Thursday, 27 November 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Predatory Capitalism: Old Trends and New Realities

Saturday, 12 July 2014 09:39 By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout | News Analysis

Predatory Capitalism(Image: Bar code, shark teeth, empty suit via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

See also: Predatory Capitalism and the System's Denial in the Face of Truth

In seeking to understand the nature of contemporary capitalism, it is important to realize that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. It is also pertinent that we recognize the importance of structural causality in making sense of contemporary capitalist developments while avoiding methodological reductionism.

Thus, in trying to come to terms with the nature of the beast at hand, a capitalist system running amok, we need to look at the overall structure of the system; that is, we need to comprehend the different constitutive parts of the system that keep it together and running in ways which are harmful to the interests of the great majority of the population, dangerous to democracy and public values, and detrimental to the environment and earth's ecosystem. Focusing on one element of the system while ignoring other things (perhaps because we think that they constitute incidental outcomes or processes of secondary nature) may limit our understanding by creating a flawed perspective about the dynamics and the contradictions of contemporary capitalism and thereby undermine our ability to propose sound and realistic solutions.

Capitalism as a socioeconomic system is neither egalitarian nor democratic.

In considering the central question, why contemporary capitalism pursues goals which benefit almost exclusively big capital and the rich (this is the underlying issue behind virtually all recent studies dealing with inequality), it should be clear from the outset that capitalism as a socioeconomic system is neither egalitarian nor democratic. Capitalism is not an economic system designed to cater to the needs of the common folk, and, left to its own devices - especially the financial component - it can wreak havoc on societies. As for the so-called trickle-down theory, or the horse-and-sparrow theory, as John Kenneth Galbraith referred to it [1], it is nothing more than a propaganda tool used by those who seek to justify policies favoring the rich.

Some Notes on the Dynamics and Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalism represents a specific, historically determined mode of production. It is a ruthless economic system, representing the most advanced form of commodity production. In this system, the extraction of profit is the driving force of capitalist commodity production, with exploitation and inequality representing structural necessities. Capital itself is nothing but a sort of self-expanding value, that is, value that generates surplus value.

The production of surplus value is the fundamental law of capitalism. Capitalist production has as its objective aim and goal not the production of use-values as such, but rather that of surplus value. Under capitalism, it is of course the workers themselves who create new value, which is greater than the value of their labor power. This is the essence of surplus value.

Capitalist expansion has taken place in the course of history via different venues, ranging from plunder and exploitation, through trade, to investment in industry and the financialization of assets.

Capital accumulation is an anarchic and contradictory process. The logic of the accumulation of capital leads to enormous wealth (there is no other known economic system which can match capitalism's inherent capacity to generate wealth), on the one hand, and to the relative impoverishment of the working population on the other. Unemployment is a structural element of capitalism. The manifold activities of capitalist accumulation also tend to accelerate the process of the concentration and centralization of capital, eventually giving rise to the dominance of finance capital and to the emergence of financialization as a possible new stage in the evolution of capitalism.[2]

Capitalism is an expansionist socioeconomic system. Capitalist expansion has taken place in the course of history via different venues, ranging from plunder and exploitation, through trade, to investment in industry and the financialization of assets. There is no point in going into details here about the history of global capitalism, but suffice to say that capitalism has a long and brutal history of expansion, exploitation and injustice, dating back to the 15th century and to the subsequent rise of imperial powers across Europe and North America, with the subjugation and the exploitation of people and resources from the periphery providing the growth engine for the economies of the imperial centers.[3]

The landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.

It is only in the postwar era that the most destructive tendencies of capitalism are contained (at least inside the advanced capitalist economies), thanks to the spread of progressive economic thinking, the influence of socialism and the power exerted by trade unions. However, since the late 1970s, capitalism is seeking to return with a vengeance to its cruel, brutal and barbaric past by breaking the social contract and intensifying the rate of exploitation in order to shift increasingly greater amounts of wealth from the bottom to the top.[4] A study released in early 2014 by the British humanitarian group Oxfam International shows that the richest 1% had 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population. Stating the case of inequality in more dramatic terms, the report reveals that the richest 85 individuals on the planet share a combined wealth that is equal to that owned by the bottom half of the world's population.[5]

Along with increasing inequality, mass unemployment is once again displaying itself as an intrinsic feature of capitalism and poverty rates are sharply on the rise. There is a consensus that today's young people in the Western world will be worse off than their parents' generation.[6]

Why is capitalism fouling things up again by returning to the more ugly practices of the past? Is it because today's capitalists are greedier than those of the past? Even if we assume that this rather silly suggestion is true, greed alone can hardly explain away why capitalism is running amok in our own time. For a convincing answer to the question of why capitalism has embarked on a journey back toward the future (and perhaps in the process is making the money class even greedier), we need to come to terms with the structural changes in the operation of the capitalist economy.

Resurrecting Anarcho-Capitalism

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy which revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.[7] As such, the landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.[8] Under this system, as Henry A. Giroux has consistently pointed out, democracy and the social state are under constant attack and "citizens are now reduced to data, consumers and commodities."[9]

In this regard, Pope Francis hit the nail on the head when he described today's capitalism as "a new tyranny."[10] Today's brand of capitalism is particularly anti-democratic and simply incapable of functioning in a way conducive to maintaining sustainable and balanced growth. By waging the most vicious class warfare in the entire postwar period, the economic elite and their allies have managed to roll back progress on the economic and social fronts by resurrecting the predatory, free-market capitalism that immiserated millions in the early 20th century while a handful of obscenely wealthy individuals controlled the bulk of the wealth.

