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Monthly Review Volume 68, Number 1 (May 2016)

May 2016 (Volume 68, Number 1)

A little less than two years ago, in July-August 2014, Monthly Review published a special summer issue under the title Surveillance Capitalism, edited by John Mage.… The lead article by Foster and McChesney was itself entitled “Surveillance Capitalism: Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age.” In Foster and McChesney’s analysis, the problem of surplus absorption under monopoly capital was seen as having led to the development over the last seven decades of a massive surveillance network, extending across the sales effort, finance, and the military, and integral to the entire information economy.… We were therefore pleased to discover that the concept of “surveillance capitalism” has now entered the mainstream and is drawing considerable attention, through the work of Shoshana Zuboff, emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School.… ” She failed, however, to mention the prior treatment of “surveillance capitalism” in Monthly Review, despite the fact that her analysis was written in November 2014—judging by her accessing of numerous articles on the Internet on that date—four months after the MR issue was published and posted online.…… | more…

Obamacare

The Neoliberal Model Comes Home to Roost in the United States—If We Let It

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare) continues along a very bumpy road, it is worth asking where it came from and what comes next. Officially, Obamacare represents the latest in more than a century of efforts in the United States to achieve universal access to health care. In reality, Obamacare has strengthened the for-profit insurance industry by transferring public, tax-generated revenues to the private sector. It has done and will do little to improve the problem of uninsurance in the United States; in fact, it has already begun to worsen the problem of underinsurance. Obamacare is also financially unsustainable because it has no effective way to control costs. Meanwhile, despite benefits for some of the richest corporations and executives, and adverse or mixed effects for the non-rich, a remarkable manipulation of political symbolism has conveyed the notion that Obamacare is a creation of the left, warranting strenuous opposition from the right.… | more…

Orthodox Economics and the Science of Climate Change

We have finally reached the point where most people around the world believe that climate change is really happening. Almost a decade ago, the landmark report by Nicholas Stern sparked a fierce debate among economists, not over whether climate change was real, but over the costs of addressing it. In the years since, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published further alarming reports on projected future global temperatures, rates of glacial melting, and sea levels. Most recently, last December saw an unprecedented agreement by nearly 200 countries at the Paris climate summit to take steps to address the problem.… My concern here is therefore not to continue making the case for the reality of climate change, but instead to show how that reality is portrayed—and distorted—in the mainstream media, with behind-the-scenes assistance from orthodox economic analysis.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 67, Number 11 (April 2016)

April 2016 (Volume 67, Number 11)

The March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is devoted in large part to the topic of economic stagnation.… [Of the] eight articles on stagnation, only one…—”The Age of Secular Stagnation” by Lawrence H. Summers—is, in our opinion, of any real importance.… Summers heavily criticizes those like Robert J. Gordon, in The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016), who attribute stagnation to supply-side “headwinds”…blocking productivity growth.… Likewise Summers dispatches those like Kenneth Rogoff who see stagnation as merely the product of a debt supercycle associated with periodic financial crises.… Despite such sharp criticisms of other mainstream interpretations of stagnation, Summers’s own analysis can be faulted for being superficial and vague, lacking historical concreteness.… In fact, the current mainstream debate on secular stagnation is so superficial and circumspect that one cannot help but wonder whether the main protagonists—figures like Summers, Gordon, Paul Krugman, and Tyler Cowen—are not deliberately tiptoeing around the matter, worried that if they get too close or make too much noise they might awaken some sleeping giant (the working class?) as in the days of the Great Depression and the New Deal.… | more…

Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

Its Relevance Today

As a concept, worker precariousness is far from new. It has a long history in socialist thought, where it was associated from the start with the concept of the reserve army of labor. Frederick Engels introduced the idea of precariousness in his treatment of the industrial reserve army in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx and Engels employed it in this same context in The Communist Manifesto, and it later became a key element in Marx’s analysis of the industrial reserve army in volume I of Capital.… In recent years, however, the notion of precariousness as a general condition of working-class life has been rediscovered. Yet the idea is commonly treated in the eclectic, reductionist, ahistorical fashion characteristic of today’s social sciences and humanities, disconnected from the larger theory of accumulation derived from Marx and the socialist tradition. The result is a set of scattered observations about what are seen as largely haphazard developments.… In the face of such a confusion of views—most of them merely ad hoc responses to what is presumed to be an isolated social problem—it is necessary to turn back to the classical Marxian tradition, where the issue of precariousness was first raised.… | more…

The Broken BBC

From Public Service to Corporate Power

In the face of austerity cuts to state infrastructure provision, the British Broadcasting Corporation has recently generated something of a moral panic about the future of public sector broadcasting—mobilizing both its own news channel and its friends in the corporate media around the issue. Yet in the midst of this ongoing existential crisis, few have asked: What is it we are being asked to defend?… As in car manufacturing, what is provided is a limitedly resourced primary product, altered for different consumption demands, by add-on and take-off parts.… | more…

