Posts Tagged ‘Austrian school’

Political and Economic Crises (Pt 5)

March 24, 2019

Trump’s Islamophobic demagoguery and the New Zealand massacre

On March 15, the world was shocked when a far-right gunman killed 50 Muslim worshipers and injured many others at two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman hailed U.S. President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” but complained that he is not a good “policymaker and leader.”

This fascist terrorist mass murderer put his finger on the relationship between “Trumpism” and the growing fascist “white nationalist” movement, which if it should win state power in a major imperialist country would put in the shade the crimes of its 20th-century predecessor.

Trump lacks a mass movement organized not only as a political party but as a mass armed militia based on middle-class youth driven to desperation by a crisis of monopoly capitalism. Such a movement, once it reaches a certain degree of development, is capable of launching a civil war against the organized workers’ movement and its allies as well as “racial” and religious minorities of all classes. Once a fascist movement becomes powerful enough to wage a civil war, it always does so in the interest of its finance-capital masters. From the viewpoint of today’s fascists, since Trumpism is only preparing the way for the real thing, Trump falls short as a “policymaker and leader.”

But Trump is preparing the way for 21st-century fascism through his role as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” not only in the U.S. but in all the imperialist countries. Our hearts must go out to the victims of this unspeakable crime, casualties of Trump’s racism and the capitalist system that breeds it.

We must fight Trumpism and all it stands for with all our strength. But to do this effectively, we must also fight the Party of (the current imperialist world) Order, which is doing all it can to cripple the fight against Trumpism by usurping the leadership of the “resistance” to Trump from within.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’ (Pt 2)

June 21, 2015

Recently, I have been looking at Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Piketty, a French bourgeois economist, created a sensation by pointing out that over the last 45 years a growing proportion of national income—wages plus surplus value in Marxist terms—has been going to profit at the expense of wages. Piketty is alarmed that if this trend isn’t reversed capitalism will be seriously destabilized.

The title of his book is, of course, inspired by Marx’s great work “Capital,” though it predictably rejects Marx’s anti-capitalist revolutionary conclusions. Naturally, I was interested in what Piketty had to say about Marx.

What I found striking was that Piketty did not understand Marx at all. The reason is that he views Marx through marginalist lenses. Essentially, Piketty treats Marx as a fellow marginalist. Marx’s theory of value and surplus value, so completely at odds with the marginalist theory of value and surplus value, is literally beyond Piketty’s comprehension.

In examining the current debate about “secular stagnation” among economists like Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, we must never forget how deep the gulf between their economic theories and Marxism really is. This is true even when their terminology is similar. This month, I will contrast the theories of two economists of the 20th century, Joseph Schumpeter and John Maynard Keynes, regarding capitalist growth and stagnation. Both men were marginalists, even if not the most “orthodox” ones, and therefore had much more in common with each other than with Marx.

Next month, I will begin to contrast their views with Marx and the views I have been developing in this blog. (1) But before we reach the “Marxist mountains” we will have to slog through the plains of modern bourgeois economics. Only when we begin to ascend into the Marxist mountains will we be able to explore whether any of the ideas of Schumpeter can be integrated into Marxism. I have already dealt with Keynes quite extensively in this blog. (See, for example, six-part series beginning here.)

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was the most famous marginalist economist to deal with the question of technological changes, or “innovation,” under capitalism. Schumpeter was an Austrian economist in the sense he came from Austria, though he spent his last years in the United States as a professor at Harvard University. He was certainly influenced by the “Austrian economists” as well as other schools of post-classical bourgeois economics current in his day. Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter preferred to communicate his ideas in natural language as opposed to mathematics.

Also like the Austrians, he was a hardcore supporter of capitalism, disliked “socialism”—proposals to reform capitalism in the interest of the workers—and was an opponent of the “Keynesian revolution” in bourgeois economic theory of the 1930s. He was what would be called today a “neo-liberal.” Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter took a dim view of democracy, which he was convinced would inevitably lead to socialism. Yet he was a friend of Paul Sweezy and therefore had a certain influence on the Monthly Review school.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’

May 24, 2015

A debate has broken out between economist Larry Summers (1954- ), who fears that the U.S. and world capitalist economies are stuck in an era of “secular stagnation” with no end in sight, and blogger Ben Bernanke (1953- ). Blogger Bernanke is, no less, the Ben Bernanke who headed the U.S. Federal Reserve Board between 2006 and 2014. Bernanke claims that the U.S. and world economies are simply dealing with lingering aftereffects of the 2007-2009 “Great Recession,” which broke out while he was head of the Federal Reserve System.