As indicated in the report on inequality by Oxfam International cited earlier, evidence in support of this dramatic state of affairs has been growing for a number of years, and the latest work to underscore this point, Thomas Piketty's publishing sensation, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, does it with such powerful impact that, as Paul Krugman said, writing in The New York Review of Books, it may very well "change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics."[11]

The radical paradigm shift in economics was taking place in highly diverse economic environments, ranging from Chile under Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror to liberal democracies in the Anglo-Saxon world (in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan) and to communist China under Deng Xiaoping.

But let's take things from the start. The capitalist order we have in place today has its roots in the structural changes that took place in the accumulation process back in the mid-to-late 1970s. The 1970s was a decade of economic slowdown and inflationary pressures in the advanced capitalist world. The crisis, brought about by new technological innovations, declining rates of profit and the dissolution of the social structures of accumulation that had emerged after World War II, led to sluggish growth rates, high inflation and even higher rates of unemployment, bringing about a phenomenon that came to be known as "stagflation." From a policy point of view, "stagflation" signaled the end of an era in which there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment (shown by the Phillips curve) and, by extension, the end of the dominance of the Keynesian school of thought.

As with all other capitalist crises in the past, the crisis of the 1970s compelled capital and the economic elite to restructure the way the capitalist economy had functioned up to that time. The restructuring process unfolded in several ways, which included, among other things, increasing the pace of market liberalization, attacking the traditional welfare state and the interests of unionized workers in an attempt to eliminate social programs and suppress wages and create greater flexibility in the labor market, respectively, and initiating a new wave of globalization under the aegis of both industrial and financial capital.

The new economic orthodoxy (which came to be known as the "Washington Consensus") called for open markets, deregulation, privatization, labor flexibility, short-term optimization as a more attractive way to ensure competition and growth, low taxation for corporations and the rich, and a minimum welfare state. The desire was to return to an era in which capitalism functioned unfettered by government and social constraints, in other words, back to the age when capital grew by running roughshod over labor.

Indeed, a counterrevolution was under way, and it seemed to be global in nature and scope. The radical paradigm shift in economics was taking place in highly diverse economic environments, ranging from Chile under Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror to liberal democracies in the Anglo-Saxon world (in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan) and to communist China under Deng Xiaoping.By the mid-1980s, most capitalist nations around the world, including many Western European countries with long traditions with social democratic policies, had shifted from Keynesianism to neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy.

The march to "economic freedom," which is how the neoliberal counterrevolution was celebrated by arch-conservative thinkers (such as Thomas Sowell, for example) captivated by the nonsense of Austrian economics, did not take place on the basis of some abstract entity known as the "free market." On the contrary, it required active intervention by the capitalist state across society and the economy. Indeed, how else was the welfare state going to be reduced and the power of the labor unions weakened? How else could policies be introduced that increased the upward flows of income, created new investment sites, promoted a new wave of privatization and permitted banks and other financial institutions to practice financial chicanery? How else could failed financial institutions be bailed out with public funds if governments and elected officials had not been turned into the minions of the money class?

The capitalist state everywhere resorted to the use of both hard (i.e., repression) and soft (propaganda) power in order to secure the transition to the new economic and social order commanded by finance capital and big business interests. International organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but also countless non-governmental organizations throughout the world, were mobilized for the promotion of this goal. The corporate-owned mainstream media and the overwhelming majority of academics and intellectuals also joined the show as cheerleaders of the neoliberal vision.

In sum, the return to predatory capitalism was prompted by a crisis in the workings of the postwar capitalist regime and realized through active political intervention, i.e., class politics, by the capitalist state and international organizations, and the support provided by the intellectual elite and mass media.[12]

On the Links Between Financialization, Neoliberalism and Globalization

The three pillars on which contemporary capitalism is structured around - financialization, neoliberalism and globalization - need to be understood on the basis of a structural connectivity model, although it is rather incorrect to reduce one from the other. Let me explain.

The surge of financial capital long predates the current neoliberal era, and the financialization of the economy takes place independently of neoliberalism, although it is greatly enhanced by the weakening of regulatory regimes and the collusion between finance capital and political officials that prevails under the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy. Thus, challenging neoliberalism - a task of herculean proportions given than virtually every aspect of the economy and of the world as a whole, from schools to the workplace and from post offices to the IMF, functions today on the basis of neoliberal premises - does not necessarily imply a break on the financialization processes under way in contemporary capitalist economies. Financialization needs to be tackled on its own terms, possibly with alternative finance systems and highly interventionist policies, which include the nationalization of banks, rather than through regulation alone. In any case, what is definitely needed in order to constrain the destructive aspects of financial capitalism is what the late American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky referred to as "big government." We shall return to Minsky later in the analysis.

The surge of finance capital can be traced at least since the beginning of the 20th century. In a major study addressing "the economic characteristics of the latest phase of capitalist development,"[13] published in 1910, Rudolf Hilferding, an Austrian-born Marxist economist and main theoretician for the Social Democratic Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic, devoted special attention to the processes of the concentration and centralization of capital, and outlined a theory of imperialism as a necessary development in the evolution of capitalism.[14] In the course of this process he also made it clear that systematic investigation of the role of money and credit, the expansion of capitalist enterprises into corporations and their conversion into corporations was of the outmost importance for the understanding of the evolution of capitalism.

There can be no mistake that the transition "from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital" emerged as a key feature of "modern" capitalism even before the outbreak of World War I.

