political economy

I’m not saying that free-market economics is bad or dangerous, I’m saying that it doesn’t even exist.

The mythical butcher-baker-candlestick-maker view of capitalism only existed in the very earliest days of capitalist development, when it was little more than a social experiment embarked upon by adventurous minor nobles and desperate peasants in fast-growing early-modern cities. The whole reason capitalism survived as a way of organising economic activity was because the newly-wealthy capitalist elites were best placed to wield influence over tottering European feudal states as they crumbled under their own weight - taking them over to run them as glorified protection rackets for their profit-making schemes. From its earliest inception within feudal societies, capital has sought the benefits of the state - legal regulation, economic protectionism, military repression - and used them to secure its future.

Even the most dimly-conscious free-market ideologue knows this. What ‘free-market’ ideology really conceals is a civil war between staggeringly wealthy elites, over which faction of capitalists should reap the rewards: those who benefit from the huge resources of states being poured into subsidising the profits of manufacturing, industry and trade, or those who can make a killing from bank bailouts, government-secured property deals and state-backed oil ventures.

Modern states, therefore, are to capitalism both nursemaid and childhood playmate: they are utterly inseparable, bound together in a Faustian bargain written in the blood of workers.

The beauty of the system, however, is that such dissent and inconvenient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda.
—  Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
Fascism is a deformity of capitalism. It heightens the imperialist tendency towards domination which is inherent in capitalism, and it safeguards the principle of private property. At the same time, fascism immeasurably strengthens the institutional racism already bred by capitalism, whether it be against Jews (as in Hitler’s case) or against African peoples (as in the ideology of Portugal’s Salazar and the leaders of South Africa). Fascism reverses the political gains of the bourgeois democratic system such as free elections, equality before the law, parliaments; and it also extolls authoritarianism and the reactionary union of the church with the state.
—  Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
Ruling class ideologies are rarely just lies cynically spread in order to win the acquiescence of the ruled. They are sets of beliefs that give the ruling class a sense of its own importance, sanctify its rule in its own eyes as well as in the eyes of others and provide it with confidence that it can deal with any apparent flaws in its own system
—  Chris Harman, “Theorizing Neoliberalism”
What does peace mean in a world in which the combined wealth of the world’s 587 billionaires exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the world’s 135 poorest countries? Or when rich countries that pay farm subsidies of a billion dollars a day, try and force poor countries to drop their subsidies? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya? Or to the aboriginal people of Australia? Or the Ogoni of Nigeria? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or the Dalits and Adivasis of India?What does peace mean to non-muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water, shelter, survival and, above all, some semblance of dignity? For them, peace is war.
—  Arundhati Roy
Dear Donald Trump

“You can criticize Bernie Sanders all that you want, but at least try to make sense when you do it. Last time I checked, Bernie Sanders was a democratic socialist, and not a socialist or a communist. I understand that nuance is not your forte, but, sir, you are conflating terms.

Seeing as Sanders is not advocating for the abolition of the state and class, he is not a communist. Since Sanders isn’t calling for the abolition of private property, you can’t call him a communist. Sanders has not once proposed common ownership of the means of production, which is a communist ideal.
Please stop appealing to outdated and uninformed “Red Scare” tactics. They don’t make you come across as more electable, they just make you look stupid.  

Anyone who has an elementary understanding of socio-political and economic theory.”

— Scott Stephens

Capital asks no questions about the length of life of labour-power. What interests it is purely and simply the maximum of labour-power that can be set in motion in a working day. It attains this objective by shortening the life of labour-power, in the same way as a greedy farmer snatches more produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production, which is essentially the production of surplus-value, the absorption of surplus labour, not only produces a deterioration of human labour-power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour-power itself.
—  Karl Marx, Capital (1867)
Blacks have become the “accessorized other” whose culture through commodification, Whites can sample and discard, or use as reference point for authentification. Even more pervasive is the economic incentive for young blacks to act and perform in ways that conform to white buyers’ ‘concept of blackness’, which plays into a market-based expectation or interpretation of the term.
—  Norman Kelly, ‘R&B Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music’

A more realistic and thoroughgoing Marxian approach to the question of imperialism in our age, drawing on the fundamental parameters of classical imperialism theory while taking into consideration changing historical conditions, needs to center on capital accumulation. Here the crucial fact is the shift of manufacturing industry in recent decades from the global North to the global South. In 1980 the share of world industrial employment of developing countries had risen to 52 percent; by 2012 this had increased to 83 percent. […] What needs to be explained, however, is that despite this tectonic shift of industry to the periphery, the basic conditions of center and periphery continue in most cases to hold. This is manifested in the seeming inability of countries in the global South, taken as a whole—and leaving out Greater China (including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Province)—to catch up economically with the nations at the center of the system.


