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Volume 55, Issue 11 (April)

April 2004 (Volume 55, Number 11)

Notes from the Editors

This is the fourth in a continuing series of special issues on the economy to which we have devoted the magazine each April since 2001. In the first of these, written shortly before the 2001 recession began, we took on the then prevalent myth of the “New Economy,” arguing that it was more myth than reality, and dispelling the notion that high tech and rising productivity gains had somehow tamed the business cycle. In April 2002 we dedicated the Review of the Month to examining the core economic contradictions of the system in terms of “Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt.” Last April we asked the question, “What Recovery?” and focused on the fact that the recovery had failed to spread to employment, and on the whole problem of labor underutilization—inquiring into how the economy managed to keep going at all under these circumstances. | more…

The Stagnation of Employment

Except in times of war, capitalist economies almost never reach full employment. The mere absence of jobs for those desiring paid employment, however, is not necessarily a problem for the ruling economic interests. Unemployment and the underutilization of labor more generally—the existence of what Marx called the industrial reserve army of labor—is a necessary part of a capitalist economy, since it keeps wages low as workers are forced to compete with each other for jobs. This becomes a serious problem for the system or for the political structure when the shortfall in employment coincides with a deeper structural crisis; when aggregate demand and thus investment opportunities are hindered by low employment and low wages; and when a shortage of jobs creates a political problem, sometimes even igniting popular opposition at the grassroots of society. All three of these contradictions are apparent in 2004, setting the stage for a national debate on the question of jobs, which more than three years since the beginning of the 2001 recession is now suddenly a front page story | more…

Disposable Workers: Today’s Reserve Army of Labor

These are difficult times for workers. In the wealthy countries of capitalism’s center, labor is struggling to maintain existing wages and benefits against a combined assault by corporations and governments, while conditions of workers in the periphery are even more difficult. The widespread acceptance and adoption of capital’s agenda—”free trade,” “free markets,” greater “flexibility” regarding labor, and reduced social welfare assistance—has led to one group of real winners. Transnational corporations (and their owners and top managers) now have more freedom to produce where labor and other costs are cheap, have their patents protected, and move capital in and out of countries at will. Many workers, unfortunately, are finding that their situation has become more tenuous. | more…

New Economy R.I.P.

Doug Henwood, After the New Economy (New York: The New Press, 2003), 269 pages, hardcover $24.95.

In the late nineties, the San Francisco Bay Area was caught up in the mania of the high-tech, information-based “New Economy.” Venture capitalists threw money at e-commerce start-ups based on dicey premises, while loss-making companies raked in millions at their initial public offerings. In low income areas like the Mission District, dot-coms moved in, forcing out poor people whose only recourse was to organize themselves in anti-displacement coalitions and hope for the market to crash. In the fray, even a new type of gold digger emerged: women in search of nerdly adolescent millionaires with fat stock options. It was a stupefying time | more…

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