Hilferding demonstrated that the rise of the industrial corporation reflects an objective "change in the function of the industrial enterprise."[15] The industrial corporation, or the joint-stock company, allows anyone in possession of money to become a money capitalist. In effect, what Hilferding was observing was the phenomenon of the separation of ownership of capital from control in the joint-stock company. According to him, this process not only accelerated the concentration of capital, but also provided the joint-stock company with the ability to expand far more rapidly than the individually owned enterprise, thereby leading to the centralization of capital.

For Hilferding, however, it was the emergence of financial institutions and banks, in particular, that truly intensified the processes toward concentration. He stressed that in the mature stage of capitalism, banks, which were quite necessary to the growth of industry, had become fully dominant and directly controlled the economic life of the system. Through its vast resources of liquid capital, banks were able to obtain control of major trusts in industry, since the latter needed idle capital in order to increase and expand the production process. Viewed from this perspective, industrial capital was inextricably intertwined with banking capital and wholly dependent on money capital.

The merging process between industrial and banking capital gives rise to a new form of capital: finance capital. Moreover, the establishment of an intimate relationship between banking capital and industrial capital results in an increased tendency toward the export of capital. The concentration of capital, which leads to monopolization, encourages the export of capital by virtue of the fact that the over-accumulation of capital can no longer find profitable investment opportunities at home.

While it is true that Hilferding mistakenly considered the dependence of industrial capital on banking capital as a permanent state of affairs (the great monopolistic corporations became independent of banking capital and today's large corporations use their own retained profits to finance investment), there can be no mistake that the transition "from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital"[16] emerged as a key feature of "modern" capitalism even before the outbreak of World War I. Indeed, the Great Depression of the 1930s revealed in unmistaken terms the extent to which finance and financial capitalism had taken central stage, reshaping in a profound way the United States' economy and affecting dramatically developments across the world.

Rejecting the orthodox quantity theory in which the circulation of money is treated as constant, Minsky identified three distinct financing positions: hedge, speculative and Ponzi.

While Hilferding, Lenin and many other Marxist thinkers provided important insights regarding the evolution of capitalism, the significance of financial arrangements in "modern" capitalism was scrutinized and analyzed most insightfully and more thoroughly perhaps than anyone else in the postwar period by the American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky. Although he focused purely on the domestic economy, Minsky based his analysis on the claim that financial capitalism is inherently unstable, leading inevitably to financial crises as those produced by the stock market crash of 1929.

Relying on both empirical observations and theoretical analysis, Minsky underscored the point that the financial component of capitalism was the single most important aspect behind capitalism's inherent tendencies toward crises. Building upon Keynes' General Theory, Minsky wrote:

The capital development of a capitalist economy is accompanied by exchanges of present money for future money. The present money pays for resources that go into the production of investment output, whereas the future money is the "profits" which will accrue to the capital asset owning firms (as the capital assets are used in production). As a result of the process by which investment is financed, the control over items in the capital stock by producing units is financed by liabilities - these are commitments to pay money at dates specified or as conditions arise. For each economic unit, the liabilities on its balance sheet determine a time series of priorpayment commitments, even as the assets generate a time series of conjectured cash receipts.[17]

In this manner,

" . . . in a capitalist economy the past, the present, and the future are linked not only by capital assets and labor force characteristics but also by financial relations. The key financial relationships link the creation and the ownership of capital assets to the structure of financial relations and changes in this structure. Institutional complexity may result in several layers of intermediation between the ultimate owners of the communities' wealth and the units that control and operate the communities' wealth.[18]

Minsky's analysis of financial capitalism clearly points the way to the development of the financialization of the economy:

In the modern world, analyses of financial relations and their implications for system behavior cannot be restricted to the liability structure of businesses and the cash flows they entail. Households (by the way of their ability to borrow on credit cards for big ticket consumer goods such as automobiles, house purchases, and to carry financial assets), governments (with their large floating and funded debts), and international units (as a result of the internationalization of finance) have liability structures which the current performance of the economy either validates or invalidates.[19]

Consistent with both Marx's and Keynes' analysis, and "in spite of the greater complexity of financial relations," Minsky treats profits as a "key determinant of system behavior"[20], with aggregate demand determining profits.

In Minsky's analysis, the role of banks as profit-seeking institutions is granted special attention. Noting that banks realize the importance of innovation in the pursuit of profits (he calls bankers "merchants of debt who strive to innovate in the assets they acquire and the liabilities they market"[21]), thus rejecting the orthodox quantity theory in which the circulation of money is treated as constant, Minsky identified three distinct financing positions: hedge, speculative and Ponzi.

Hedge financing units are those that can fulfill all of their contractual payment obligations by their cash flows: the greater the weight of equity financing in the liability structure, the greater the likelihood that the unit is a hedge financing unit. Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on "income account" on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows. Such units need to "roll over" their liabilities: (e.g. issue new debt to meet commitments on maturing debt). Governments with floating debts, corporations with floating issues of commercial paper, and banks are typically hedge units.

For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations. Such units can sell assets or borrow. Borrowing to pay interest or selling assets to pay interest (and even dividends) on common stock lowers the equity of a unit, even as it increases liabilities and the prior commitment of future incomes. A unit that Ponzi finances lowers the margin of safety that it offers the holders of its debts.[22]

This description of lending is closer to the real world of finance that leads to crises than anything available in the existing literature. For Minsky, it is the stability in the system that breeds instability as investors, banks and financial institutions become complacent and begin to embark on a riskier approach, which results in rising asset prices and eventually financial crashes when people begin to sell en-masse upon the realization that the accumulated debt cannot be paid off. This development is known as a "Minsky moment."

