China hints at a tax on capital gains and the Shanghai stock exchange falls by 10%, but then the fall affects all the other major stock exchanges. What does all this indicate? Michael Roberts gives his view on the question.

In his new book, Capitalism Unleashed, Andrew Glyn attempts to explain how capitalism moved from the crisis of the 1970s to recovery in the 1980s and 1990s. However, although full of interesting information, the book fails to provide an overall analysis and misses some essential aspects of Marxist theory.

Milton Friedman died on 16 November aged 94 years. He was one of the foremost bourgeois economists of the 20th century. His reputation as a monetarist theoretician and advisor to the likes of Thatcher, Reagan and Pinochet as these attacked all the gains of the working class was well earned.

The financial press and the investment houses of global finance capital are in euphoria. The world's stock markets are booming. But a closer look reveals that all this euphoria is misleading and the real situation is far less healthy than would appear on the surface.

The Financial Times recently claimed the British economy has been doing rather well out of globalisation. A closer look at the figures shows that what we have before us a growing polarisation, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. On a world scale the position is even worse, which may possibly explain the growing instability all across the globe.

Capitalism cannot provide a decent living to everyone, but as long as it guarantees significant layers of the population a reasonable standard of living it can maintain a degree of social stability. Recent figures on the situation in the USA show that “middle America” is beginning to feel the pinch, a phenomenon which indicates that social turmoil will soon be on the agenda.

One of the key elements in holding up consumer spending – and therefore sales and profits – in the USA has been growing house prices. The growing nominal value of housing has led to a widespread phenomenon of remortgaging, i.e. borrowing more to keep up annual family incomes. This cannot continue for much longer. The signs are already there that we are close to the limit.

Capitalism in the advanced capitalist countries is becoming ever more based on finances and services. The idea is that the actual production of real goods can be done in less developed countries where labour costs are much cheaper. For this to work, the consumer boom in the West must be maintained permanently, otherwise who will buy the goods? Can this be maintained in the long run?

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have ravaged the US coast of the Gulf of Mexico, does the fast-rising oil price presage a worldwide economic recession? The track record of oil shocks is indeed close to perfect. In the case of the US, each of the previous three oil shocks was followed by recession.

Official figures reveal that US corporate profits as share of GDP have moved up from lows in 2001 to reach near record levels in 2005. But if you look over the much longer term, US profits are still below the levels achieved in the 'golden years' of capitalism back in the 1960s. The steady decline of the ability of capitalists to extract profits from their workforces is revealed even more clearly when we look at the profit figures before tax.

Marxist economics answers the question ‘how did the many start poor?’ with an analysis of primitive accumulation, the historical process of the dispossession of the toilers from the means of production and creation of a propertyless working class. We then go on to explain capitalist production as the production not just of commodities, but also of rich and poor. Reproduction is the reproduction not just of factories and offices, but of the capitalists who own them and the workers who labour in them.

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