Archive for July, 2009

Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 5)

July 31, 2009

History of gold production from the ‘gold rush’ to 1914

In the years 1840-1844, 146 metric tons of gold are estimated by the World Gold Council to have been produced worldwide. Between 1855 and 1859, estimated gold production rose to 1,011 metric tons. This is an increase of 590 percent in a 15-year period. In terms of percentages, this is by far the greatest increase in gold production in the period that reasonable data on world gold production is available.

The reason for this amazing increase was the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and in Australia in 1851. It was this huge mass of newly mined and refined gold that drowned the hopes of Marx and Engels for a socialist revolution in Europe during the 1850s.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 4)

July 24, 2009
The Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted until World War II holds a unique place in economic history.
“The Great Depression,” wrote bourgeois economist J. Bradford DeLong, “has central place in 20th century economic history.” He explained: “In its shadow, all other depressions are insignificant. Whether assessed by the relative shortfall of production from trend, by the duration of slack production, or by the product—depth times duration—of these two measures, the Great Depression is an order of magnitude larger than other depressions: it is off the scale. All other depressions and recessions are from an aggregate perspective (although not from the perspective of those left unemployed or bankrupt) little more than ripples on the tide of ongoing economic growth. The Great Depression cast the survival of the economic system, and the political order, into serious doubt.”
The economic crisis of 1929-33 though it was in some ways just another cyclical crisis of overproduction clearly involved other factors that converted a “normal” cyclical economic crisis into something quite different. What was it? In order to distinguish the crisis of 1929-33 from normal capitalist cyclical crises, I will call it the super-crisis.

The Great Depression of the 20th century

The Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted until World War II holds a unique place in economic history.

“The Great Depression,” wrote bourgeois economist J. Bradford DeLong, “has central place in 20th century economic history.” He explained: “In its shadow, all other depressions are insignificant. Whether assessed by the relative shortfall of production from trend, by the duration of slack production, or by the product—depth times duration—of these two measures, the Great Depression is an order of magnitude larger than other depressions: it is off the scale. All other depressions and recessions are from an aggregate perspective (although not from the perspective of those left unemployed or bankrupt) little more than ripples on the tide of ongoing economic growth. The Great Depression cast the survival of the economic system, and the political order, into serious doubt.”

The economic crisis of 1929-33 though it was in some ways just another cyclical crisis of overproduction clearly involved other factors that converted a “normal” cyclical economic crisis into something quite different. What was it? In order to distinguish the crisis of 1929-33 from normal capitalist cyclical crises, I will call it the super-crisis.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 3)

July 17, 2009

The mid-Victorian boom

The period from 1848 to 1873 is sometimes called by economic historians the mid-Victorian boom. It saw a huge expansion of industry, world trade and a generally rising price trend. The mid-Victorian boom was not crisis-free, however. A sharp if brief crisis erupted in 1857, and another occurred in 1866.

The economic crash that hit Austria and Germany hard in the spring of 1873 and spread to Wall Street that fall is generally considered to mark the end of the mid-Victorian boom and the beginning of the “Great Depression” of the 19th century. Thereafter, prices trended downwards until bottoming out in 1896.

For supporters of the long-cycle theory, the mid-Victorian boom represented an upswing in the long cycle, or for supporters of Mandel-type long waves, an expansionary long wave. Students of this episode in economic history have the advantage of being able to study the economic commentaries of Marx and Engels themselves, both in published works and private letters.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 2)

July 10, 2009

The long semi-cycles of Ernest Mandel

We saw in earlier posts that most economic historians and economists, both bourgeois and Marxist, agree that the concrete history of the capitalist mode of production shows alternating periods of rapid expansion lasting for several decades followed by periods of much slower growth or semi-stagnation of varying lengths. There has been much dispute about whether these alternations represent cyclical forces operating from within the capitalist economy or are caused by changes of a non-cyclical nature in the “external” environment.

Among the Marxists, we saw that men as different as the U.S. socialist economist Paul Sweezy and Leon Trotsky agreed that the alternations between rapid growth and semi-stagnation are non-cyclical. If these alternations in long-term growth are non-cyclical, this would be in contrast to the the 10-year industrial cycle and the shorter, less-well-defined “Kitchin cycle,” where each stage in the cycle necessarily leads to the next stage.

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Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle?

July 3, 2009

The question of whether in addition to the industrial cycle of more or less 10 years’ duration there is a longer cycle extending over several “10-year” cycles has divided both Marxists as well as those bourgeois economists who have shown interest in business cycles.

Some economists, both Marxist and bourgeois, have held that in addition to the 10-year industrial cycle that I have been examining up to now, there are other economic cycles of varying lengths that can be traced in the history of the world capitalist economy. Especially controversial has been the proposal that capitalist production is characterized by a “long cycle” that extends over periods as long as 50 or even 60 years.

Other Marxists and bourgeois economists have denied that there is any evidence to support the existence of a long cycle. The quasi-regular fluctuations of business conditions over 10-year periods is called a cycle because each phase of the cycle leads of necessity to the next phase. In my posts on an ideal industrial cycle, I examined this in some detail. But what would be the mechanism of a longer cycle as opposed to the mechanism of the 10-year industrial cycle?

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