Resurrecting Marx (Studies in social philosophy & policy)

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The Classical Marxist Assault on Capitalism. Analytical Marxism versus Libertarian Rights.

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But then the crises stopped. It is just too easy for a Keynesian economist to remark how stable the situation was in the era of financial regulation, lamenting the present situation. Strong state control was something finance capital could afford in an epoch of extraordinary economic growth.

After the collapse of Bretton Woods, the crisis of the s and so on, financial regulation was dismantled piece by piece. Exchange rates became flexible, capital controls were scrapped, and the Glass-Steagall Act was abolished by a Democratic President by the way. Deregulation, self-regulation, light touch regulation, all kinds of pro-banker policies were adopted. The sheer weight of banks and finance on the world economy started to grow. In the EU countries the situation has become farcical, with some banks bigger than the country that hosts them, so that it is now very obvious that the country is hostage to its big banks.

Iceland or Cyprus come to mind. The weight of the banking sector has grown to unprecedented levels [20] :. Part of this madness was the colossal real estate bubble that was, overall, the biggest bubble in history. As the balance of forces among capitalists is established by profits, the best picture of finance capital domination of the world economy is given by the distribution of profits.

Although banks employ a small fraction of the total labour force, nowadays they take between a third and half of total profits [22] :. Click to enlarge graph. The growing decay of capitalism means a growing weight of finance capital. Understanding this trend is the key to understanding capitalism today, including the impossibility of forcing the banks back to financial regulation. Bourgeois strategists do not deal with this issue, as we noted when looking at the IMF document quoted above.

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The question is clear: debt or credit is the only tool capitalism has found to delay a crisis that is the result of its own internal contradictions: the previous fall in the profit rate in the mature sectors, overproduction and slow economic growth. Although the profitability of companies bounced back in the s for a number of reasons that we have explained many times, this was achieved only with an enormous and expanding amount of credit, i.

Debt was needed to get things moving. This was a further help to the big banks in taking the helm of the world economy. Secondly, the public supervisors central banks, etc. Financial innovation, i. One would think that the serious strategists would have anticipated the collapse of this giant house of financial cards. On the contrary, an orgy of optimism was celebrated. Greenspan and co were the heroes of the day. How clever on his part! It was easy to see already a decade ago how the more the financial system was deregulated the more it was prone to producing bubble-collapse cycles, with crises that were more and more frequent and bigger until it all exploded in Some timid voices of dissent started to be heard just before the crisis:.

The last two decades have been marked by rapidly rising household debt-income ratios and corporate debt-equity ratios. He went unnoticed. Then, all of a sudden, every central banker, every economist, and every policy-maker woke up to the sudden reality: the big banks were putting world capitalism in jeopardy. They rushed to re-regulate banking and a whole series of new rules are under discussion or have already been adopted. And yet, nothing changed significantly, because nothing could really change. Banks are not ruined because their top managers are greedy. Modern day capitalism cannot function with bankers that are not greedy and mad for profits.

No amount of new rules will change this. On the contrary, if they do force banks to be more prudent, cutting their profits, they will push them towards even riskier behaviours at a later stage.

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The big banks consider the new regulations a nuisance, but they know that in reality national governments are in their pockets, and they have only to wait some time before everything can get back to business as usual, including golden bonuses and so on.

Even now, after years of crisis, after the banks have been saved with public money, they do whatever they want. Keynesian economists are very angry about this, but this cannot change the historical situation of capitalism. When the First World War broke out, the state was forced to mobilize all the economic and social resources that were available for the war effort. A strong presence of the state in industry was mandatory in these circumstances and public debt exploded as a consequence. After the war, the European economy was in a bad shape.

Resurrecting Marx: Analytical Marxists on Exploitation, Freedom and Justice

After years of vain attempts to return to the gold standard and liberal capitalism, the Crash ended that world for ever. State intervention and the reformist leaders of the labour movement saved capitalism from the abyss. No matter what the political stance of the government was, it was forced to rush in to save industry. The successes of the planned economy in the USSR also played a role to this end. After WWII, strong public intervention in the economy was in place everywhere.

From being an emergency rescue package, now Keynesianism became the orthodox policy in all capitalist countries. The western bourgeoisie accepted strong public intervention for political reasons, but also because profitability was good. The economies was growing, profits were high so everything was fine. The state invested in infrastructure, in public utilities and in economic sectors that were scarcely profitable in the short term.

Wages were growing and unemployment was low so consumption grew apace. Many banks were state-owned, speculative finance was irrelevant and Bretton Woods was a good imitation of the gold standard.

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Everything seemed under control. In the underdeveloped countries, state intervention was the only way of creating modern industries from scratch, but also in the advanced capitalist countries the state was needed to rebuild the economy after the war and to improve the general environment where private capitalists could flourish. Whether they were democracies or dictatorships, underdeveloped or developed, bourgeois regimes everywhere relied on massive public intervention to achieve growth.

