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Economic stagnation: drowning in surplus

The Clock Slows Down

This article will be made available online on October 23.

Despite its inherent hazard of excess capacity, capitalism is distinguished by the vast, long-run expansion of its productive forces. How come? To answer this, we need to move from theory to history.… | more…

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Remarks on Capitalism and the Environment It Produces

“Remarks on Capitalism and the Environment It Produces” is a recently discovered draft paper of Harry Magdoff’s. The exact date and location of its presentation is unknown; however the occasion was quite clearly a panel on economist Michael Tanzer’s The Sick Society (1971). We can therefore assume that it was written in 1971 or 1972. It is provided here in its original form with only minor copyediting. The title has been added. In our view, the chief importance of the paper is Magdoff’s early development of ecological ideas, ideas that are now much more common on the left.

—The Editors, Monthly Review

The New Stage of Globalization

By the end of 1990, foreign direct investment—that is, investment in manufacturing, real estate, raw materials, extraction, financial institutions, etc., made by capitalists of all lands outside their national borders—reached over $1.5 trillion…. [W]hat is significant about this number is not only its size but the unprecedented speed with which it has grown in the last two decades: the amount directly invested in foreign lands nearly tripled in the 1980s alone…. This upsurge and diversification of globalization has been introducing new economic and political features in the countries of both the periphery and the core. In the periphery, foreign capital has penetrated more widely and deeply than ever before. In the core, this change of direction has helped produce in the world’s key money markets an extraordinary spiraling of credit creation, international flows of money capital, and speculation.… | more…

Primitive Accumulation and Imperialism

To mark the centenary this year of the birth of Harry Magdoff, born August 21, 1913, Monthly Review is publishing the following talk found in his papers, and originally entitled “Primitive Accumulation.” The precise date and occasion of the talk is unknown. However, an inspection of the contents suggests that it was probably delivered not long after the publication of Arghiri Emmanuel’s article “White-Settler Colonialism and the Myth of Investment Imperialism,” in the May–June 1972 issue of New Left Review, and before the publication of Magdoff’s long article, “Colonialism: European Expansion Since 1763,” which appeared in the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica late in 1974. It appears that the audience was aware in advance of the two topics to be discussed: Marx’s treatment of “So-Called Primitive Accumulation” in volume 1 of Capital and Emmanuel’s article on “White-Settler Colonialism.”

Capitalism and the Fallacy of Crude Underconsumptionism

The question of “underconsumptionism” is a tangled one—due not only to the commonplace fallacy associated with what is known as “crude underconsumptionism,” but also because the term has been used at various times to refer to what Joseph Schumpeter in his History of Economic Analysis called “non-spending” or effective demand theories (the second in a typology of underconsumption theories designated by Schumpeter). Underconsumption in this sense, however, would encompass theorists like Keynes and Kalecki who focus not on underconsumption per se, but on underinvestment. Hence, the term is no longer applied to theories of this type (except by some Marxian critics of “underconsumptionism”).… In the following exchange with Jonathan Penzner published in the April 1982 issue of Monthly Review, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, then editors of the magazine, pointed to the fallacy of crude underconsumptionism.

Financial Instability: Where Will It All End?

The recession that began in the second quarter of 1981 (the second in two years) dragged on into 1982. Most observers look for some recovery in the second half of the year, but hardly anyone expects it to be vigorous. Meanwhile, all the typical signs of stagnation continue to be in evidence. The official unemployment rate which stood at 7.6 percent in 1981 rose to 9.5 percent by the middle of 1982, and the manufacturing capacity utilization rate fell from 79.9 percent to 69.9 percent in the same period.… The counterpart to this stagnation in the realm of production and employment was a continuing ballooning of the financial superstructure of the economy which, as the essays in this volume have been at pains to emphasize, has been one of the most spectacular features of capitalist development during the post-Second World War period.… | more…

No Nukes!

Considerations of Environmental Protection Criteria for Radioactive Waste, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation Programs, Waste Environmental Standards Program, Washington, D.C. 20460, February 1978.

Most government reports make dull reading, and this one is no exception. But it contains a message which needs to be taken in by everyone even minimally concerned about the future of the human race. That message, quite simply, is that there is not and cannot be a safe program for disposing of radioactive wastes. The reasons are basically simple, do not depend on any complicated scientific arguments, and cannot be refuted or made irrelevant by any conceivable increase in scientific knowledge or technological capability. They can be summed up in a series of quotations from the report.… | more…

The Meaning of Work: A Marxist Perspective

Marxists may be expected to have few disagreements about the meaning of work in the past and present. The same cannot be said, however, about work in the future. Since I will be talking about work under socialism and communism as well as in history, what I am presenting here is a Marxist perspective, not the Marxist perspective… | more…

Four Letters on Capitalism and Socialism

Even when Harry Magdoff was writing articles less often in his final years, he continued to compose letters that displayed his keen interest in world developments, the evolution of his thinking, and his deep personal commitments. Reprinted here are four letters he wrote in the opening years of the new millennium. The first was written while he still lived in New York. The last three were written in Vermont where Harry had moved in June 2002 to live with his son Fred and his daughter-in-law Amy Demarest. The fragilities of old age had largely confined him by then to home. But his thinking still knew no bounds… | more…

Approaching Socialism

Among the arguments against socialism is that it goes against human nature. “You can’t change human nature” is the frequently heard refrain. That may be true of basic human instincts such as the urge to obtain food to eat, reproduce, seek shelter, make and wear protective clothing. However, what has usually been referred to as “human nature” has changed a great deal during the long history of humankind. As social systems changed, many habits and behavioral traits also changed as people adapted to new social structures. Anatomically modern humans emerged some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Over the tens of thousands of years since, many different kinds of social organizations and societies have developed. Initially, most were based on hunting and gathering, while for about the last 7,000 years many have been based on agriculture. These societies were organized as clans, villages, tribes, city-states, nations, and/or empires… | more…