Minsky's "financial instability hypothesis" provides a useful explanation of financial crises, but also carries practical consequences. Essentially, Minsky felt that the internal contradictions of financial capitalism could be constrained by the establishment of strong institutions. He argued that the reason there had been no financial crises in the first few decades of the postwar era was because of the presence of "big government."[23]

Globalization is in itself a contributing factor to the spread of financial crises while also providing a greater impetus for the deepening of neoliberalism.

The task of stabilizing financial capitalism's inherent tendency towards instability has clearly been severely undermined since the onset of the neoliberal era, with the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009 representing just the latest act in a long series of financial crises since 1966 [24], and witheach new crisis getting bigger and becoming more severe than the previous one. Yet, it is equally clear that financial crises have occurred prior to the installation of a neoliberal regime. Moritz Schularick of the Free University of Berlin identified more than 70 "systemic banking crises" that took place in the past 140 years prior to the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009.[25] Moreover, because of globalization, "big government" action is restrained and the challenges posed to central banking from globalized finance are quite severe, with financial globalization leading "to growing frequency and severity of systemic financial crises."[26] Thus, globalization is in itself a contributing factor to the spread of financial crises while also providing a greater impetus for the deepening of neoliberalism.

Although finance is at the forefront of globalization, there is hardly an aspect of contemporary life that is not affected by globalization, making it a very elusive concept indeed, while adding new levels of complexity to the task of forming appropriate economic and political responses to a system bent on instability and prone to large-scale crises. Globalization creates new systemic risks [27] which we are simply uncertain how to address given the existing power structure in the global political economy where a plutocracy reigns supreme as national governments have capitulated to the whims of the corporate and financial elite and the formal global governance structure needed is missing. Yet, this is precisely the environment that makes predatory capitalism thrive, and one can be certain that its insatiable appetite for more and more profits will only intensify problems in the years ahead if it is not stopped.

Where to Go From Here

Unsurprisingly, given how dysfunctional and dangerous the neoliberal order has proven to be, proposed solutions for the problems stemming from unfettered capitalism are not in short supply. They extend from short-range (proposals for tax reform in order to close the gap between rich and poor) and medium-range goals (reregulation and even nationalization) to some rather long-range structural reforms (redesigning the architecture of the global financial system). The Stiglitz Report is a prime example of the latter set of proposals.[28] Controlling climate change also represents a long-range goal, in fact of vital importance for the stability of any future social and economic order.[29]

On the political front, the task of recapturing the state would seem to be a necessary first step in the drive of any progressive movement or political party seeking to reestablish balance in the relationship between labor and capital, resurrect democracy, redress social injustice and reorient the economy toward sustainable and balanced growth.

Nevertheless, proposals for major reforms that fail to incorporate a vision of alternative social orders must be treated with skepticism. The same goes for approaches that rely purely on reforms undertaken by the elite without citizen involvement and participation. By the same token, progressive forces bent on social change must re-embrace fundamental political principles and courses of social action. Building and sustaining a mass movement remains the best route to challenging the practices of predatory capitalism. However, progressive forces need to stop being constantly on the defensive in order to protect basic and fundamental values from neoliberal jackals and vultures and seek, instead, to sharpen strategic abilities in order to go on the offensive. Narrow ideological blinders must be dropped and joining forces with kindred groups is an absolute necessity in today's world.

Theoretically, we need an eclectic political economy approach which relies on Marxian, Keynesian and post-Keynesian traditions in order to understand contemporary capitalist developments. There are no intellectual giants in the neoliberal tradition. We still need to look to Marx, Keynes and Minsky for great insights into the true workings of capitalism.

On the political front, the task of recapturing the state would seem to be a necessary first step in the drive of any progressive movement or political party seeking to reestablish balance in the relationship between labor and capital, resurrect democracy, redress social injustice and reorient the economy toward sustainable and balanced growth. Still, such undertakings are likely to fail if they are pursued in the absence of a solid understanding of the nature of the current system and without having captured the public imagination, with ignorance of political and social developments and activist practices in other advanced capitalist countries and elsewhere around the world, and without a vision towards a new global order. A long-term vision should not stand in the way of pursuing immediate reforms that alleviate human pain and suffering, and short-term goals should not block the imagination from opening up a world of new possibilities for human relations.

As this article may have made clear, a major advantage that predatory capitalism has over alternative social orders, especially in the direction of a truly democratic future where the economic system produces wealth for the benefit of society as a whole is that it has managed to (a) break free from national government control, (b) shift the balance of power between labor and capital overwhelmingly towards the latter, (c) establish ideological hegemony, and (d) globalize the environment in which it operates. The future of a progressive social order probably requires nothing short of the reversal these trends.

Notes

1. "If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows," Galbraith quipped in response to Ronald Reagan's supply-side economics. See John Kenneth Galbraith, "Recession Economics." The New York Review of Books (February 4, 1982) at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1982/feb/04/recession-economics/

2. See Costas Lapavitsas, Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All. New York: Verso Books, 2013.

3. A classic work on this topic, unrivalled in its scope, narration and clarity, is L. S. Stavrianos's Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981.

