Economy


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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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The criticism of Marx’s approach essentially boils down to the complaint that he is not an equilibrium economist. This criticism is quite correct. Marx has a fundamentally different method from neoclassical or post-Ricardian economists – dialectical economics.

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When Meghnad Desai comes to discuss this aspect of Marx’s work, this is the area where his ‘equilibrium’ interpretation of Marx’s economics leads him most seriously astray. He seems to imply that Marx can be used to defend the idea of the long-term survival of capitalism, which is something alien to Marx. It is also an oversimplification of what Marx said.

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The socialist calculation debate is usually regarded as beginning in 1920 with a challenge to the socialists thrown down by the right wing Austrian economist von Mises. He opined that rational economic calculation would be impossible in a socialist commonwealth. Unfortunately, the socialists who took up this challenge did not, with the sole exception of Maurice Dobb of the British Communist Party, regard themselves as Marxists.

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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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Bourgeois economics uses as a central tool of analysis the concept of equilibrium – of capitalism in a state of rest. We regard Marxism as essentially based on the economy in a constant state of motion and therefore in permanent disequilibrium – or rather a condition where the notion of equilibrium has no meaning.

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Economists, with outstanding exceptions such as Marx, have usually set out to glorify capitalism. They tend to conclude that it will automatically produce full employment and increasing prosperity – so long as nobody messes about with its workings. That is the outlook of monetarism. But Marxists believe that Keynesianism doesn’t work either. It doesn’t work because capitalism can’t be made to work. The problem of capitalism in crisis is not just a matter of inadequate demand - of markets - it’s a problem of profitable markets.

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Marxists believe that the principle contradiction of the capitalist system is between the increasingly social nature of production it opens up and develops, and the retention of private appropriation. This is a very general proposition, which will be enlarged on and explained throughout this article.

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Meghnad Desai has published a book, Marx’s Revenge in which he poses a fundamental question for Marxists – could capitalism go on for ever? The short answer to this is that capitalism will last until such time as it is overthrown through socialist revolution, conscious action by millions of people. So the question needs to be reformulated: is socialism on the agenda? If capitalism is a flawed system, as we argue, then it will offer endless opportunities for its overthrow. Desai, on the other hand, seems to argue that a crisis-free future is possible for capitalism. Talk of socialism is therefore premature. Mick Brooks argues the case for socialism in the

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The world economy is being sustained by US consumer spending and Chinese manufacturing. US consumer spending is based on the illusion of growing property values, but these cannot keep going up forever. The property bubble in the US will burst and when it does it will have devastating effects on the whole of the world economy.

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House price increases are slowing down in Britain. In June in London prices actually fell. This is the beginning of the end of the house price bubble and it will be very painful for many families who have borrowed on the basis of the increased equity in their property. It will have a knock-on effect on the whole economy as spending is already slowing.

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Over the past couple of years the U.S. economy has gained some momentum and avoided slipping back into recession, but this was based on the increased squeezing of the U.S. and world working class, not job growth or significant investment in productive capacity. Even if the U.S. economy miraculously takes off in the second half of 2005, the damage has already been done for millions of working Americans.

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Behind all the optimistic talk about the health of world capitalism from Bush, Blair etc, the more serious analysts are worried. In its semi-annual report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced that it is cutting its forecasts for all leading economies. It may not happen this year, but the huge imbalance in the world economy is going to crack.

In the 1980s there was a debate within the Marxist tendency about productive and unproductive labour. Here we provide a contribution to that debate by Mick Brooks. Although this is archive material, we believe it will help today’s generation to better understand capitalism in order to overthrow it.


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As the Chinese bureaucracy pushes the economy of China more and more along the capitalist road, more contradictions are appearing. The more the economy is integrated into the world market the more it will be prone to all the ups and downs of world capitalism. A serious slowdown on a world scale will have devastating effects.

In 1916 in the midst of the First World War Lenin produced a Marxist masterpiece, entitled “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. With US imperialism extending its domination over the whole of the world, this book is more relevant than ever. Eighty years after Lenin’s death we publish an appraisal of this classic work.

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Who produces the wealth and who gains most from its production? In a pamphlet written 97 years ago, John Wheatley described an imaginary court case, with a coalmaster, a landowner and several others being charged with “having conspired together and robbed an old miner, Dick McGonnagle." Its basic class analysis remains valid for workers today as they are still being robbed.

