This paper is about the history of crisis theories. Broadly speaking, the term “crisis” as used here refers to a generalized set of failures in the economic and political relations of capitalist reproduction. In particular, the crises we seek to examine are those towards which the system is internally driven, by its own principles of operation. As we shall see, it is in the nature of capitalist production to be constantly exposed to a variety of internally and externally generated disturbances and dislocations. But only at certain times do these “shocks” set off general crises. When the system is healthy, it rapidly revives from all sorts of setbacks; when it is unhealthy, practically anything can trigger its collapse. What we seek to examine is different explanations of how and whyy the system periodically becomes unhealthy.
I Reproduction and Crisis
Consider how peculiar capitalist society is. It is a complex, interdependent social network, whose reproduction requires a precise pattern of complementarity among differen productive activities: and yet these activities are undertaken by hundreds of thousands of individual capitalists who are only concerned with their private greed for profit. Is is a class structure, in which the continued existence of the capitalist class requires the continued existence of the working class: and yet no blood lines, no tradition, no religious principle announces who is to rule and who is to be ruled. Is is a cooperative human comunity, and yet it ceaselessly pits each against the other: capitalist against worker, but also capitalist against capitalist and worker against worker.
Michael Heinrich is an exponent of what is known as the ‘New German Reading of Marx’, which interprets the theory of value that Marx presents in Capital as a socially specific theory of ‘impersonal social domination’. He is a collaborator on the MEGA edition of Marx and Engel’s complete works and has published several philological studies of Capital. He has also authored a work on Marx’s theory of value, The Science of Value, which is forthcoming in the Historical Materialism book series. And recently he has published An Introduction to all Three Volumes of Capital as his first full-length work to appear in English.
I am not going to do a critique of Heinrich’s views on the theory of value, as this has been done by Guglielmo Carchedi in his book, Behind the Crisis (see chapter 2). But I am moved to respond to a recent article of Heinrich’s in the American Monthly Review, entitled Crisis theory, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and Marx’s studies in the 1870s (monthlyreview.org).
In this article, Heinrich makes the following points: 1) Marx’s law is inconsistent because its categories are indeterminate; 2) it is empirically unproven and even unjustifiable on any measure of verification; 3) Engels badly edited Marx’s works to distort his view on the law in Capital Vol 3; 4) Marx himself in his later works of the 1870s began to have doubts about the law as the cause of crises and started to abandon it in favour of some theory that took into account credit, interest rates and the problem of realisation (similar to Keynesian theory); 5) Marx died before he could present these revisions of his crisis theory, so there is no coherent Marxist theory of crisis.
“Crisis capitalista, política económica y tendencias de reconfiguración del orden mundial”: Claudio Katz
Crisis capitalista, política económica y tendencias de reconfiguración del orden mundial.
Segunda sesión temática Economía mundial, economías nacionales y crisis capitalista.
Conferencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Ciencias Sociales.
Miércoles 7 de noviembre de 2012 en el Aula magna de la Casa de la Primera Imprenta de América.
Keynote Lecture by Professor Costas Lapavitsas.
Dictatorship of Failure: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the European Political and Economic Crisis. Symposium organised at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, 15 November 2012.
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
En los últimos meses hemos visto un creciente debate entre los marxistas en torno a la tasa de ganancia de EE UU y su relación con la presente crisis. Resulta paradójico, ya que en su mayor parte los marxistas rechazan el propio relato de Marx sobre la relación entre la acumulación y la tasa de rentabilidad; de hecho, recientemente, Michael Heinrich ha argumentado que Marx no tenía ninguna teoría de la crisis y que no hay ninguna base para suponer que la acumulación capitalista conduzca a una caída de la tasa de ganancia. Sin embargo, existe un amplio acuerdo con Duménil y Lévy que después del descenso prolongado de posguerra, la tasa de beneficio en EEUU comenzó a aumentar en la década de 1980, recuperándose al final de los años 1990 y marcando el comienzo de una nueva fase de expansión en EEUU.
Andrew Kliman, en Una crisis de la producción capitalista/1, ha provocado una controversia considerable con la afirmación contraria, basada en un razonamiento coherente y con una amplia evidencia empírica, según la cual la tasa de ganancia en EEUU ha continuado su tendencia a la baja.
“From the Oil Crisis to the Great Recession: Five crises of the world economy”: J. A. Tapia Granados
ABSTRACT — This article makes the case that the global economy has gone through five crises since the 1970s to the present. This implies not only that the world economy is a real entity, but also that the usual view that poses national economies as units of economic analysis is an approach with major limitations. The paper discusses the concept of “economic crisis” and provides data indicating that the world economy, not national economies, is the major unit to be analysed when trying to understand the economic reality of our time, and particularly the reality of crises. These crises are discrete, countable phenomena, distinctive states of an entity that can be properly called world economy, or world capitalism. Data on capital formation, on growth of the world output, of monetary aggregates, of unemployment rates and on industrial activity indicate five major “dips” of the global economy, i.e., world recessions, in (i) the mid 1970s, (ii) the early 1980s, (iii) the early 1990s, (iv) the early 2000s, and (v) the Great Recession that provisionally can be dated 2007-2009. To a large extent business cycle chronologies of national economies such as those produced by the NBER, the OECD, or other institutions are largely consistent with these five crises of the world economy which, obviously, had different manifestations in different nations and economic regions.
“Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s”: Michael Heinrich
The development of crisis theory within the Marxian tradition has been central to much of our work in the last several years. The view that the various fragmentary references to crisis theory in the three volumes of Capital constitute a fully developed coherent structure, which only requires diligent exegesis, is a view that has never seemed sensible to us.