4. See C. J. Polychroniou, "Actually Existing Capitalism: Wrecking Societies for the Benefit of Big Capital and the Super-Rich." Truthout (December 12, 2013) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/20558-actually-existing-capitalism-wrecking-societies-for-the-benefit-of-big-capital-and-the-super-rich

5. Graeme Wearden, "Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world." The Guardian (January 20, 2014) at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world

6. See Daniel Boffey, "Middle-class young 'will fare worse than their parents.'" The Guardian (October 12, 2013) at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/oct/12/middle-class-young-people-future-worse-parents; also Eugene Steuerle, Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, and Sisi Zhang, "Lost Generations? Wealth Building among Young Americans." Urban Institute (March 2013) at http://www.urban.org/publications/412766.html

7. While the existence of a global capitalist class and its power in influencing government policies across the world is undeniable, the analysis advanced here does not subscribe to the instrumentalist and conspiratorial view of a global elite running the world. What it suggests, instead, is that the links that have been created in the global economy have produced a global plutocracy whose vast wealth and control of major corporations and organizations impact heavily on the shaping of domestic economic and social policies. The way national governments bend over backwards in order to accommodate the needs and wants of big corporations and the global rich via low taxation is but one example of the way this influence is carried out. So is the demand placed on national governments by global financial markets for the adoption of austerity measures when deficits and debt ratios are seen as running out of control. The much revered notion of "competitiveness" - national economies undergoing structural reforms in their labor markets in order to reduce unit labor costs - is yet another example of how the global environment shapes domestic policymaking.

8. See C. J. Polychroniou, "The Political Economy of Predatory Capitalism." Truthout (January 12, 2014) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21138-the-political-economy-of-predatory-capitalism

9. Henry Giroux, "Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability." Truthout (April 8, 2014) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/22958-neoliberalism-and-the-machinery-of-disposability

10. Heather Saul, "'A new tyranny': Pope Francis attacks unfettered capitalism and says rich should share wealth". The Independent (November 26, 2013) at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pope-francis-unfettered-capitalism-is-a-new-tyranny-and-rich-should-share-wealth-8965045.html

11.Paul Krugman, "Why We're in a New Gilded Age". The New York Review of Books (May 8,2014) at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/may/08/thomas-piketty-new-gilded-age/

12. For an interesting and insightful analysis of the ideological factors leading to the making and consolidation of the neoliberal counterrevolution, see Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

13. Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development, edited with an Introduction by Tom Bottomore. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 21

14. The discussion on Hilferding draws freely here from the author's own work titled Marxist Perspectives on Imperialism: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Praeger, 1991, pp. 53-58.

15. Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital, p. 107

16. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in Selected Works in one volume (New York: International Publishers, 1976), p. 200.

17. Hyman P. Minsky, "The Financial Instability Hypothesis." Working Paper No. 74. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute (May 1992), pp. 2-3 at http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp74.pdf

18. Ibid., p. 4

19. Ibid., pp.4-5

20. Ibid., p. 5

21. Ibid., p. 6

22. Ibid., p. 7

23. See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and L. Randall Wray, "Minsky's Analysis of Financial Capitalism. Working Paper No. 275. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute (July 1999) at http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp/275.pdf

24. L. Randall Wray, "The 1966 Financial Crisis: a Case of Minskian Instability?" Working Paper No. 262. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute, January 1999.Available at SSRN: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.150728

25. Moritz Schularick, "140 Years of Financial Crises: Old Dog, New Tricks." Freie Universität Berlin (August 2010) at http://www.jfki.fu-berlin.de/faculty/economics/team/Ehemalige_Mitarbeiter_innen/schularick/Old_Dog_New_Tricks_Schularick.pdf?1376087682

26. Piero C. Ugolini, Andrea Schaechter, and Mark R. Stone, "Introduction." In Piero C. Ugolini, Andrea Schaechter, and Mark R. Stone (eds.), Challenges to Central Banking from Globalized Financial Systems. Washington, DC.: International Monetary Fund, March 2004.

27. See Ian Goldin and Mike Mariathasan, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks and What to Do About It. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 2014.

28. See Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Stiglitz Report: Reforming the International Monetary and Financial Systems in the Wake of the Global Crisis. New York: New Press, 2010.

29. See, for example, Bert Metz, Controlling Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou

C.J. Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a columnist for a Greek daily national newspaper. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He has taught for many years at universities in the United States and Europe and is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Levy Economics Institute or those of its board members.


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Predatory Capitalism: Old Trends and New Realities

Saturday, 12 July 2014 09:39 By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout | News Analysis

Predatory Capitalism(Image: Bar code, shark teeth, empty suit via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

See also: Predatory Capitalism and the System's Denial in the Face of Truth

In seeking to understand the nature of contemporary capitalism, it is important to realize that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. It is also pertinent that we recognize the importance of structural causality in making sense of contemporary capitalist developments while avoiding methodological reductionism.

Thus, in trying to come to terms with the nature of the beast at hand, a capitalist system running amok, we need to look at the overall structure of the system; that is, we need to comprehend the different constitutive parts of the system that keep it together and running in ways which are harmful to the interests of the great majority of the population, dangerous to democracy and public values, and detrimental to the environment and earth's ecosystem. Focusing on one element of the system while ignoring other things (perhaps because we think that they constitute incidental outcomes or processes of secondary nature) may limit our understanding by creating a flawed perspective about the dynamics and the contradictions of contemporary capitalism and thereby undermine our ability to propose sound and realistic solutions.

Capitalism as a socioeconomic system is neither egalitarian nor democratic.

