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Volume 63, Issue 10 (March)

Monthly Review Volume 63, Number 10 (March 2012)

March 2012 (Volume 63, Number 10)

» Notes from the Editors

As we write this, in late January 2012, international representatives of the ruling class and its power elite—wealthy investors, corporate executives, politicians, state bureaucrats, economists, pundits, and sundry celebrities—are gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the state of the world. Today there is no disguising the fact that some five years since the Great Financial Crisis began, the United States, Europe, and Japan all remain caught in an economic slump that will not go away.… From MR‘s standpoint, the current stagnation is not at all unexpected but represents the normal tendency of global monopoly-finance capital, especially in the mature economies. This tendency was disguised in part during the last three decades or more by a series of financial bubbles (and before that by Cold War military spending). Now with financialization on the rocks capitalism is once again face-to-face with the specter of stagnation, with no visible way out. | more…

The Great Inequality

Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures. | more…

Structural Crisis Needs Structural Change

When stressing the need for a radical structural change it must be made clear right from the beginning that this is not a call for an unrealizable utopia. On the contrary, the primary defining characteristic of modern utopian theories was precisely the projection that their intended improvement in the conditions of the workers’ life could be achieved well within the existing structural framework of the criticized societies…. As we also know, the high-sounding “utilitarian” moral principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” came to nothing since its Benthamite advocacy. The problem for us is that without a proper assessment of the nature of the economic and social crisis of our time—which by now cannot be denied by the defenders of the capitalist order even if they reject the need for a major change—the likelihood of success in this respect is negligible. | more…

Recessions and Human Misery

Dating the Cycle

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) decides the peak and trough dates of the business cycle. Most economists, including the government economists, accept their dates as the bible of research. Their dates do accomplish what they set out to do: they reflect the highest and lowest levels of business activity. This was the definition set by the founder of the NBER and it is very useful for many purposes. Certainly, there is a major gain if all economists use the same dates. Nevertheless, it is useful to ask a different question and use different dates for some purposes. Suppose we do not want to know the peaks and troughs of business activity, but instead we ask: How much human misery is caused by the cycle? There are many ways to answer that question, but the easiest is just to examine the duration of recessions in terms of human misery. | more…

Welcome to the Desert of Transition!

Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans

The world’s attention has been on the political transformations in the Middle East, the wave of protests from Tel Aviv to Madrid to Wall Street, and the ongoing Greek crisis. But in the shadow of this unrest, the post-socialist Balkans have been boiling. Protests displaying for the most part social demands broke out throughout 2011 in Romania, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and, most notably, Croatia. Post-socialist citizens today feel largely excluded from the decision-making process. Most elections have turned out to be little more than a reshuffling of the same political oligarchy with no serious differences in political programs or rhetoric. During the privatization campaigns many lost their jobs, or had labor conditions worsen and pensions evaporate, and most of the guaranteed social benefits (such as free education and health care) have progressively disappeared as well. Neoliberal reforms were portrayed as a necessary part of the EU integration process. | more…

Reviving the Strike in the Shadow of PATCO

In the summer of 2011, labor unrest on both coasts provided a sharp rebuttal to the widely held view that the strike is dead (and buried) in the United States. Even as veterans of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) gathered in Florida to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their historic defeat, a new generation of strikers was taking on big private-sector employers like Verizon and Kaiser Permanente. Last August, 45,000 Verizon workers walked out from Maine to Virginia in a high-profile struggle against contract concessions. One month later, they were joined by 20,000 nurses and other union members similarly opposed to pension and health care givebacks at Kaiser Permanente in California. Both of these struggles came right on the heels of last year’s biggest upsurge, the massive series of public employee demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin that included strike activity by local high school teachers.… Like the walkouts of 2011, [the three books under review] remind us what striking looks like, whether it fails or succeeds in a single union bargaining unit, or becomes part of a broader protest movement. | more…

A Most Reliable Ally

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Unions

Martin Luther King, Jr., edited with introductions by Michael K. Honey, All Labor Has Dignity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 240 pages, $17.00, paperback.

Many Americans who have failed to look deeply into the career of Martin Luther King, Jr. hold false assumptions about him. One is that he was a moderate solely focused on achieving civil rights for American Negroes (his terminology), and that he had a dream about a country where, as he said in August 1963, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Another is that he held to this vision of working within the system and building interracial harmony—”let us not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred”—until the spring of 1967, when for some inexplicable reason the train flew off the tracks. In his (in)famous Riverside Church speech on April 4, 1967, King came out forcefully against the war in Vietnam, defended the National Liberation Front as a voice for people seeking independence from forces like the United States (whose leaders he accused of saying one thing and doing another), and called for a “radical revolution in values” that put poverty and people ahead of “things.” By the time the sanitation workers struck in Memphis one year later, King seemed to have gotten back on track with a more or less traditional labor support role, albeit a critical one, as the spiritual motivator of the strikers. | more…

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