Notes and quotes on Zimbabwe and Marx’s theory of ‘so-called primitive accumulation’

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


Trump’s robber baron presidency – via Lars P. Syll


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 …

via Trump’s robber baron presidency — LARS P. SYLL

Stiglitz and Greenwald on the learning society

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 on the paradox of success

“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.

Joseph Stiglitz: industrial policies are becoming “in” again

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.

‘Modern’ industrial policy in brief

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.

Although she mentions rent-seeking as a potentially bad outcome of industrial policy, the video misses the point that rent-seeking can lead to value-creating rents which benefit development. All economies have rents and rent-seeking, broadly defined, although they tend to be more formal and legalised in advanced countries, taking forms such as lobbying rather than bribery and other forms of corruption.

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.