Henry Ford had a mythical reputation as a “people's capitalist”, a man who was smart enough to design a car that ordinary workers could afford, and a boss who paid his workers enough to buy Ford cars. Nothing could be further from the truth! The great lesson of labour relations at Ford's from its beginning is that every improvement for the workers was gained through bitter and unremitting struggle. By Mick Brooks

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Paying particular attention to the US, European and Chinese economies, Michael Roberts analyses the real state of the world economy. As we head into the Christmas season, things are not looking so merry for world capitalism.

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The news that Kerry has conceded defeat has just come through. We will publish a full analysis of the US election results tomorrow. In the meantime we are publishing this article which looks at the state of the US economy and traces its long term decline. Whether Bush or Kerry had won it would not have made a fundamental difference. They both defend US imperialism. They could not come out with fundamentally different policies for they are tied to the same basic economic interests. In fact the extreme similarity between the two explains why Kerry could not defeat Bush. Any policy based on the US economy as it is today means one thing: an attack on the living standards of American...

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Over the summer, world stock markets trod water. Indeed, the movement up or down in share prices was the smallest since 1979. That tells us that investors in capitalism are really unsure whether the world economy is set for sustained growth (as their political leaders tell them it is) or not.

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The US and British capitalists are gloating about how their economies are currently growing at 3-4% a year while Europe's big capitalist economies and Japan are hardly managing 2%. However, there is another side to this. Two recent reports show that the US and Britain also hold the record for the highest levels of poverty and social inequality. Capitalism only works for some.

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In the USA, in Britain, even in Japan all the talk is now of economic recovery and boom. But scratch just a little below the surface and a completely different picture emerges - one of longer hours, later retirement, huge personal debt and a growing polarisation between rich and poor. The main European powers have all this and hardly any economic growth to talk of. Michael Roberts looks at the real state of the economy in the advanced capitalist world.

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The German economy is the largest in Europe. Since the recession of 2001, the German government has been claiming an economic upswing is imminent. But are these predictions realistic? Christoph Mürdter analyses the real direction of the German economy.

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Has British capitalism has finally overcome what used to be called the British disease: slower growth, higher inflation, continual currency crises and a falling behind in living standards compared with the US, Europe and Japan? Growth figures actually disguise a far more diseased system that the media would like us to see.

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If you think things in the USA are bad now, wait till after the US elections. Once the result is in the bag (either for Bush or whoever stands for the Democrats) economic policy will switch from the present spending spree (mainly on arms) to cuts in welfare. The present level of indebtedness cannot be maintained for ever. Sooner or later the capitalists will make the workers pay.

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The big financial institutions and investors have become hugely optimistic about the revival of economic growth and employment. They reckon that the weapons of mass growth (WMG) will be found. Everything is looking better, according to the latest intelligence sources, Messrs Bush, Blair, Schroeder and Greenspan tell us.  The reality is that US growth in 2003 was artificially created and will prove to be ephemeral in 2004.

Further to the publication of the Introduction to debate between AG and MB on The tendency of the rate of profit to fall and post-war capitalism and A reply to AG by Mick Brooks, we are publishing this piece by Mick Brooks which puts that debate into the context of the decline of British capitalism after the Second World War. It highlights the crisis of bourgeois economic theory and also the limitations in the method of AG.


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As you read this, the papers are probably full of the news that the US economy is growing at the fantastic rate of over 6% a year. No wonder the stock markets of the world have been booming. However, Michael Roberts points out that in reality the economic growth that the US is now enjoying is an illusion. It is based on unhealthy premises of state spending and a massive credit boom, neither of which can last for much longer.

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Last September 14, world trade talks broke down in Cancun, Mexico. Everybody blamed everyone else. Before the conference, British delegate Patricia Hewitt had predicted, "if we fail, it will be a disaster for world economy." And this is true, for the collapse could stun the already fragile prospects of economy recovery.

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Instead of further integrating the world's economies, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit in Cancun actually succeeded in creating more polarisation and deeper divisions between its members. The viability of the WTO, which since Seattle (December 1999) has gone from failure to failure, is more than ever in doubt. Luis Enrique Barrios, from the Mexican Marxist paper Militante analyses the breakdown of talks and future prospects.

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The world’s stock markets are hitting their highs for the year. Optimism rules in this sunniest and hottest of summers. The bulls (investors who reckon stock prices are going to rise) are in the ascendancy and the bears (those who forecast falling share prices) are in their caves. But is this optimism justified? Profits are up in the oil and the banking sectors. In industry as a whole profits are not up, as companies are finding it difficult to up prices in the world market.