In considering the central question, why contemporary capitalism pursues goals which benefit almost exclusively big capital and the rich (this is the underlying issue behind virtually all recent studies dealing with inequality), it should be clear from the outset that capitalism as a socioeconomic system is neither egalitarian nor democratic. Capitalism is not an economic system designed to cater to the needs of the common folk, and, left to its own devices - especially the financial component - it can wreak havoc on societies. As for the so-called trickle-down theory, or the horse-and-sparrow theory, as John Kenneth Galbraith referred to it [1], it is nothing more than a propaganda tool used by those who seek to justify policies favoring the rich.

Some Notes on the Dynamics and Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalism represents a specific, historically determined mode of production. It is a ruthless economic system, representing the most advanced form of commodity production. In this system, the extraction of profit is the driving force of capitalist commodity production, with exploitation and inequality representing structural necessities. Capital itself is nothing but a sort of self-expanding value, that is, value that generates surplus value.

The production of surplus value is the fundamental law of capitalism. Capitalist production has as its objective aim and goal not the production of use-values as such, but rather that of surplus value. Under capitalism, it is of course the workers themselves who create new value, which is greater than the value of their labor power. This is the essence of surplus value.

Capitalist expansion has taken place in the course of history via different venues, ranging from plunder and exploitation, through trade, to investment in industry and the financialization of assets.

Capital accumulation is an anarchic and contradictory process. The logic of the accumulation of capital leads to enormous wealth (there is no other known economic system which can match capitalism's inherent capacity to generate wealth), on the one hand, and to the relative impoverishment of the working population on the other. Unemployment is a structural element of capitalism. The manifold activities of capitalist accumulation also tend to accelerate the process of the concentration and centralization of capital, eventually giving rise to the dominance of finance capital and to the emergence of financialization as a possible new stage in the evolution of capitalism.[2]

Capitalism is an expansionist socioeconomic system. Capitalist expansion has taken place in the course of history via different venues, ranging from plunder and exploitation, through trade, to investment in industry and the financialization of assets. There is no point in going into details here about the history of global capitalism, but suffice to say that capitalism has a long and brutal history of expansion, exploitation and injustice, dating back to the 15th century and to the subsequent rise of imperial powers across Europe and North America, with the subjugation and the exploitation of people and resources from the periphery providing the growth engine for the economies of the imperial centers.[3]

The landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.

It is only in the postwar era that the most destructive tendencies of capitalism are contained (at least inside the advanced capitalist economies), thanks to the spread of progressive economic thinking, the influence of socialism and the power exerted by trade unions. However, since the late 1970s, capitalism is seeking to return with a vengeance to its cruel, brutal and barbaric past by breaking the social contract and intensifying the rate of exploitation in order to shift increasingly greater amounts of wealth from the bottom to the top.[4] A study released in early 2014 by the British humanitarian group Oxfam International shows that the richest 1% had 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population. Stating the case of inequality in more dramatic terms, the report reveals that the richest 85 individuals on the planet share a combined wealth that is equal to that owned by the bottom half of the world's population.[5]

Along with increasing inequality, mass unemployment is once again displaying itself as an intrinsic feature of capitalism and poverty rates are sharply on the rise. There is a consensus that today's young people in the Western world will be worse off than their parents' generation.[6]

Why is capitalism fouling things up again by returning to the more ugly practices of the past? Is it because today's capitalists are greedier than those of the past? Even if we assume that this rather silly suggestion is true, greed alone can hardly explain away why capitalism is running amok in our own time. For a convincing answer to the question of why capitalism has embarked on a journey back toward the future (and perhaps in the process is making the money class even greedier), we need to come to terms with the structural changes in the operation of the capitalist economy.

Resurrecting Anarcho-Capitalism

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy which revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.[7] As such, the landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.[8] Under this system, as Henry A. Giroux has consistently pointed out, democracy and the social state are under constant attack and "citizens are now reduced to data, consumers and commodities."[9]

In this regard, Pope Francis hit the nail on the head when he described today's capitalism as "a new tyranny."[10] Today's brand of capitalism is particularly anti-democratic and simply incapable of functioning in a way conducive to maintaining sustainable and balanced growth. By waging the most vicious class warfare in the entire postwar period, the economic elite and their allies have managed to roll back progress on the economic and social fronts by resurrecting the predatory, free-market capitalism that immiserated millions in the early 20th century while a handful of obscenely wealthy individuals controlled the bulk of the wealth.

As indicated in the report on inequality by Oxfam International cited earlier, evidence in support of this dramatic state of affairs has been growing for a number of years, and the latest work to underscore this point, Thomas Piketty's publishing sensation, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, does it with such powerful impact that, as Paul Krugman said, writing in The New York Review of Books, it may very well "change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics."[11]

The radical paradigm shift in economics was taking place in highly diverse economic environments, ranging from Chile under Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror to liberal democracies in the Anglo-Saxon world (in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan) and to communist China under Deng Xiaoping.

But let's take things from the start. The capitalist order we have in place today has its roots in the structural changes that took place in the accumulation process back in the mid-to-late 1970s. The 1970s was a decade of economic slowdown and inflationary pressures in the advanced capitalist world. The crisis, brought about by new technological innovations, declining rates of profit and the dissolution of the social structures of accumulation that had emerged after World War II, led to sluggish growth rates, high inflation and even higher rates of unemployment, bringing about a phenomenon that came to be known as "stagflation." From a policy point of view, "stagflation" signaled the end of an era in which there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment (shown by the Phillips curve) and, by extension, the end of the dominance of the Keynesian school of thought.

