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“The decline of the rate of profit in the postwar US economy: A comment on Brenner”: Fred Moseley

19/09/2016 1 comentario

fred-moseley-1 -cdmThe publication of Robert Brenner’s “The Economics of Global Turbulence” is an important and very welcome event. Brenner’s essay brings to the fore once again the analysis of the economic crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, and argues that this economic crisis is not over yet. Therefore, there is still a great need to try to understand better the underlying causes of this continuing crisis and to have a public debate about the nature of these causes. The causes of the crisis determine the preconditions for recovery from the crisis and the likelihood of a full and lasting recovery in the years ahead. Brenner’s essay has once again put these questions squarely on the left agenda, and this is a significant contribution.

I also agree completely with Brenner’s emphasis on the rate of profit as the key explanatory variable in understanding the dynamics of capitalist economies in general and the causes of the economic crisis of the last 25 years in particular. Many radical economists, including myself, have placed a similar emphasis on the rate of profit as the key variable in explaining the current crisis. From this perspective, a significant decline in the rate of profit in all major capitalist countries in the 1960s and 1970s was the fundamental cause of both of the “twin evils” of higher unemployment and higher inflation that have afflicted these countries since the 1970s. As in business cycles of the past, the decline in the rate of profit resulted in a decline in business investment and higher rates of unemployment. One new factor in the postwar period has been that many governments in the 1970s responded to the higher unemployment by adopting Keynesian expansionary policies (more government spending, lower interest rates, etc.) in an attempt to reduce this unemployment. However, these government attempts to reduce unemployment generally resulted in higher rates of inflation, as capitalist enterprises responded to the government stimulation of demand by raising their prices at a faster rate in order to reverse the decline in their rate of profit. In the 1980s, financial capitalists revolted against these higher rates of inflation and have generally forced governments to adopt restrictive policies (less government spending, higher interest rates, etc.). The result has been less inflation, but also sharply higher unemployment and sharply reduced living standards. Therefore, government policies have affected the particular combination of unemployment and inflation that has occurred, but the fundamental cause of both of these “twin evils” has been the decline in the rate of profit. It is striking that mainstream economists have almost completely ignored the decline of the rate of profit in their explanations of the economic crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Leer más…