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Marxists are often accused of having a class bias, of having an irrational prejudice against the capitalist class. We must admit, that yes we don't particularly appreciate the fact that while millions go hungry in the underdeveloped countries a handful of super-rich billionaires actually decide on the fate of the world.

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The debate over whether Britain should join the Euro is heating up. On both sides of the debate we find a capitalist logic being applied. One side stands for so-called British "sovereignty", the other praises the merits of the wider market. Neither side is defending the real interests of the workers. As Mick Brooks points out, "The answer is surely for us to control the movement of capital by taking over the means of production, not relying on the goodwill of our enemy, the capitalist class."

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In the first three months of the year, the US economy grew at a 1.6% annual rate. All the signs are that the economic recession of 2001, from which 2002 saw a recovery, is now returning in 2003. The US economy is heading for what economists like to call a 'double-dip'.

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Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the American empire? The 20th century was the century of America’s rise to supremacy. Now, in spite of its present might, the US economy is showing all the signs of a future demise. It is no accident that just as the US economy begins to show its weakness, its emperors try to flex their muscles militarily. But the Empire looks as though it might be overstretching itself just when it seems that it is all-powerful.

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Maverick Nobel prize-winning economist Stiglitz lifts the lid on his years as Chief Economist to the World Bank and what really goes on behind the scenes. Though he’s certainly no Marxist, his insights confirm the correctness of the Marxist outlook on the world economy and its ruling institutions.

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This time last year, all the talk among the capitalist economic experts was about the V-shaped economic recovery that world capitalism would make in 2002. All stock market experts expected a significant rally in share prices. The main risk was a return to higher inflation. Everybody expected that the main central banks would have to raise interest rates in order to curb price rises. This column, however, argued that the underlying economic forces increasingly suggested that the recession of 2001 was developing into the depression of 2002. .The whole world is now levered on what happens in the US, even more than it was in the 1930s. .The danger in 2002 is...

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The capitalist forecasters have got renewed optimism about the global economy and the value of their investments on the stock market. After huge falls in stock prices during September, the last two weeks have seen a significant rally in world financial market prices - up 15%. But world's stock markets are still down 15-20% on the year, which if maintained, would make it the third year in a row that they have fallen. That would not have happened since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Michael Roberts looks at the prospects for the world economy as it slides further into decline.

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On the one hand, Blair prepares to send troops into Iraq behind the coattails of the Americans to overthrow Saddam. On the other hand, he and 'two Jags' Prescott prepare to send in troops to break the picket lines of the firefighters. If you adopt the policies of capitalism abroad, inevitably you will adopt them in domestic policy.

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The mood of optimism about the world economy that arose during the summer months has now dissipated. The talk now is that there is a real risk of the US slipping back into an economic recession, taking the rest of the world with it. World stock markets are still pricing in the scenario of a quick victory in Iraq. But even if this were to happen, it might briefly improve "confidence" but it won't get businesses out of debt and it won't create jobs. Bush's Iraqi adventure is no way out for world capitalism at best, and it could be the tipping point for a world economic depression at worst.

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Stock markets in the US and Europe have bounced up during August. Indeed, after reaching a new low on July 24, they've now recovered by 20%. It seems that there is some renewed optimism that capitalism is not going to slip into recession after all, but can make a steady recovery. But beneath all the hype the cruel realities of the economic data in America, Europe and Japan remain unchanged.

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On Saturday, the Financial Times, a leading bourgeois publication, contained a prominent article entitled "Full Marx". Given the current crisis unfolding under their noses, bourgeois academics are once again forced to recognise the important contribution of Marx's analysis of capitalism.

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After all the talk of an economic revival in the USA, the headlines are now dominated by an epidemic of financial scandals, steep falls on the stock markets, waning confidence and increasing uncertainty. In spite of attempts by the media to present all this as purely a question of a few "bad corporations" the nervousness on the stock markets is in reality the manifestation of a far deeper crisis that expresses itself in extreme instability at every level - ­economic, social, political and military - on a world scale.

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This article deals with the scandalous so-called "Private Finance Initiative" in Britain. This process allows private companies to be involved in the building and running of what were formerly public services, such as hospitals, railways, and even schools. Mick Brooks shows quite clearly that the only people to benefit from PFI have been the fat cat capitalists who run the private firms.

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In the six months to June 30, the US stock market had its biggest fall since 1970, down 14%. Following Enron, we have the WorldCom fiasco, which threatens to be the biggest bankruptcy in world history. Corporate executives lived off the fat of the boom, but now the tide has ebbed, the nasty rocks of failure, corruption and thievery are being revealed.

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