Economically, the outward movement of generalized-monopoly capitalism is propelled primarily by the competitive struggle for low cost position via global sourcing of labor and increasingly scarce raw materials, and the monopoly rents that all of this generates. The result, as we have seen, is enormous cost savings in production for individual monopolistic enterprises, generating widening profit margins, which, coupled with more traditional forms of tribute, leads to a continual inflow of imperial rent to the center of the system. The full extent of extracted surplus is disguised by the enormous complexity of global value chains, exchange ratios, hidden accounts, and above all by the nature of capitalist GDP accounting itself.


The phase of global monopoly-finance capital, tied to the globalization of production and the systematization of imperial rent, has generated a financial oligarchy and a return to dynastic wealth, mostly in the core nations, confronting an increasingly generalized (but also highly segmented) working class worldwide. The leading section of the capitalist class in the core countries now consists of what could be called global rentiers, dependent on the growth of global monopoly-finance capital, and its increasing concentration and centralization. The reproduction of this new imperialist system, as Amin explains in Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, rests on the perpetuation of five monopolies: (1) technological monopoly; (2) financial control of worldwide markets; (3) monopolistic access to the planet’s natural resources; (4) media and communication monopolies; and (5) monopolies over weapons of mass destruction. Behind all of this lie the giant monopolistic firms themselves, with the revenue of the top 500 global private firms currently equal to about 30 percent of world revenue, funneled primarily through the centers of the capitalist system and the core financial markets. As Boron points out with respect to the world’s 200 largest multinational corporations, “96 percent…have their headquarters in only eight countries, are legally registered as incorporated companies of eight countries; and their boards of directors sit in eight countries of metropolitan capital. Less than 2 percent of their boards of directors’ members are non-nationals…. Their reach is global, but their property and their owners have a clear national base.”


The responsibility of the left under these circumstances is to confront, in Lenin’s terms, the “contradictions, conflicts, and convulsions—not only economical, but also political, national, etc.”—that increasingly characterize our era. This means fostering a more “audacious” global movement from below in which the key challenge will be the dismantling of imperialism, understood as the entire basis of capitalism in our time—with the object of creating a more horizontal, egalitarian, peaceful, and sustainable social-metabolic order controlled by the associated producers.

John Bellamy Foster, “The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital” (2015)

anonymous asked:

How would you contest Xaro's claims about the necessity/benefit of slavery?

Here’s Xaro’s argument:

“We curse the rain when it falls upon our heads, yet without it we should starve. The world needs rain … and slaves. You make a face, but it is true. Consider Qarth. In art, music, magic, trade, all that makes us more than beasts, Qarth sits above the rest of mankind as you sit at the summit of this pyramid … but below, in place of bricks, the magnificence that is the Queen of Cities rests upon the backs of slaves. Ask yourself, if all men must grub in the dirt for food, how shall any man lift his eyes to contemplate the stars? If each of us must break his back to build a hovel, who shall raise the temples to glorify the gods? For some men to be great, others must be enslaved.”

This was an argument that was used historically to justify slavery as a “positive good,” in the leadup to the American Civil War. People like George Fitzhugh would argue that, without slavery, you wouldn’t have Plato or Aristotle or all the other wonders of Ancient Greece or Rome, or indeed civilization itself.

Anti-slavery writers responded to this particular line of attack by arguing that free labor was inherently more productive than slave labor, following Adam Smith:

“The wear and tear of a slave, it has been said, is at the expense of his master; but that of a free servant is at his own expense. The wear and tear of the latter, however, is, in reality, as much at the expense of his master as that of the former. The wages paid to journeymen and servants of every kind must be such as may enable them, one with another, to continue the race of journeymen and servants, according as the increasing, diminishing, or stationary demand of the society may happen to require. But though the wear and tear of a free servant be equally at the expense of his master, it generally costs him much less than that of a slave…It appears, accordingly, from the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves.”

“The liberal reward of labour, as it encourages the propagation, so it increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives. A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days perhaps in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to the utmost.” (Work of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 8)

Free laborers work hard because their labor can directly improve their material standard of living and, ultimately, the opportunity for upward mobility. Because a slave is fixed in position and cannot hope to be anything but a slave, they work only hard enough to avoid a whipping. Thus, anti-slavery writers argued, free societies are more productive than slave societies, and would produce a greater surplus to invest in the refinement of civilization than slave societies could.

A second line of argument follows more Rawlsian lines. Since, in a slave society, freedom and slavery are ultimately an accident of birth, many people with the talents to make great advancements in the arts and sciences, trade and industry, politics and warfare, all the occupations and professions denied to the slave, would be born into slavery and thus be unable to share their gifts with the world. Whereas in a free society, all are free to pursue their dreams and ambitions, and civilization benefits from the additional contributions of those who would have otherwise been slaves. 

Marx makes it clear that if it could, capital would reduce both the production time of commodities and their circulation time to zero because this would maximize profits. This would imply that commodities were instantaneously both produced and consumed, an impossibility given the use-value constraints associated with the producing and consuming of use-values. Capital does, however, always strive in this direction with the result that the pace of production and consumption continually speeds up and with them the pace of life. Postone (1996: 289–91) refers to a ‘treadmill-effect’ such that the faster we go, the faster yet we must go in order to maintain profit rates. Over the long run, this means that without outside constraints, capital will speed up the pace of life until the stress levels become impossible to sustain. Speed, then, becomes a crucial consideration in considering the impact of capital’s laws of motion of value on the formation of modern subjectivities.