As with all other capitalist crises in the past, the crisis of the 1970s compelled capital and the economic elite to restructure the way the capitalist economy had functioned up to that time. The restructuring process unfolded in several ways, which included, among other things, increasing the pace of market liberalization, attacking the traditional welfare state and the interests of unionized workers in an attempt to eliminate social programs and suppress wages and create greater flexibility in the labor market, respectively, and initiating a new wave of globalization under the aegis of both industrial and financial capital.

The new economic orthodoxy (which came to be known as the "Washington Consensus") called for open markets, deregulation, privatization, labor flexibility, short-term optimization as a more attractive way to ensure competition and growth, low taxation for corporations and the rich, and a minimum welfare state. The desire was to return to an era in which capitalism functioned unfettered by government and social constraints, in other words, back to the age when capital grew by running roughshod over labor.

Indeed, a counterrevolution was under way, and it seemed to be global in nature and scope. The radical paradigm shift in economics was taking place in highly diverse economic environments, ranging from Chile under Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror to liberal democracies in the Anglo-Saxon world (in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan) and to communist China under Deng Xiaoping.By the mid-1980s, most capitalist nations around the world, including many Western European countries with long traditions with social democratic policies, had shifted from Keynesianism to neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy.

The march to "economic freedom," which is how the neoliberal counterrevolution was celebrated by arch-conservative thinkers (such as Thomas Sowell, for example) captivated by the nonsense of Austrian economics, did not take place on the basis of some abstract entity known as the "free market." On the contrary, it required active intervention by the capitalist state across society and the economy. Indeed, how else was the welfare state going to be reduced and the power of the labor unions weakened? How else could policies be introduced that increased the upward flows of income, created new investment sites, promoted a new wave of privatization and permitted banks and other financial institutions to practice financial chicanery? How else could failed financial institutions be bailed out with public funds if governments and elected officials had not been turned into the minions of the money class?

The capitalist state everywhere resorted to the use of both hard (i.e., repression) and soft (propaganda) power in order to secure the transition to the new economic and social order commanded by finance capital and big business interests. International organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but also countless non-governmental organizations throughout the world, were mobilized for the promotion of this goal. The corporate-owned mainstream media and the overwhelming majority of academics and intellectuals also joined the show as cheerleaders of the neoliberal vision.

In sum, the return to predatory capitalism was prompted by a crisis in the workings of the postwar capitalist regime and realized through active political intervention, i.e., class politics, by the capitalist state and international organizations, and the support provided by the intellectual elite and mass media.[12]

On the Links Between Financialization, Neoliberalism and Globalization

The three pillars on which contemporary capitalism is structured around - financialization, neoliberalism and globalization - need to be understood on the basis of a structural connectivity model, although it is rather incorrect to reduce one from the other. Let me explain.

The surge of financial capital long predates the current neoliberal era, and the financialization of the economy takes place independently of neoliberalism, although it is greatly enhanced by the weakening of regulatory regimes and the collusion between finance capital and political officials that prevails under the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy. Thus, challenging neoliberalism - a task of herculean proportions given than virtually every aspect of the economy and of the world as a whole, from schools to the workplace and from post offices to the IMF, functions today on the basis of neoliberal premises - does not necessarily imply a break on the financialization processes under way in contemporary capitalist economies. Financialization needs to be tackled on its own terms, possibly with alternative finance systems and highly interventionist policies, which include the nationalization of banks, rather than through regulation alone. In any case, what is definitely needed in order to constrain the destructive aspects of financial capitalism is what the late American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky referred to as "big government." We shall return to Minsky later in the analysis.

The surge of finance capital can be traced at least since the beginning of the 20th century. In a major study addressing "the economic characteristics of the latest phase of capitalist development,"[13] published in 1910, Rudolf Hilferding, an Austrian-born Marxist economist and main theoretician for the Social Democratic Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic, devoted special attention to the processes of the concentration and centralization of capital, and outlined a theory of imperialism as a necessary development in the evolution of capitalism.[14] In the course of this process he also made it clear that systematic investigation of the role of money and credit, the expansion of capitalist enterprises into corporations and their conversion into corporations was of the outmost importance for the understanding of the evolution of capitalism.

There can be no mistake that the transition "from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital" emerged as a key feature of "modern" capitalism even before the outbreak of World War I.

Hilferding demonstrated that the rise of the industrial corporation reflects an objective "change in the function of the industrial enterprise."[15] The industrial corporation, or the joint-stock company, allows anyone in possession of money to become a money capitalist. In effect, what Hilferding was observing was the phenomenon of the separation of ownership of capital from control in the joint-stock company. According to him, this process not only accelerated the concentration of capital, but also provided the joint-stock company with the ability to expand far more rapidly than the individually owned enterprise, thereby leading to the centralization of capital.

For Hilferding, however, it was the emergence of financial institutions and banks, in particular, that truly intensified the processes toward concentration. He stressed that in the mature stage of capitalism, banks, which were quite necessary to the growth of industry, had become fully dominant and directly controlled the economic life of the system. Through its vast resources of liquid capital, banks were able to obtain control of major trusts in industry, since the latter needed idle capital in order to increase and expand the production process. Viewed from this perspective, industrial capital was inextricably intertwined with banking capital and wholly dependent on money capital.

The merging process between industrial and banking capital gives rise to a new form of capital: finance capital. Moreover, the establishment of an intimate relationship between banking capital and industrial capital results in an increased tendency toward the export of capital. The concentration of capital, which leads to monopolization, encourages the export of capital by virtue of the fact that the over-accumulation of capital can no longer find profitable investment opportunities at home.