Recent research into the evolution of Marx’s manuscripts in connection with the production of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), the historical-critical edition of the complete writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, has confirmed our understanding in a very exciting way. It is now clear that Marx never ceased to develop his thinking on the phenomena of crises in capitalism, and never ceased to discard earlier formulations; for example, at the end of his life he was focused on questions of credit and crisis. Monthly Review rarely presents its readers with discussions of economic theory at a relatively high degree of abstraction; this, however, is such an occasion. We trust that the author’s exemplary clarity will permit ready access to readers with any degree of interest in Marx’s theory; for those who wish to become familiar with the conceptual outline of Marx’s work, we cannot do better than to recommend the author’s An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital (Monthly Review Press, 2012). —The Editors
Economist Andrew Kliman discusses his book “The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession” (Pluto 2012). Many analyses of the Great Recession have been put forward from theories of unregulated finance, to Neoliberalism, to rising inequality. Kliman’s book is the first to put forward, based on in-depth empirical analysis of US data, that Marx’s theory of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall can explain these events. This talk will also present some of Kliman’s most recent work on the contentious issues of wages and inequality.
Kliman’s conclusions have immediate political implications. Short of a socialist transformation the only way to escape the ‘new normal’ of stagnation is to restore profitability through full-scale destruction of the value of existing capital assets, something not seen since the Depression of the 1930′s.
Riccardo Belloﬁore – Crisis theory and the great recession: a personal journey from Marx to Minsky
Prophecies of Downfall
The fact that Marx finally began with the composition of his long-planned economic work in the winter of 1857/1858 was directly occasioned by the economic crisis that broke out in the autumn of 1857 and the concomitant expectations of a deep trauma from which capitalism would no longer recover. “I am working like mad all night and every night collating my economic studies so that I at least get the outlines clear before the deluge,” wrote Marx to Engels in a letter from December of 1857 (MECW 40, p.217). The crisis of 1857/1858 was in fact the first true global economic crisis of modern capitalism, which involved all major capitalist countries of that time (England, the USA, France, and Germany). In the Grundrisse that emerged during this period, one can find the sole unambiguous passage of Marx’s work that can be understood as a theory of capitalist collapse (MECW 29, p.90 et sqq.). This collapse, Marx was convinced, would unleash revolutionary movements. In a letter to Ferdinand Lassalle from February of 1858, he even expressed his fear that in light of the expected “turbulent movements” his work would be finished “too late” and thus “find the world no longer attentive to such subjects” (MECW 29, p. 271). Marx was right about the fact that he wouldn’t finish his work (the first volume of Capital was published nine years later), but this first global crisis of capitalism led neither to a collapse of capitalism nor to any sort of revolutionary movement. The crisis had already been overcome in the early summer of 1858, and the capitalist system even came out of it enormously strengthened. Marx learned a lesson: in capitalism, crises function as brutal acts of purification. The destruction wreaked by crises removes previous impediments to accumulation and frees up new possibilities for capitalist development.
“Finance and the realization problem in Rosa Luxemburg: a ‘circuitist’ reappraisal”: Riccardo Bellfiore and Marco Passarella
Article showing that Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis of capitalist accumulation is framed within a ‘circuitist’ macroeconomic reading of capitalism as a monetary production economy
The aim of this chapter is to show that Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis of capitalist accumulation is framed within a ‘circuitist’ macroeconomic reading of capitalism as a monetary production economy. The strengths and limits of her approach are to be found elsewhere than suggested by usual criticisms, especially those advocated by Marxist authors. Rosa Luxemburg cannot be reduced to the uncertain theoretical status of an ‘under-consumptionist’. On the contrary, she presents a clear (although incomplete) picture of the macro-monetary and sequential working of the capitalist process.
This chapter is organized as follows. The next section examines Luxemburg’s comments on how the enlarged reproduction scheme is introduced in volume II of Marx’s Capital. The third, fourth, and fifth sections summarize, first, the orthodox attack by Bukharin, and then the more sympathetic interpretations provided by Michał Kalecki and Joan Robinson. The sixth and seventh sections emphasize the affinities and differences of Luxemburg’s circuitist perspective with the contemporary theory of the monetary circuit. The eighth section concentrates on the problem of the monetization of profits and interests. Some concluding remarks are provided in the last section.
“La unidad mundial de la acumulación de capital en su forma nacional históricamente dominante en América Latina. Crítica de las teorías del desarrollo, de la dependencia y del imperialismo”: Juan Iñigo Carrera
El modo de producción capitalista es el modo históricamente específico de regirse el proceso de vida humana en el cual la capacidad para organizar el trabajo social se presenta como un atributo automático materializado en el producto de ese mismo trabajo. Esta relación social objetivada, el capital, pone entonces en marcha el trabajo social sin otro fin inmediato que el producir más de esa capacidad para organizar automáticamente el trabajo social objetivada en su producto, más de la misma relación social objetivada, más capital, o sea, capital acumulado. De este automatismo brota su potencia como forma históricamente específica de desarrollarse las fuerzas productivas materiales del trabajo social, pero también su limitación como tal y la necesidad que lleva en sí de superarse en su propio desarrollo.
Dada su necesidad de expandir la producción material como si esta expansión no llevara consigo la necesidad de límite alguno originado en la misma forma social que la rige, la unidad del proceso de acumulación de capital tiene un contenido necesariamente mundial.