From the point of view of time as speed up, space is reduced to nothing but distance that must be traversed more and more quickly or to resources that must be processed more and more quickly. In other words, indifference to use-value is also indifference to space except as potential resistance to speed up. Capital as self-expanding value would love to achieve a stance of indifference to space by subordinating its qualitativeness to an expanded reproduction machine that continually accelerates. The earth itself is commodified and indifferently fed into the giant maws of an ever-hungrier capital. Every global resource is reduced to a potential input into a profit-making production process or marketing scheme.
—  Robert Albritton, Marx’s Value Theory and Subjectivity (2003)

Neoliberalism is living on borrowed time, friends.

Neoliberalism insists that the creation of a free market, which means the elimination of all attempts by states to restrain the market, will ultimately benefit all countries. A fundamental axiom of conventional economics is that the market acts as a regulator. Whether and how it does so applies mainly to the prices, production, and sale of commodities. The use of the surplus, however, has no such clear relation to the market’s regulatory mechanism. This has become increasingly evident as the stagnation tendency has persisted. As opportunities for investment in production of goods and services slowed down, despite the opportunities offered by the new technology, more and more of the surplus was devoted to a vast expansion of finance.

As capital’s expansion through imperialism and colonialism began to run out of new people and places to drain the value from, it turned largely to the creation and accumulation of debt as the rates of growth, wages and demand all became stagnant. The following shows the increasingly large portion of Gross National Product that the finance-capital debt has constituted since 1950.

We can clearly see the sudden climb in the early 1980s with sweeping introductions of neoliberal policies. With capitalism’s (and neoliberalism’s) failure to stimulate increasing growth this house of cards built from obscene levels of debt made it possible to hide the throes of capitalist crises by using it to boost demand despite decades of wage stagnation. The internal contradictions of capitalism are always intensifying, and the only thing keeping it from crumbling onto the shaky foundation of that debt is further globalization.

Aided by information technology, financial markets became increasingly international. Globalization became the order of the day as capital searched every recess of the globe for profit opportunities. The ruling ideology celebrated the speed-up of globalization claiming that a rising tide raises all ships—even more so for the underdeveloped countries if the latter would adopt the free market ideology of the core countries. The result—hardly what was promised—has been plummeting growth rates in most cases.

For those whose vision of the future is confined within those boundaries acceptable to capitalism, all of this will no doubt be viewed as an utterly gloomy picture. Globalization under neoliberal regimes has meant in many ways the globalization of stagnation tendencies and financial crisis. The capitalist world economy is confronted everywhere with unused productive capacity and mountains of debt. Nor is there any obvious solution to these problems within the context of the system. To top it all off, the social fallout of this latest phase of crisis has yet to emerge.

Yet it is upon such social fallout that all those whose vision of the future is not confined to capitalism pin their hopes—the opening up of alternative paths through struggle. We do not know what the future will bring, nor how many struggles will be needed to reach the aim of a society ruled by the people and designed to meet the needs of populations throughout the world. We can, however, be assured of two things: that this aim will never be achieved without militant class struggle, and that an equitable, sustainable capitalist world economy is not part of the future of humanity.

Quotes from “The New Face of Capitalism: Slow Growth, Excess Capital and a Mountain of Debt” Paul M. Sweezy, John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, & Harry Magdoff (Monthly Review)

It is terrible that students these days are taught there is only one flavor of ice cream, when there are 9 or 10 different ones. At least, let them taste them all, and if they conclude that neoclassical is the best, then so be it. But you have to at least tell them that there are all other kinds of theories. Otherwise, it’s like North Korea. They’re not told that there are other types of society because the information is blocked.
—  Ha-Joon Chang, economics professor @ Cambridge University
Capital is fundamentally the use of money to make more money. In order to maximize profits, a capitalist must be prepared to shift production from a less profitable commodity to a more profitable one, and this implies a stance of indifference to use-value. Whatever his personal attachment to vanilla ice cream, a capitalist will produce less vanilla and more chocolate ice cream if it is profitable to do so. Similarly because labour-power is commodified, capitalists can hire or fire labour-power as required to maximize profits with total indifference to the human suffering that this may cause.

Indifference to use-value is also indifference to human values and human beings. Thus capitalists, if not constrained by outside forces, will have no concern for the working conditions of their workers or their lives. Unless constrained by law or by worker organization, capitalists will always try to get the most work from workers for the least pay.
—  Robert Albritton, Marx’s Value Theory and Subjectivity (2003)

With the development and accumulation of bourgeois property, i.e., with the development of commerce and industry, individuals grew richer and richer while the state fell ever more deeply into debt.

It is therefore obvious that as soon as the bourgeoisie has accumulated money, the state has to beg from the bourgeoisie and in the end it is actually bought up by the latter.

—  Marx - The German Ideology 1845