In effect, Bernanke is saying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism and that healthy growth and “low unemployment and inflation” will return once the lingering aftereffects of the crisis are fully shaken off. Bernanke is, however, alarmed by the rapid growth of German exports and the growing share of the world market going to German industry.

Last year, we “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Bernanke’s concerns show that the economic fault lines that led to both World War I and II have not disappeared. Instead, they have been joined by new ones as more countries have become industrialized. And the prolonged period of slow growth—and in some countries virtually no growth—that has followed the Great Recession is once again sharpening them. Competition both among individual capitalists and between capitalist countries is much sharper when world markets are growing slowly. World War I itself broke out when the early 20th-century “boom” was running out of steam, while World War II broke out after a decade of the Depression.

The debate between Summers and Bernanke on secular stagnation has been joined by other eminent U.S. economists such as Joseph Stiglitz (1943- ) and Brad DeLong (1960- ). Summers, Stiglitz and DeLong are Keynesian-leaning economists, while Bernanke, a Republican, leans more in the direction of “neoliberalism,” though like most U.S. policymakers, he is thoroughly pragmatic.

The debate began with Summers’ speech to the IMF’s Fourteenth Annual Research Conference in Honor of Stanley Fisher. Summers noted that the panic of 2008 was “an event that in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 … appeared, by most of the statistics—GDP, industrial production, employment, world trade, the stock market—worse than the fall of 1929 and the winter of 1930. …”

At the very least, this was a major defeat for “stabilization policies” that were supposed to iron out the capitalist industrial cycle and abolish panics. But the problem extends far beyond the 2008 panic itself.

“… in the four years since financial normalization,” Summers observed, “the share of adults who are working has not increased at all and GDP has fallen further and further behind potential, as we would have defined it in the fall of 2009.”

The highly misleading unemployment rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor notwithstanding, there has been a massive growth in long-term unemployment in the U.S. in the wake of the crisis, as shown by the declining percentage of the U.S. population actually working.

In the days before the “Keynesian revolution” in the 1930s, the “classical” neoclassical marginalist economists, whose theories still form the bedrock of the economics taught in U.S. universities, were willing to concede that some “outside shock” to the economic system (for example, a major policy blunder by the central bank or a major harvest failure) might occasionally create a severe recession and considerable amount of “involuntary unemployment.” But these learned economists insisted that since a “free market economy” naturally tends toward an equilibrium with full employment of both workers and machines, the capitalist system should quickly return to “full employment” if a severe recession occurs.

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Is Russia Imperialist?

June 1, 2014

What started out as a small-scale demonstration in Kiev’s Maidan—Independence—Square against the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in late 2013 has escalated into a crisis that in a worst-case scenario could develop into a full-scale shooting war between Russia and the U.S-EU-NATO world empire—“the Empire” for short. As more facts have came out, it has became clear that the demonstrations had a pro-imperialist, pro-Empire character from the beginning. In addition, it is now obvious that the U.S. government has been heavily involved since the beginning.

The one-sided U.S. media coverage of the “pro-Maidan movement,” as the pro-imperialist forces in Ukraine are called; the activities of U.S.-funded NGOs; and the U.S. role in the pro-imperialist “Orange Revolution” of 2004 all point in the same direction. In addition, as the crisis developed it was revealed on the Internet that U.S. diplomats favored right-wing neo-liberal banker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, or “Yats,” as the diplomats affectionately called him. Sure enough, right after the coup that overthrew Yanukovych, “Yats” was named prime minister of the new coup government in Kiev. But there is more.

According to Wikipedia, on April 18, 2014, Burisma Holdings, one of the leading oil and natural gas production companies in Ukraine, announced Hunter Biden’s appointment to its board of directors. “Burisma holds licenses covering the Dnieper-Donets Basin and the Carpathian and Azov-Kuban basins and has considerable reserves and production capability,” the on-line encyclopedia stated.

Hunter Biden, a lawyer, is the son of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. According to Wikipedia, Hunter Biden’s résumé includes multiple connections to the financial industry and government: “From 2001 to 2008, Biden was a founding partner of Oldaker, Biden, and Belair, LLP, a national law firm based in New York. He also served as a partner and board member of the mergers and acquisitions firm Eudora Global. Biden was chief executive officer, and later chairman, of the fund of hedge funds PARADIGM Global Advisors…. At MBNA, a major US bank, Biden was employed as a senior vice president.”

Wikipedia further reports: “In addition to holding directorships on the Boards of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, The Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy, he sits on the Chairman’s Advisory Board for the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NDI is a project of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).” The NED is the organization that does what the CIA did covertly 25 years ago.

