Ellen Meiksins Wood on the spread of capitalism

The Origin of CapitalismMarxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood, in an excerpt from her hugely interesting book The Origin of Capitalism, describes the spread of capitalism from its unique genesis in England and its impact on international relations (p.174-6). The section on the role of the state in promoting ‘late’ development beyond Britain remains particularly relevant to today’s poorest countries:

“For those who regard capitalism as the consequence of commercial expansion when it reached a critical mass, there is something paradoxical about the development of English capitalism. England was certainly part of a vast trading network. But other European nation states in the early modern period were also deeply involved in the system of international trade, as were non-European civilizations, some of which long had trading networks more highly developed and extensive than the European. What distinguished England – and what was specifically capitalist about it – was not, in the first instance, predominance as a trading nation or any peculiarity in its way of conducting foreign trade. England’s peculiarity was not its role in an outwardly expanding commercial system but, on the contrary, its inward development, the growth of a unique domestic economy.

What marked off England’s commercial system from others was a single large and integrated national market, increasingly uniting the country into one economic unit (which eventually embraced the British Isles as a whole), with a specialized division of labour among interdependent regions and a growing, and mutually reinforcing, interaction between agricultural and industrial sectors. While England competed with others in an expanding system of international trade, not least by military means, a new kind of commercial system was emerging at home, which would soon give it an advantage on the international plane too. This system was unique in its dependence on intensive as distinct from extensive expansion, on the extraction of surplus value created in production as distinct from profit in the sphere of circulation, on economic growth based on productivity and competition within a single market – in other words, on capitalism.

Capitalism, then, while it certainly developed within – and could not have developed without – an international system of trade, was a domestic product. But it was not in the nature of capitalism to remain at home for very long. Its need for endless accumulation, on which its very survival depended, produced new and distinctive imperatives of expansion. These imperatives operated at various levels. The most obvious was, of course, the imperialist drive. Here again, although other European states were deeply involved in imperialism, capitalism had a transformative effect. The new requirements of capitalism created new imperialist needs, and it was British capitalism that produced an imperialism answering to the specific requirements of capitalist accumulation. Above all, capitalism created new imperialist possibilities by generating economic imperatives, the compulsions of the market, which could reach far beyond direct political dominion.

Capitalism also expanded out from Britain in another and more complicated sense. The unique productivity engendered by capitalism, especially in its industrial form, gave Britain new advantages not only in its old commercial rivalries with other European states but also in their military conflicts. So, from the late eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth, Britain’s major European rivals were under pressure to develop their economies in ways that could meet this new challenge. The state itself became a major player. This was true most notably in Germany, with its state-led industrialization, which in the first instance was undoubtedly driven more by older geopolitical and military considerations than by capitalist motivations.

In such cases, the drive for capitalist development did not come from internal property relations like those that had impelled the development of capitalism in England from within. Where, as in France and Germany, there was an adequate concentration of productive forces, capitalism could develop in response to external pressures emanating from an already existing capitalist system elsewhere. States still following a pre-capitalist logic could become effective agents of capitalist development. The point here, however, is not simply that in these later developing capitalisms, as in many others after them, the state played a primary role. What is even more striking is the ways in which the traditional, pre-capitalist state system, together with the old commercial network, became a transmission belt for capitalist imperatives.

The European state system, then, was a conduit for the first outward movements of capitalism. From then on, capitalism spread outward from Europe both by means of imperialism and increasingly by means of economic imperatives. The role of the state in imperial ventures is obvious, but even in the operation of purely economic laws of motion, the state continued to be an unavoidable medium.

Capitalism had emerged first in one country. After that, it could  never emerge again in the same way. Every extension of its laws of motion changed the conditions of development thereafter, and every local context shaped the processes of change. But having once begun in a single nation state, and having been followed by other nationally organized processes of economic development, capitalism has spread not by erasing national boundaries but by reproducing its national organization, creating an increasing number of national economies and nation states. The inevitably uneven development of separate, if interrelated, national entities, especially when subject to imperatives of competition, has virtually guaranteed the persistence of national forms.”