A New Economy of Knowledge

Longtime Monthly Review and Monthly Review Press author Richard Levins died on January 19, 2016, at the age of eighty-five. A polymath, he studied agriculture, mathematics, genetics, evolution, ecology, and philosophy.… He collaborated with Cuban scientists and served as a scientific advisor for Cuba. With his close friend and coauthor Richard Lewontin he wrote a column, “Eppur´ Si Muove,” for the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, and he actively participated in the progressive organization Science for the People, working to confront the misuse of science. He was, above all, a leading Marxist intellectual, ecologist, biomathematician, philosopher of science, and comrade.… Four months before his death, Levins submitted this essay to Monthly Review. In it he discusses La economía del conocimiento y el socialismo by Agustín Lage, published in 2013 by Editorial Academia del Hispanismo. The book is currently unavailable in English translation. In the pages that follow, we feature this last essay by Levins, under the circumstances substantially unedited, along with his classic article “Living the Eleventh Thesis,” an excerpt from Biology Under the Influence that first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Monthly Review.

—Brett Clark

The Opt Out Revolt

Democracy and Education

In the United States today, the age of monopoly-finance capital and neoliberal politics, all aspects of social life are being financialized at breakneck speed, while the economy as a whole and employment remain lackluster. Financial flows of whatever kind are converted into “securitized” assets to be leveraged by Wall Street speculators. The data of private communications are mined. Health care is converted into a realm of super profits. Public water and electric facilities are sold to the highest bidder. The political system is turned into an open-air auction. Even pollution is treated as a market.… At the center of this juggernaut is elementary and secondary education, which receives over $550 billion in annual public spending, equal to the GDP of Belgium, ranked twenty-fifth worldwide in national income. The new copyrighted Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying standardized tests run by two multi-state consortia in conjunction with testing companies, are “high stakes” not merely for schools, teachers, and students, but also for the vested interests of capital.… | more…

Opting Out of the Education Reform Industry

Big business has long been enamored of public education. Whether shaping systems of schooling along the lines of factory production, dictating what children should learn, or cultivating private-public partnerships to gain access to government monies, corporations and their owners have insisted on being key players in the formation of education policy and practice in the United States. Analysts estimate the value of the K-12 education market at more than $700 billion dollars. Beyond their calls for students and workers to adapt to the global capitalist economy through increased competition and “accountability” in public schools, business leaders crave access to a publicly funded, potentially lucrative market—one of the last strongholds of the commons to be penetrated by neoliberalism.… In an education industry dependent on market competition to increase profitability, there is no better tool to turn teaching and learning into products—ready to measure, compare, and sell—than the high-stakes standardized tests championed by the contemporary education reform movement.… | more…

February 2016 (Volume 67, Number 9)

February 2016 (Volume 67, Number 9)

From mainstream news reports, one might easily conclude that the Paris climate agreement, presented to the world on December 12, 2015, was a complete triumph. The Guardian headlined it as “The World’s Greatest Diplomatic Success.” However, by any meaningful criteria, the Paris climate change agreement was fraudulent, based on a fabric of illusion. Moreover, the distorted media coverage of the climate deal, presenting it as a historical agreement virtually without shortcomings, was made possible in large part by the French government’s banning of the mass climate protests, following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. With radical protestors silenced and their demands marginalized, the global power elite could make virtually any public claims it wished, without acknowledging any other public voice or alternative view.… | more…

Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century

Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis

Winner of the first Paul A. Baran–Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Award for an original monograph concerned with the political economy of imperialism, John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century is a seminal examination of the relationship between the core capitalist countries and the rest of the world in the age of neoliberal globalization. Deploying a sophisticated Marxist methodology, Smith begins by tracing the production of certain iconic commodities—the T-shirt, the cup of coffee, and the iPhone—and demonstrates how these generate enormous outflows of money from the countries of the Global South to transnational corporations headquartered in the core capitalist nations of the Global North. From there, Smith draws on his empirical findings to powerfully theorize the current shape of imperialism.… | more…

January 2016 (Volume 67, Number 8)

January 2016 (Volume 67, Number 8)

Prabhat Patnaik’s Review of the Month in this issue addresses problems of economic stagnation and imperialism in the context of explaining the current global crisis. Patnaik is part of a broad tradition of Marxian thought and heterodox economic analysis more generally that has long focused on issues of economic stagnation under monopoly capitalism. Such questions are now finally being taken up even by orthodox economists, but in ways that systematically ignore decades of contributions in this regard made by heterodox theorists. Ever since Larry Summers raised the issue of secular stagnation (referring back to Alvin Hansen’s theory of the 1930s and ’40s) at an IMF meeting in 2013, the question of stagnation has become part of a worldwide economic debate, moving issues that were once on the margins to center stage. This has resulted in a proliferation of mainstream economic treatments of the history of the secular stagnation concept in the 1930–1950s period, after which mainstream economists had essentially declared the issue dead.… | more…

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