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Big Challenges Facing Janet Yellen

February 23, 2014

Yellen testifies

Janet Yellen gave her first report to the House Financial Services Committee since she became chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board in January. In the wake of the 2008 panic, her predecessor Ben Bernanke had indicated that “the Fed” would keep the federal funds rate—the interest rate commercial banks in the U.S. charge one another for overnight loans—at near zero until the unemployment rate, as calculated by the U.S. Labor Department, fell to 6.5 percent from over 10 percent near the bottom of the crisis in 2009.

However, the Labor Department’s unemployment rate has fallen much faster than most economists expected and is now at “only” 6.6 percent. With the U.S. Labor Department reporting almost monthly declines, it is quite possible that the official unemployment rate will fall to or below 6.5 percent as early as next month’s report.

But there is a catch that the Fed is well aware of. The unexpectedly rapid fall in the official unemployment rate reflects the fact that millions of workers have given up looking for jobs. In effect, what began as a cyclical crisis of short-term mass unemployment has grown into a much more serious crisis of long-term unemployment. As far as the U.S. Labor Department is concerned, when it comes to calculating the unemployment rate these millions might just as well have vanished from the face of the earth.

In reality, the economic recovery from the 2007-09 “Great Recession” has been far weaker than the vast majority of economists had expected. Indeed, a strong case can be made that both in the U.S. and on a world scale—including imperialist countries, developing countries and the ex-socialist countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as well as oppressed countries still bearing the marks of their pre-capitalist past—the current recovery is the weakest in the history of capitalist industrial cycles.

The continued stagnation of the U.S. economy six and a half years since the outbreak of the last crisis has just been underlined by a series of weak reports on employment growth and industrial production. For example, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, U.S. industrial production as a whole declined 0.3 percent in January, while manufacturing, the heart of industrial production, declined by 0.8 percent.

Yellen, as the serious-minded policymaker she undoubtedly is, is well aware of these facts. She told the House committee:”The unemployment rate is still well above levels that Federal Open Market Committee participants estimate is consistent with maximum sustainable employment. Those out of a job for more than six months continue to make up an unusually large fraction of the unemployed, and the number of people who are working part time but would prefer a full-time job remains very high.”

Over the last several months, the growth of employment, which serious economists consider far more meaningful than the the U.S. Labor Department’s “unemployment rate,” has been far below expectations.

Bad weather

Most Wall Street economists are sticking to the line that the recent string of weak figures on employment growth and industrial production reflect bad weather. The eastern U.S. has experienced extreme cold and frequent storms this winter, though the U.S. West has enjoyed unseasonable warmth and a lack of the usual Pacific storms, resulting in a serious drought in California. So it is possible that bad weather has put a kink in employment growth and industrial production.

But there is also concern—clearly shared by the new U.S. Fed chairperson, notwithstanding rosy capitalist optimism maintained by the cheerleaders that pass for economic writers of the Associated Press and Reuters—that the current global upswing in the industrial cycle has failed to gain anything like the momentum to be expected six years after the outbreak of the preceding crisis.

Two ruling-class approaches

This growing “secular stagnation”–lingering mass unemployment between recessions—has produced a growing split among capitalist economists and writers for the financial press. One school of thought is alarmed by continued high unemployment and underemployment. This school thinks that the government and Federal Reserve System—which, remember, functions not only as the central bank of the U.S. but also of the world under the current dollar-centered international monetary system—should continue to search for ways to improve the situation. Another school of thought, however, believes that all that has to be done is to declare the arrival of “full employment” and prosperity.

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Michael Heinrich’s ‘New Reading’ of Marx—A Critique, Pt 3

September 1, 2013

In this month’s post, I will take a look at Heinrich’s views on value, money and price. As regular readers of this blog should realize by now, the theory of value, money and price has big implications for crisis theory.

As we have seen, present-day crisis theory is divided into two main camps. One camp emphasizes the production of surplus value. This school—largely inspired by the work of Polish-born economist Henryk Grossman, and whose most distinguished present-day leader is Professor Andrew Kliman of Pace University—holds that the basic cause of crises is that periodically an insufficient amount of surplus value is produced. The result is a rate of profit too low for the capitalists to maintain a level of investment sufficient to prevent a crisis.

From the viewpoint of this school, a lack of demand is a secondary effect of the crisis but by no means the cause. If the capitalists find a way to increase the production of surplus value sufficiently, investment will rise and demand problems will go away. Heinrich, who claims there is no tendency of the rate of profit to fall, is therefore anathema to this tendency of Marxist thought.

