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Political Economy


Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science

Thanks to breakthroughs in production and food science, agribusiness has been able to devise new ways to grow more food and get it more places more quickly. There is no shortage of news items on the hundreds of thousands of hybrid poultry—each animal genetically identical to the next—packed together in megabarns, grown out in a matter of months, then slaughtered, processed, and shipped to the other side of the globe. In Big Farms Make Big Flu, a collection of dispatches by turns harrowing and thought-provoking, Rob Wallace tracks the ways influenza and other pathogens emerge from an agriculture controlled by multinational corporations.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 68, Number 2 (June 2016)

June 2016 (Volume 68, Number 2)

On April 8, 2016, in what has already become a historic case on the climate, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the United States District Court of Oregon ruled against a motion to dismiss, in favor of the youthful plaintiffs in the Children’s Trust lawsuit (Kelley Cascade Rose Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al.) and against the defendants, consisting of the federal government and the fossil-fuel industry.… The defendants’ argument to dismiss was directed principally at what they contended were limits on the federal government’s public trust responsibility. It thus turned on whether the United States was obligated simply to follow capitalist precepts with respect to the natural-physical environment, or whether the government had a public trust to maintain the environment for the population and for future generations, going beyond the rules of the market.… | more…

Marx’s Ecology and the Left

One of the lasting contributions of the Frankfurt School of social theorists, represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, was the development of a philosophical critique of the domination of nature.… Yet their critique of the Enlightenment exploitation of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital.… So all-encompassing was the critique of the “dialectic of the Enlightenment” within the main line of the Frankfurt School, and within what came to be known as “Western Marxism”…, that it led to the estrangement of thinkers in this tradition not only from the later Marx, but also from natural science—and hence nature itself. Consequently, when the ecological movement emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, Western Marxism, with its abstract, philosophical notion of the domination of nature, was ill-equipped to analyze the changing and increasingly perilous forms of material interaction between humanity and nature.… | more…

Beyond Opt Out

A Broader Challenge to Corporate School Reform

As the corporate takeover of public schools proceeds apace on a global scale, so too does the grassroots resistance. In the United States…. [o]ver 600,000 parents opted their children out of the tests in spring 2015; students have launched walkouts and boycotts; school boards are passing resolutions against overtesting; and teachers at a Seattle high school collectively refused to administer a test they deemed harmful to instruction. These actions and more demonstrate the hope and promise of public schools as sites for resilience and democratic resistance, even as corporate interests tighten their grip on schools under cover of “education reform.” This article reflects strategically on the fight for public education, with a special focus on the Opt Out movement, which was recently the subject of a special issue of Monthly Review. My treatment applauds opting out as a tactic in an organizing toolkit, but rejects it as a strategy, and takes issue with the analysis of corporate school reform proffered by the leading advocates of Opt Out.… | more…

Self-Rule in the Balance

Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy (London: Routledge, 2014), 252 pages, $30.95, paperback.

In They Rule, Paul Street offers a thorough deconstruction of the status quo of U.S. capitalism. The book’s subtitle gives a nod to the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose main victory was to popularize the concept of U.S. class conflict, as embodied in the “1 percent.” The title also recalls John Carpenter’s 1987 film They Live, a sci-fi spoof of the Reagan era that prefigured the Occupy revolt. Carpenter’s characters don “magic sunglasses” for intellectual defense against media misinformation.… One current form of that misinformation is the view that the Democratic Party exercises “left” politics. Street smashes this notion.… [However,] this is no academic query.… | more…

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…


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