Zimbabwe is in political turmoil. Now that Robert Mugabe has gone, many are wondering what will come next. Given my interest in development economics and my own ignorance of the political economy of this troubled nation, beyond the reporting of the mainstream media, I thought it would be helpful to draw on some of the ‘literature’ to further my understanding and, hopefully, that of the readers of this blog. I can’t pretend to have expertise in this area, but one of the aims here is to share useful knowledge, so here goes.
I have included a brief summary of Zimbabwe’s economic performance since the War and follow that with some quotes from political economists who have studied the country, as well as the historical emergence of capitalism through what Marx called ‘primitive accumulation’. Continue reading →
In Trump’s world, the rich in the US obviously are not rich enough. So he has set out to lower the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and abolish the estate tax. The working and middle classes are, of course, überjoyed …
In the short video below, Bruce Greenwald and Joseph Stiglitz introduce their work on the learning society and the idea of development. They argue that the most important feature of economic and social development is the creation and diffusion of knowledge, rather than capital accumulation per se, which has been the traditional focus of much economic theory.
They also argue that learning takes place mainly in institutions rather than in markets, and that markets are in general inefficient due to the presence of imperfect information. State intervention is necessary to correct such market failures.
Yanis Varoufakis is a self-styled ‘erratic Marxist’ and a former finance minister of Greece under the Syriza-led government. He penned his illuminating book The Global Minotaur (TGM) some years ago, in the aftermath of the evolving Global Financial Crisis.
He has become a prolific writer for the intelligent layman, and his website is well worth a look, particularly for those interested in progressive reform in the European Union and the Eurozone.
TGM is Varoufakis’ thesis on the roots of the crisis, which according to him lie back in the 1940s, towards the end of World War II. At that time, the US had emerged as the global capitalist hegemon, economically, politically and militarily.
The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire was attended by such figures as the economist John Maynard Keynes, who led the British delegation, and Harry Dexter White, his US counterpart. The aim was to construct a post-war global economic and financial order which would avoid another Great Depression, as had occurred in the 1930s, and the achievement of peace and prosperity via international cooperation. Continue reading →
“Self-restraint, as the philosophers know, is a rare and bewildering virtue. It is also a virtue that tends to come unstuck the more powerful we become. In this it resembles the relationship between trust and success: the stronger the bonds of trust between us, the greater our collective and individual success. But success breeds greed, and greed is a solvent of trust. Similarly with self-restraint: having it can help one succeed. But then success poses a threat to one’s self-restraint.”
Yanis Varoufakis (2015), The Global Minotaur – America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy (p.249)
This thought-provoking quote is taken from the postscript of Varoufakis‘s enlightening book on the roots and evolution of the Global Financial Crisis, originally published in 2011.
The author describes how post-war US hegemony produced a ‘Global Plan’ which helped to underpin a successful capitalism for twenty years; its ‘finest hour’, according to Varoufakis, and what has often been called the Golden Age. This gave way to his ‘Global Minotaur’ in the 1970s, which ultimately led us to the crisis of 2008 and its collapse.
The key that links these systemic ideas, and the possibility of a successful global capitalist future is what he calls the ‘global surplus recycling mechanism’ (GSRM). The evolution of the GSRM is the unifying theme which unites the book, which I will discuss in a future post.
Some of The Global Minotaur‘s ideas overlap with those of Michael Pettis, particularly in the latter’s book The Great Rebalancing. In fact the two are largely complementary, as Pettis describes the domestic policies in countries such as China and Germany, which helped to create the financial imbalances that caused the crisis.
In the video below, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz describes the comeback of industrial policies in economic debate and policy. Stiglitz comes from the centre-left politically, and certainly takes progressive views on issues such as inequality and state intervention.
He has chosen to critique mainstream neoclassical thinking from ‘within’ by focusing on market failure and imperfections, which opens the way to policies designed to make the market work better. It remains a market-centric viewpoint.
While taking on the mainstream is admirable, this necessarily leaves out the interdisciplinary perspectives of political economy, which in my view offer a richer understanding of socioeconomic phenomena. For those more wedded to the latter, coming from outside the mainstream, industrial policy has been studied in depth for some time.
Despite this, Stiglitz remains an interesting and influential figure.
In the short video below, Evelyn Dietsche outlines what she calls a ‘modern’ approach to industrial policy that developing countries can apply to their policymaking. She contrasts the lessons of those countries in East Asia that industrialised successfully in the post war period, with the relative failures of such policies in other nations.
The video does discuss the need to look at the specific contexts in which industrial policy takes place in different countries. This is an important point. In some cases, a successful industrial policy may require some kind of prior political reform; in others, a particular economic policy may be implemented straight away. In both situations, governments and other institutional actors need to adopt an experimental approach, and learn from successes and failures as they go.
Overall the video makes some helpful points in introducing some of the modern research findings on industrial policy. The latter has had something of a bad name in mainstream circles, but the tide has been shifting in recent years.