The other main school of crisis theory puts the emphasis on the problem of the realization of surplus value. This tendency is dominated by the Monthly Review school, named after the magazine founded by U.S. Marxist economist Paul Sweezy and now led by Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster.

The Monthly Review school roots the tendency toward crises/stagnation not in the production of surplus value like the Grossman-Kliman school but rather in the realization of surplus value. The analysis of this school is based largely on the work of the purely bourgeois English economist John Maynard Keynes, the moderate Polish-born socialist economist Michael Kalecki, and the radical U.S. Marxist economist Paul Sweezy.

Kalecki’s views on markets were similar to those of Keynes. Indeed, it is often said that Kalecki invented “Keynesian theory” independently and prior to Keynes himself—with one exception. Kalecki, like the rest of the Monthly Review school, puts great emphasis on what he called the “degree of monopoly.” In contrast, Keynes completely ignored the problem of monopoly.

Needed, a Marxist law of markets

A real theory of the market is necessary, in my opinion, for a complete theory of crises. Engels indicated in his work “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” that under capitalism the growth of the market is governed by “quite different laws” than govern the growth of production, and that the laws governing the growth of the market operate “far less energetically” than the laws that govern the growth of production. The result is the crises of overproduction that in the long run keep the growth of production within the limits of the market.

This, however, is not a complete crisis theory, because Engels did not explain exactly what the laws are that govern the growth of the market. Unfortunately, leaving aside hints found in Marx’s writings, Marxists—with the exception of Paul Sweezy—have largely ignored the laws that govern the growth of the market. This, I think, would be a legitimate criticism of what Heinrich calls “world view Marxism.” As a result, the theory of what does govern the growth of the market has been left to the anti-Marxist Keynes, the questionably Marxist Kalecki and the strongly Keynes- and Kalecki-influenced Sweezy.

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Bitcoins and Monetary Reform in the Digital Age

June 9, 2013

Recently, there has been a rising wave of interest in a new Internet-based currency called bitcoins. In one sense, bitcoins are the latest attempt to improve capitalism through monetary reform. But unlike other monetary reform schemes, bitcoins are very 21st century, based as they are on modern computer technology and the Internet.

According to Wikipedia: “Bitcoin (BTC) is a cryptocurrency first described in a 2008 paper by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, who called it a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system. Bitcoin creation and transfer is based on an open source cryptographic protocol and is not managed by any central authority. Each bitcoin is subdivided down to eight decimal places, forming 100 million smaller units called satoshis. Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without an intermediate financial institution.”

A short history of monetary reform before the Internet

One monetary reform that was popular among small farmers and small businesspeople in the late 19th-century U.S. was bimetallism. The bimetallists proposed that the U.S. dollar be defined in terms not only of gold but also of silver, at a fixed ratio of 16 to 1. Under this proposed reform, the silver dollar coin would weigh 16 times as much as the gold dollar coin.

The supporters of bimetallism argued that this would, by sharply increasing the money supply, increase demand and thereby raise the prices of agricultural commodities. The increased demand would, the supporters of bimetallism argued, put unemployed workers back to work. In this way, the bimetallists hoped to unite the interests of workers, small farmers and small businesspeople against the rising power of the Wall Street banks.

A basic flaw in this proposal was that while at one time the ratio of 16 to 1 more or less reflected the actual relative labor values of gold and silver bullion, by the late 19th century the value of silver was falling sharply relative to the value of gold. Given a choice of using either silver or gold coins at this ratio, people would have chosen to pay off their debts in cheap silver—which is why bimetallism was so popular among highly indebted small farmers and businesspeople—while using the cheap silver dollars to purchase and hoard the more valuable gold dollars. This effect is known as “Gresham’s Law,” named after the early British economist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579).

Under Gresham’s Law, cheap silver dollars would have driven gold dollars out of circulation, leaving the silver dollar as the standard dollar. This would have had the effect of devaluing the U.S. dollar from the value of the gold dollar down to the value of the silver dollar. Fearing that supporters of bimetallism would win the upper hand in the U.S. government during the 1890s, foreign capitalist investors began to cash in their U.S. dollars for gold leading to a series of runs on the U.S. Treasury’s gold reserve as well as the gold reserves of U.S. commercial banks.

A wave of bank runs and an associated stock market crash that occurred in the northern hemisphere spring of 1893 has gone down in history as the “panic of 1893.” This panic was followed by a prolonged period of depression, mass unemployment and plunging commodity prices. This was the exact opposite of what supporters of bimetallism desired.

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