Some remarks on MMT and Marxism – via Radical Political Economy

Continuing this week’s slightly eclectic series of posts on Modern Monetary Theory, here is a repost of a repost(!) of some thoughts on MMT and Marxism by blogger Scott Ferguson, via the Union for Radical Political Economy blog. The link is below.

David M. Fields has kindly asked me to expand my critique of David Harvey’s latest project for the Union for Radical Political Economics blog. The result is a brief essay titled, “Some Remarks on MMT & Marxism in Light of David Harvey’s “Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason”.

via Some remarks on MMT and Marxism

Profitability and investment – via Michael Roberts blog

An interesting take on the reasons for the continued weakness of investment and growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession. For Marxist Michael Roberts, it is mostly about the failure of the rate of profit to recover to pre-recession levels. The link to his post is below.

Recently, Larry Elliott, the economics correspondent of the British liberal newspaper, The Guardian raised again the puzzle of the gap between rising corporate profits and stagnant corporate investment in the major capitalist economies. Elliott put it “The multinational companies that bankroll the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos are awash with cash. Profits are strong. The return on […]

via Profitability and investment again – the AMECO data — Michael Roberts Blog

Moseley’s macro-monetary Marx – a review and partial critique

FMoseley Money and TotalityMarxist Professor Fred Moseley’s recent work Money and Totality was 20 years in the making. A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of reading it, I remarked on this blog that it was thoroughly engaging, at least for those interested in Marxist economic theory and its application to the analysis of capitalism. I also promised further comment, once I had finished it, so here goes.

Moseley’s interpretation of Marx’s theory is ‘macro’ ie macroeconomic, in that it begins logically with the operation of the economy as a whole, and then proceeds to the ‘micro’ or the operation of the individual parts of the economy in question.

The interpretation is ‘monetary’ in that it argues that Marx’s theory uses values or prices quantified in terms of money. Capitalism is a money-using system, and in fact Marx defines capital itself as money which is used to make more money, or ‘self-expanding value’.

The title of the book is thus explained: ‘money and totality’, the latter as describing the importance of the macroeconomic system as a whole. Continue reading

What I am reading – Money and Totality by Fred Moseley

FMoseley Money and TotalityMoney and Totality by Marxist economist Professor Fred Moseley was published last year and I have recently managed to get hold of a copy of the affordable paperback edition. For those interested in Marxist political economy and how it can contribute to understanding the workings and evolution of capitalism, this work, 20 years in the making, is surely worth some study.

Michael Roberts’ blog, which I often find informative in its alternative perspectives to both mainstream and Keynesian economic thought, can be found here. His review of the book is here, and Roberts is certainly enthusiastic about it, citing it as probably the best book on Marxist economic theory this century.

While I am only a little way through the book, I am finding it both clearly written and thoroughly absorbing. Moseley repeats the same central arguments over and over, presenting his key thesis from different perspectives, using some basic algebra and substantial textual evidence to support his case. While some may find this irritating, I have so far found it helpful in grasping the point of the work. Continue reading

Learning from the Great Depression – Michael Roberts

Recently, the economics editor of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, Larry Elliott, presented us with a comparison of the Great Depression of the 1930s and now. In effect, Elliott argued that the world economy was now in a similar depression as then. The 1930s depression started with a stock market crash in 1929, followed […]

via Learning from the Great Depression — Michael Roberts Blog

Forecasting the Great Recession: listen to the mavericks!

Did anyone forecast the Great Recession that has created so much suffering across the world for close to a decade? The answer is yes, but they tended to be from outside positions of power and either kept quiet or were ignored.

The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, recently claimed that ‘big improvements’ have been made in its ability to forecast the British economy. If this is true, it is undoubtedly welcome.

Haldane highlights the failure to take account of high and rising borrowing levels, but still admits that the Bank is ‘not going to forecast the next recession’, since their ‘models are just not that good’.

Greater forecasting success fell to more heterodox economists, those from outside the mainstream, whose work was more prescient. Continue reading