Interest in Marx just doesn’t seem to go away.
Not after the Great Financial Crash of 2007-08. In the midst of the Second Great Depression, which also doesn’t seem to be going away.
And so Daniel W. Drezner [ht: sn] is the latest in a long line of professors and pundits who, in recent years, has been compelled to admit that Marx got at least a few things right.
Going beyond Smith and Ricardo, Marx stressed two important facets of the market that they did not. First, he stressed that crisis was endogenous to global capitalism. Marx acknowledged and admired the productive machine that was the capitalist system, but he also stressed that periodic busts were baked into the system. This is a point that spread into some corners of mainstream economics — see Hyman Minsky, Charles Kindleberger or even Reinhart and Rogoff – but could do with a little more emphasis in the old grad school syllabus.
The second dimension Marx stressed was power — which is why he’s still appreciated among those who study global political economy. A riff through The Communist Manifesto or the highly underrated Wage Labor and Capital shows the ways in which Marx appreciated how capitalism led to a redistribution and concentration of economic power over time. It’s not that hard to find recent empirical work that bolsters a Marxist analysis of economic power.
Then, as has become de rigueur in these kinds of pieces, there’s the facile reference to one or another of the tired refrains concerning Marx, in complete disregard of the scholarly literature. In this case, it’s Marx as an economic determinism, which even my undergraduate students are well aware is one of those oft-repeated but mistaken interpretations of what Marx and Engels were up to in formulating a materialist interpretation of history.
In any case, the real howler in Drezner’s piece is the following assertion: “We’re operating in a world where the core business interests in the United States — for kicks, let’s call them the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie” — are being ignored.” Really? What more could Drezner or the “core business interests” he refers to want? Even lower workers’ wages and higher corporate profits? Even cheaper money and larger interest-rate spreads for Too Big to Fail banks?
No one is arguing (certainly not I) that the Tea Partiers have been acting—in the first or even last instance—out of economic interests. Not even in the latest debt-ceiling showdown, which apparently they’ve lost. (Race, religion, and so much more play important roles in Tea Party ideology.) But at least some factions of American business did bet on the Tea Party—to criticize Obamacare, to attack transfer programs, to derail minimal government regulations—as long as it could be controlled. But then the Frankenstein monster they created got out of control.
And that’s one thing those core business interests do want: they may not be able to control an always-unstable capitalism but, as the self-appointed masters of the universe, they do want to be able to exercise their control over anyone who is appointed (or aspires to join) their executive committee.
As if to confirm my anti-economic determinist view of the Tea Party, Zack Beauchamp [ht: db] offers an important analysis of the role of racism in creating the government shutdown and the battle over the debt ceiling.
The basic cleavage between North and South, began by slavery, has set the fault lines of American politics again and again. This time, the crisis isn’t as severe as the civil war, nor as divisive as the battle over civil rights. But make no mistake: today’s Republican radicalism, with all of its attendent [sic] terrifying brinksmanship, is the grandchild of the white South’s devastating defeats in the struggle over racial exclusion.