Beyond the perfect and imperfect to the real

“There are…, I should admit, forces which one might fairly well call “automatic” which operate under any normal monetary system in the direction of restoring a long-period equilibrium between saving and investment. The point upon which I cast doubt – though the contrary is generally believed – is whether these “automatic forces” will…tend to bring about not only an equilibrium between saving and investment but also an optimum level of production.”

John Maynard Keynes

This brief quote from the great man sums up the argument put forth in his magnum opus, The General Theory, that a capitalist economy does not have an automatic tendency to achieve full employment. It may possess other “automatic forces”, but these will not do the trick. Continue reading


Karl Marx – an intro

Following last week’s brief introduction to Keynes, here is one for Karl Marx, along the same lines. This year is the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth and his work remains important to an understanding of the modern world.

I found this video interesting as it contains some ideas and perspectives on Marx that I hadn’t come across before, so it is well worth viewing.

As the narrator explains, much of Marx’s writing was on capitalism rather than what should replace it, at least in any detail. His magnum opus, Capital, is hard-going but remains an extraordinary achievement, while his and Engels’ earlier work, The Communist Manifesto, is pretty short but also very much a fiery and passionate diatribe.

Marx praised capitalism’s productive powers and, remarkably, predicted that it would sweep the world. He was also its foremost critic, and the video does a good job of outlining many of the flaws he identified.

Is full employment possible under capitalism?

An interesting interview with Robert Pollin on the Real News Network, in which he discusses the possibility of achieving full employment under capitalism. He considers the ideas on this subject of Marx, Keynes, Kalecki and Friedman.

For me, the historical record seems to support the ideas of Kalecki and Marx, in that achieving full employment may be possible, but sustaining it is much more difficult. This is because it tends to change the balance of power in society in favour of the workers, which the employers don’t like. If high inflation or a squeeze on profits is to be avoided, a new bargain between employers and workers is necessary.

The solution is thus a political one, and leads to a different kind of capitalism. It may be possible for a while but, once again, history suggests that this is hard to sustain, and that a squeeze on profits will result, leading to a slowdown in investment and growth and subsequently to a rise in unemployment once again. This also lends support to the ‘classical’ ideas of Anwar Shaikh on wages and unemployment, which I discuss here.

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

Synthesizing of Marx and Keynes

James Crotty discusses some of Keynes’ key ideas on the uncertain nature of the future and how this affects investment and finance in a capitalist economy. He points out that many of Keynes’ important insights can be found in Marx, but that Keynes put financial instability centre stage.

Production and realization of surplus value – Marxists, Keynesians and others

Karl_Marx_001This quote is taken from a footnote to Marx’s Capital Volume II (p. 391 in the Penguin edition). The volume was put together after Marx’s death by his friend and collaborator Engels, drawing on extensive notes. The quote provides inspiration for the analysis of one particular contradiction in the dynamics of capitalism :

“Contradiction in the capitalist mode of production. The workers are important for the market as buyers of commodities. But as sellers of their commodity – labour-power – capitalist society has the tendency to restrict them to their minimum price. Further contradiction: the periods in which capitalist production exerts all its forces regularly show themselves to be periods of over-production; because the limit to the application of the productive powers is not simply the production of value, but also its realization. However, the sale of commodities, the realization of commodity capital, and thus of surplus-value as well, is restricted not by the consumer needs of society in general, but by the consumer needs of a society in which the great majority are always poor and must always remain poor.” (my emphasis)

It is important not to take this quote out of context. In addition, despite significant inequality and poverty, Marx was clearly wrong about the majority always remaining poor under capitalism. However, the contradiction described here between the production of surplus value and its realization upon sale, has given rise to plenty of debate among left economists. Continue reading

The Strange Capitalist Embrace of Austerity Viewed in Terms of Marx’s Falling Profit-Rate Law – via heteconomist

An interesting post from Peter Cooper at his heteconomist blog on a topic I have discussed before: the effects and limits of government policy on the rate of profit.

Profitability in a capitalist economy provides both the motive for investment, and the source of it via companies’ retained earnings.

Keynesian policies to expand demand can work to increase growth, but in Marxist terms they are limited by their effects on the rate of profit.

Austerity could perversely raise the growth rate over the medium run by restoring private sector profitability, even if it dampens growth initially.

If this idea is right, one can see that capitalism is often not a ‘nice’ system. It may be unrivaled in its capacity for wealth creation, but this is typically done so unevenly and often unfairly. Intervention can mitigate some of this, but within limits.