My life as an autodidact began when I dropped out of North Bend High School following my Freshman year. Since then I’ve tried to learn something new every day but it’s kind of hit and miss. Gaps and lacuna show up all the time. For example, I’m 77 years old and just now getting into Marx. I don’t know why it took so long, but it was worth the wait. The guy is a truly outstanding writer, when he wants to be, and he loves footnotes as much as I do. If you follow them along you find that he is sometimes witty and often sarcastic, stunningly well read, and really smart. Continue reading
Feral Capitalism Hits the Streets
by David Harvey
11 August 2011
“Nihilistic and feral teenagers” the Daily Mail called them: the crazy youths from all walks of life who raced around the streets mindlessly and desperately hurling bricks, stones and bottles at the cops while looting here and setting bonfires there, leading the authorities on a merry chase of catch-as-catch-can as they tweeted their way from one strategic target to another.
The word “feral” pulled me up short. It reminded me of how the communards in Paris in 1871 were depicted as wild animals, as hyenas, that deserved to be (and often were) summarily executed in the name of the sanctity of private property, morality, religion, and the family. But then the word conjured up another association: Tony Blair attacking the “feral media,” having for so long been comfortably lodged in the left pocket of Rupert Murdoch only later to be substituted as Murdoch reached into his right pocket to pluck out David Cameron. Continue reading
How does capitalism get reproduced over time? This question has puzzled political economists from the seventeenth century onwards. Many simple models have been devised to answer this very complex question. While none of them are fully satisfactory, many insights are to be had from studying them and in these times of deep and frustrating troubles it is very important that we do just that.
One such model can be extracted from the works of Karl Marx and however abhorrent his political views might be to many, we ignore his insights at our peril. So here is a Marx parable that has interesting relevance to our present circumstance. Continue reading
May Day is the occasion we celebrate the grand achievements of the workers of the world in making our world a far, far better place to live in. There is, unfortunately, not too much to celebrate these days. The past 30 years are littered with battles and skirmishes that have resulted in defeat after defeat for organised labour.
A capitalist class gone rampant has now consolidated its power to command or corrupt almost all the major institutions that regulate the body politic – the political parties (of both left and right), the media, the universities, the law, to say nothing of the repressive state apparatus and international institutions. The democracy of money power now rules. A global plutocracy exerts its will almost everywhere unchallenged.
So what is there to celebrate? We would not, of course, have what we still have now (from pensions to the remnants of reasonable health care and public education) had it not been for the labour movement. But waxing nostalgic over the undoubted achievements and heroism of the past will get us nowhere.
May Day should therefore be about relaunching a revolutionary movement to change the world. The very thought of doing that – even just saying it and writing it down – is as exhilarating as it is astonishing.
(paper prepared for the American Sociological Association Meetings in Atlanta, August 16th, 2010)
There are many explanations for the crisis of capital that began in 2007. But the one thing missing is an understanding of “systemic risks.” I was alerted to this when Her Majesty the Queen visited the London School of Economics and asked the prestigious economists there how come they had not seen the crisis coming. Being a feudal monarch rather than an ordinary mortal, the economists felt impelled to answer. After six months of reflection the economic gurus of the British Academy submitted their conclusions. The gist was that many intelligent and dedicated economists had worked assiduously and hard on understanding the micro-processes. But everyone had somehow missed “systemic risk.” A year later, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund said “we sort of know vaguely what systemic risk is and what factors might relate to it. But to argue that it is a well-developed science at this point is overstating the fact.” In a formal paper, the IMF described the study of systemic risk as “in its infancy.”[1. Schneider, H., 2010, “’Systemic risk’ is the new buzz word as officials try to prevent another bubble,” Washington Post, July 26, 2010.] In Marxian theory (as opposed to myopic neoclassical or financial theory), “systemic risk” translates into the fundamental contradictions of capital accumulation. The IMF might save itself a lot of trouble by studying them. So how, then, can we put Marx’s theorization of the internal contradictions of capitalism to work to understand the roots of our contemporary dilemmas? Continue reading
Reshaping Economic Geography: The World Development Report 2009
Dec 15 2009 4:15AM Development and Change 40(6):1269–1277 (2009). Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. Published by Blackwell Publishing. Download article as PDF
Something ominous began to happen in 2006. The rate of foreclosures in low-income areas of older US cities began to increase. Officialdom and the media took very little notice because, as had happened many years before in the early stages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the communities affected were low-income, mainly African-American or immigrant (Hispanics), in cities like Cleveland and Detroit that were in any case already blighted and deteriorated. It was only in mid-2007, when the foreclosure wave had spread to white middle class areas as well as to the US South (Florida in particular) and Southwest (California), where new housing tract developments, often in peripheral areas, were becoming vulnerable, that officialdom started to take notice and the mainstream press began to comment. By the end of that year, nearly 2 million people had lost their homes and estimates began to emerge that another 4 or perhaps 6 million more might be lost before it was all over. By the autumn of 2008, the phenomenon of the ‘sub-prime mortgage crisis’ had led to the demise of all the major Wall Street Investment Banks, either through change of status or through forced mergers, and the outright bankruptcy of Lehman that triggered a worldwide collapse of confidence in financial institutions. The contagion then spread outwards from banking to the major holders of mortgage debt (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) along with insurance giants like AIG, before hitting the rest of the economy big- time towards the end of 2008. By early 2009 the export-led industrialization model that had generated such spectacular growth in East and Southeast Asia was contracting at an alarming rate; at the same time, many icons of American capitalism, such as General Motors, were moving closer to bankruptcy.
Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition
Talk given at the World Social Forum 2010
The historical geography of capitalist development is at a key inflexion point in which the geographical configurations of power are rapidly shifting at the very moment when the temporal dynamic is facing very serious constraints. Three percent compound growth (generally considered the minimum satisfactory growth rate for a healthy capitalist economy) is becoming less and less feasible to sustain without resort to all manner of fictions (such as those that have characterized asset markets and financial affairs over the last two decades). There are good reasons to believe that there is no alternative to a new global order of governance that will eventually have to manage the transition to a zero growth economy. If that is to be done in an equitable way, then there is no alternative to socialism or communism. Since the late 1990s, the World Social Forum became the center for articulating the theme “another world is possible.” It must now take up the task of defining how another socialism or communism is possible and how the transition to these alternatives are to be accomplished. The current crisis offers a window of opportunity to reflect on what might be involved.