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Idle workers at Ford Motor Company's Van Dyke transmission plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan in December, 2018

Economic Surplus, the Baran Ratio, and Capital Accumulation

In 1957, in the Political Economy of Growth, Paul Baran made a seminal contribution to our understanding of the connection between economic surplus—a concept he introduced into the development discussion—and growth. Given that the ruling class controls the surplus of society, how the surplus is used—whether it is invested, consumed, or simply wasted—is at its discretion. The effective utilization of surplus implies a reasonable rate of capital accumulation and economic development. In the following study of the utilization of surplus I compare the size of surplus and gross capital formation in a variety of countries starting from the mid–nineteenth century. | more…

Protesters shouting slogans for migrant workers' rights outside an employment agency in Hong Kong last year. One in three households with children in Hong Kong employs a foreign domestic worker, who works an average of over 70 hours a week

Fighting for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong

Eni Lestari interviewed by Promise Li

The precarious state of migrant workers has become a major area of concern for the contemporary global economy. In Southeast Asian regions in particular, the number of migrant workers has spiked since the 1990s. In the city of Hong Kong, domestic migrant workers, predominantly Filipino and Indonesian women, now make up around a tenth of the total working population. Since the beginning of Southeast Asia’s labor diaspora, activists have been fiercely organizing against the rampant exploitation and abuse of migrant workers. | more…

Chinese Yuan

Renminbi: A Century of Change

There is considerable interest in the history and characterization of China’s economy. This overview of the evolution of the renminbi from the late Qing dynasty to the present, shows how China’s political and economic changes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are reflected in the development of its highly contested modern currency system. | more…

Panoramic view at Shanghai Pudong from the Eton Hotel

On the Nature of the Chinese Economic System

There is considerable debate within China about the nature of the economy, including recognition of tendencies toward state capitalism. Consequently, most writers focus theorization of the many possible paths the economy could take—whether toward or away from capitalism. The present article takes a step further, arguing that the Chinese system today still contains some key components of socialism and is compatible with a market, or market-based, socialism that is clearly distinct from capitalism. | more…

A factory along the Yangtze River in China

A Subaltern Perspective on China’s Ecological Crisis

The modernization paradigm pursued by China has tended to privilege industry over agriculture, urban over rural, and the middle class over the subaltern, with the country’s growth statistics and policy emphases accordingly geared to such a paradigm. This has resulted in almost mindless degradation of nature. The key question China faces is thus not one of more progress or more growth, but of the multiple tasks of reversing the dire damage already done to its ecology, society, and culture. | more…

Farmers fertilizing an aerobic rice field

Rural Communities and Economic Crises in Modern China

Throughout China’s nearly seventy-year history of industrialization and financialization, whenever the cost of an economic crisis could be transferred to the rural sector, capital-intensive urban industries have had a “soft landing” and existing institutional arrangements have been maintained—a pattern that continues today. We argue that Chinese peasants and rural communities have rescued the country from no fewer than ten such economic crises. | more…

From Commune to Capitalism: How China's Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

From Commune to Capitalism: How China’s Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

In the early 1980s, China undertook a massive reform that dismantled its socialist rural collectives and divided the land among millions of small peasant families. Known as the decollectivization campaign, it is one of the most significant reforms in China's transition to a market economy. From the beginning, the official Chinese accounts, and many academic writings, uncritically portray this campaign as a huge success, both for the peasants and the economy as a whole. This mainstream history argues that the rural communes, suffering from inefficiency, greatly improved agricultural productivity under the decollectivization reform. It also describes how the peasants, due to their dissatisfaction with the rural regime, spontaneously organized and collectively dismantled the collective system. A closer examination suggests a much different and more nuanced story. By combining historical archives, field work, and critical statistical examinations, From Commune to Capitalism argues that the decollectivization campaign was neither a bottom-up, spontaneous peasant movement, nor necessarily efficiency-improving.  | more…

Inside a Haier Pakistan factory

The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor

Beyond the Rule of Capital?

Three hundred years after what became known in the nineteenth century as the Great Game—a struggle for regional hegemony between the British and Russian Empires—Southwest Asia remains an imperial staging ground. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in September 2001 signaled Washington’s desire to cement its hegemonic position, but seventeen years later it is mired in an unwinnable war, even as the U.S. economy—and that of much of the Western world—endures the “endless crisis” of contemporary capitalism. | more…

Romans during the Decadence

Revolution or Decadence?

Thoughts on the Transition between Modes of Production on the Occasion of the Marx Bicentennial

Revolution is still on the agenda for the global periphery. Restorations in the course of socialist transition are not irrevocable—and in the weak links of the center, breaks in the imperialist front are not inconceivable. | more…

"The Chinese Factory in the Street of Teng-chan at Nagasaki, founded in 1688"

Economic History and the ‘East Wind’

Challenges to Eurocentrism

The decline of Western dominance over the capitalist world system and the concurrent rise of Asia demand a deconstruction of the accepted wisdom of economic history. Understanding the legacy of Eurocentrism in both the rise of capitalism and its historiography is necessary if we are to challenge the dominant discourse and ideological assumptions of the so-called “European miracle.” | more…