"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister
"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
- Daenerys Targaryen
"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"
- Tyrion Lannister
"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."
- Jorah Mormont
"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."
- Tyrion Lannister
"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."
- Michael Barone
"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker
Monday, January 31, 2011
The real test of Harvey’s 1982 theory of crisis is how well it serves in the face of the thing itself. The Enigma of Capital can be read as an effort to meet the challenge. Naturally, its success or failure depends on whether it can offer a more comprehensive and persuasive account than rival theories. On the score of comprehensiveness there can be little doubt that Harvey’s work and that of other Marxists goes beyond the alternatives. 'The idea that the crisis had systemic origins is scarcely mooted in the mainstream media,' Harvey writes, and that might be extended to include even the trenchant work of the neo-Keynesians. The crisis, after all, is that of a capitalist system, and no account of it, however searching, can be truly systematic if it neglects to consider property relations: that is, the preponderant ownership of capital by one class, and of little or nothing but its labour power by another.
Paul Krugman, discussing Roubini’s book in the New York Review of Books, agreed with him that what Ben Bernanke called the 'global savings glut' lay at the heart of the crisis, behind the proximate follies of deregulation, mortgage-securitisation, excessive leverage and so on. Originating in the current account surpluses of net-exporting countries such as Germany, Japan and China, this great tide of money flooded markets in the US and Western Europe, and floated property and asset values unsustainably. Why was so much capital so badly misallocated? In the LRB of 22 April 2010, Joseph Stiglitz observed that the savings glut 'could equally well be described as an "investment dearth"', reflecting a scarcity of attractive investment opportunities. Stiglitz suggests that global warming mitigation or poverty reduction offers new 'opportunities for investments with high social returns'.
The neo-Keynesians’ 'savings glut' can readily be seen as a case of what a more radical tradition calls overaccumulated capital. But it is the broader and more systematic Marxist perspective that ultimately and properly contains Keynesianism within it, and a crude Marxist catechism may be in order. Where does an excess of savings come from? From unpaid labour -- for example, that of Chinese or German workers. And why would such funds inflate asset bubbles rather than create useful investment? Because capital pursues not 'high social returns', but high private returns. And why should these have proved difficult to achieve, except by financial shell-games? Keynesians complain of an insufficiency of aggregate demand, restraining investment. The Marxist will simply add that this bespeaks inadequate wages, in the index of a class struggle going the way of owners rather than workers.
In The Enigma of Capital, Harvey coincides with other Marxists in locating the origins of the present crisis in the troubles of the 1970s, when the so-called Golden Age of capitalism following the Second World War -- blessed with high rates of profitability, productivity, wage growth and expansion of output -- gave way to what Brenner named 'the long downturn' after 1973. Brenner argued in The Economics of Global Turbulence that this long downturn, with deeper recessions and weaker expansions across every business cycle, reflects chronic overcapacity -- another variety of overaccumulation -- in international manufacturing, a condition brought about by the maturation of Japanese and German industry by the end of the 1960s, and later compounded by the industrialisation of East Asia. As competition to supply export markets increased faster than those markets expanded, the price of international tradeables naturally fell, reducing both the profits of manufacturers and the wages paid to workers. Such impaired profitability moreover discouraged further investment in production, so that finance capital turned increasingly to speculation in asset values. Yet this view, however formidably presented, doesn’t appear to have won general assent. Harvey, content to follow Brenner elsewhere, inclines towards a more conventional profit-squeeze explanation of the crisis of the early 1970s.(via Yglesias)
Krugman: A Cross of Rubber