These interventions were not simply monetary or fiscal; they implied a strong, direct, long term role of the state as owner and developer of entire economic sectors to the point that we even had five-year plans in imperialist countries like France. The boom was so strong that every critic of Keynes, both among the bourgeois and on the left, was marginalized. Bretton Woods, full employment, the welfare state, were all things capitalism could tolerate because of the most powerful economic upswing in its history:.

The growth of public borrowing, as well as the additional private borrowing it made possible, did sustain purchasing power, and in that way prevented profitability from falling even further than it otherwise would have, keeping the economy turning over. The resulting additions of purchasing power were especially critical in reversing the severe cyclical downturns of , , and the early s, which were far more serious than any during the first postwar quarter century and would likely have led to profound economic dislocations in the absence of the large increases in government and private indebtedness that took place in their wake.

Nevertheless, the ever increasing borrowing that sustained aggregate demand also led to an ever greater build-up of debt, which, over time, left firms and households less responsive to new rounds of stimulus and rendered the economy ever more vulnerable to shocks. Its failure as a means of avoiding crises meant also that at the theoretical level Keynesianism was now being marginalized. Now the best economic policy was no policy at all, with unemployment seen as something brought onto the workers by the workers themselves, and its cure was the elimination of trade unions and so on.

We have already explained why this attempt to go back to the good old days of free market capitalism was doomed from the very beginning. Now, after decades of theoretical justification of globalisation, we are back to Keynesianism, although in a new form. So we have had scores of articles about a return to Keynes, even to Marx [26].

Concepts rise to prominence and fall into oblivion before possibly resurrecting. They do so because the economic environment changes, sometimes slowly but profoundly, at other times suddenly and violently. But they do so also because the discipline is not immune to fashions and fads. This is true, but the question is why these fashions and fads recur. The answer is that they are rooted in the profit needs of the capitalists. In the s state-run industries were good for profits. But this was no longer the case in the s, and yet the state is now more decisive than ever to bolster profits and anti-Keynesian theories are once again considered irrelevant as the bourgeoisie is more and more annoyed with its own theoreticians.

However, what the latter have to help them understand the situation is historical experience. This might seem obvious to anyone, but it is not so. To bourgeois economists history is anathema, a useless series of facts no one is interested in. This is because, for the ruling class, the very existence of historical experience is an unpleasant fact, as it shows that different societies are born, live and die, and therefore, capitalism too will not go on for ever.

Now, however, desperate for an understanding of the present events, even history is back in fashion [29].

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Of course, it is not sufficient to accept that history is part of the necessary tools to study society, to actually understand capitalism. Quite the contrary. In general, the present state of the social sciences is one of deep crisis, just like capitalism, with no viable alternative in sight. Keynesian economists would seem to be better positioned.

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Like zombies in a horror movie, the crisis has pushed them out of the grave. Undoubtedly, they are closer to the real world than the average bourgeois economist who considers more competition as the solution to any social disease. And yet, what are their proposing? If we look at the proposals of the more well known among them such as Stiglitz or Krugman, have they come up with any valid measures?

And the problem of present-day debt is not a small one.

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It cannot be solved by inflation without wiping away the banking system. The political consequences of such a choice would be enormous. What about competitive devaluations, with countries devaluing their currency in order to boost exports? This is the magic solution to stagnation, according to standard Keynesianism. Needless to say, it could work if only a couple of minor countries were to take that road in an attempt to export their way out of the crisis. When every nation debases its currency, the tool is ineffective and produces trade wars and political resentment.

In the concrete conditions that capitalism finds itself in today — with the biggest crisis in the history of capitalism; a truly global crisis on an unprecedented scale — Keynesian policies, and reformist policies in general, are completely utopian. The example of modern day China, which has undertaken Keynesian policies on an enormous scale - creating a housing bubble, unsustainable levels of debt, and increased problems of excess capacity in key sectors — only serves to show the impossibility of Keynesian policies in the concrete situation at the current time, Similarly, the implementation of austerity rather than Keynesian policies by social democratic governments in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and now France also, shows that there is no room for reformism and Keynesian any more.

There is no alternative under capitalism but austerity. The question is not over this or that tax; this or that regulation; this or that reform — the real question is: which class decides economic policy, in other words, what is the social nature of the state? This has always been a weakness of Keynesianism. Only class struggle — and ultimately the socialist transformation of society — can bring about these goals.

Keynesian polices are unfeasible because they are rooted in an epoch of capitalism that has long passed. As long as the big banks and capitalist monopolies rule over the state, full employment, an efficient welfare state and so on are only dreams. The reformists call for a strong public presence in the banking sector; for public investment to reduce unemployment and so on.

Of course we are all in favour of reducing unemployment, increasing, spending on public services, and raising wages: how can one disagree with such reforms and measures? The problem is these measures cannot return the world to the s, any more than listening to the Beatles can. Keynesianism today is ruled out.

The original Keynesianism

What is needed is to fundamentally change the laws under which the economy operates: to abolish the anarchy and chaos of capitalism; to take over the banks and big businesses and put them under a rational plan of production; in short, to carry out the socialist transformation of society. This is the only alternative. Baran and P.

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