 1987, 12): “There is a temptation to say: just wait and see, you’ll find out soon enough. But it would be a cop-out to leave it at that. We owe it to our readers at least to try to make clearer what we mean by stagnation and why we think it is so important.” They proceeded to do exactly that, producing a work that in terms of the trends of the last quarter-century has to be regarded as prescient.… Today, decades later, we can see the depth of the stagnation tendency of monopoly capitalism finally dawning upon some of the most realistic and competent of mainstream economists.… | more…

The Existing Alternatives in Communications

It matters greatly where you start, in thinking about communications. You may start, for instance, in a mood of excitement and even congratulation that at the present stage of civilization there is a communications system incomparably more vast and efficient than could ever have been imagined: that the voice of radio, the face of television, goes into millions of homes, and that we have the most widely distributed press in the world. You can feel this excitement even if you recognize certain little local difficulties such as a cigarette advertisement appearing just before Robin Hood, or a particularly shocking series in one of the Sunday papers, or even the overnight death of the News Chronicle.… On the other hand, you may be starting from the feeling that never in the history of the world has there been so much production of bad culture. Never, it is true, has there been so much production of any kind, but the percentage of this production which is bad is now appalling.… Many people, good people, have this image of a depraved, or largely depraved, population, whom they call the masses. The people are not profiting by the gleaming machine of communication, but are being reduced to what is usually called a near-moronic mass.… My own starting point is distinct from either of these attitudes. In my view you cannot understand the communications system unless you look at it historically, and this as yet we have not really enough evidence for. Very few people have been working on it.… and because of this, such history of the communications system as exists is mostly bad history, bad history which hides from us the factors which could lead to an understanding of the contemporary situation.… | more…

Introduction to the Second Edition of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism

The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism: An Elaboration of Marxian Political Economy was initially written thirty years ago this coming year as my doctoral dissertation at York University in Toronto. It was expanded into a larger book form with three additional chapters (on the state, imperialism, and socialist construction) and published by Monthly Review Press two years later. The analysis of both the dissertation and the book focused primarily on the work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, and particularly on the debate that had grown up around their book, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966). In this respect The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism was specifically designed, as its subtitle indicated, as an “elaboration” of their underlying theoretical perspective and its wider implications.… Three decades later much has changed, in ways that make the reissuing of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism in a new edition seem useful and timely. The scholarly research into Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital has expanded enormously in the intervening years, most notably with the publication of the two missing chapters of Monopoly Capital—one on the theoretical implications of their analysis for economics, the other on culture and communications—and through research into their joint correspondence. The Great Financial Crisis and the resurfacing of economic stagnation have engendered new interest in this tradition of thought. Under this historical impetus the theory itself has advanced to address new developments, particularly with respect to the understanding of stagnation, financialization, and the globalization of monopoly capital.… | more…

Marx, Kalecki, and Socialist Strategy

A historical perspective on the economic stagnation afflicting the United States and the other advanced capitalist economies requires that we go back to the severe downturn of 1974–1975, which marked the end of the post-Second World War prosperity. The dominant interpretation of the mid–1970s recession was that the full employment of the earlier Keynesian era had laid the basis for the crisis by strengthening labor in relation to capital. As a number of prominent left economists, whose outlook did not differ from the mainstream in this respect, put it, the problem was a capitalist class that was “too weak” and a working class that was “too strong.” Empirically, the slump was commonly attributed to a rise in the wage share of income, squeezing profits. This has come to be known as the “profit-squeeze” theory of crisis.… | more…

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