While it is true that Hilferding mistakenly considered the dependence of industrial capital on banking capital as a permanent state of affairs (the great monopolistic corporations became independent of banking capital and today's large corporations use their own retained profits to finance investment), there can be no mistake that the transition "from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital"[16] emerged as a key feature of "modern" capitalism even before the outbreak of World War I. Indeed, the Great Depression of the 1930s revealed in unmistaken terms the extent to which finance and financial capitalism had taken central stage, reshaping in a profound way the United States' economy and affecting dramatically developments across the world.

Rejecting the orthodox quantity theory in which the circulation of money is treated as constant, Minsky identified three distinct financing positions: hedge, speculative and Ponzi.

While Hilferding, Lenin and many other Marxist thinkers provided important insights regarding the evolution of capitalism, the significance of financial arrangements in "modern" capitalism was scrutinized and analyzed most insightfully and more thoroughly perhaps than anyone else in the postwar period by the American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky. Although he focused purely on the domestic economy, Minsky based his analysis on the claim that financial capitalism is inherently unstable, leading inevitably to financial crises as those produced by the stock market crash of 1929.

Relying on both empirical observations and theoretical analysis, Minsky underscored the point that the financial component of capitalism was the single most important aspect behind capitalism's inherent tendencies toward crises. Building upon Keynes' General Theory, Minsky wrote:

The capital development of a capitalist economy is accompanied by exchanges of present money for future money. The present money pays for resources that go into the production of investment output, whereas the future money is the "profits" which will accrue to the capital asset owning firms (as the capital assets are used in production). As a result of the process by which investment is financed, the control over items in the capital stock by producing units is financed by liabilities - these are commitments to pay money at dates specified or as conditions arise. For each economic unit, the liabilities on its balance sheet determine a time series of priorpayment commitments, even as the assets generate a time series of conjectured cash receipts.[17]

In this manner,

" . . . in a capitalist economy the past, the present, and the future are linked not only by capital assets and labor force characteristics but also by financial relations. The key financial relationships link the creation and the ownership of capital assets to the structure of financial relations and changes in this structure. Institutional complexity may result in several layers of intermediation between the ultimate owners of the communities' wealth and the units that control and operate the communities' wealth.[18]

Minsky's analysis of financial capitalism clearly points the way to the development of the financialization of the economy:

In the modern world, analyses of financial relations and their implications for system behavior cannot be restricted to the liability structure of businesses and the cash flows they entail. Households (by the way of their ability to borrow on credit cards for big ticket consumer goods such as automobiles, house purchases, and to carry financial assets), governments (with their large floating and funded debts), and international units (as a result of the internationalization of finance) have liability structures which the current performance of the economy either validates or invalidates.[19]

Consistent with both Marx's and Keynes' analysis, and "in spite of the greater complexity of financial relations," Minsky treats profits as a "key determinant of system behavior"[20], with aggregate demand determining profits.

In Minsky's analysis, the role of banks as profit-seeking institutions is granted special attention. Noting that banks realize the importance of innovation in the pursuit of profits (he calls bankers "merchants of debt who strive to innovate in the assets they acquire and the liabilities they market"[21]), thus rejecting the orthodox quantity theory in which the circulation of money is treated as constant, Minsky identified three distinct financing positions: hedge, speculative and Ponzi.

Hedge financing units are those that can fulfill all of their contractual payment obligations by their cash flows: the greater the weight of equity financing in the liability structure, the greater the likelihood that the unit is a hedge financing unit. Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on "income account" on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows. Such units need to "roll over" their liabilities: (e.g. issue new debt to meet commitments on maturing debt). Governments with floating debts, corporations with floating issues of commercial paper, and banks are typically hedge units.

For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations. Such units can sell assets or borrow. Borrowing to pay interest or selling assets to pay interest (and even dividends) on common stock lowers the equity of a unit, even as it increases liabilities and the prior commitment of future incomes. A unit that Ponzi finances lowers the margin of safety that it offers the holders of its debts.[22]

This description of lending is closer to the real world of finance that leads to crises than anything available in the existing literature. For Minsky, it is the stability in the system that breeds instability as investors, banks and financial institutions become complacent and begin to embark on a riskier approach, which results in rising asset prices and eventually financial crashes when people begin to sell en-masse upon the realization that the accumulated debt cannot be paid off. This development is known as a "Minsky moment."

Minsky's "financial instability hypothesis" provides a useful explanation of financial crises, but also carries practical consequences. Essentially, Minsky felt that the internal contradictions of financial capitalism could be constrained by the establishment of strong institutions. He argued that the reason there had been no financial crises in the first few decades of the postwar era was because of the presence of "big government."[23]

Globalization is in itself a contributing factor to the spread of financial crises while also providing a greater impetus for the deepening of neoliberalism.

The task of stabilizing financial capitalism's inherent tendency towards instability has clearly been severely undermined since the onset of the neoliberal era, with the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009 representing just the latest act in a long series of financial crises since 1966 [24], and witheach new crisis getting bigger and becoming more severe than the previous one. Yet, it is equally clear that financial crises have occurred prior to the installation of a neoliberal regime. Moritz Schularick of the Free University of Berlin identified more than 70 "systemic banking crises" that took place in the past 140 years prior to the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009.[25] Moreover, because of globalization, "big government" action is restrained and the challenges posed to central banking from globalized finance are quite severe, with financial globalization leading "to growing frequency and severity of systemic financial crises."[26] Thus, globalization is in itself a contributing factor to the spread of financial crises while also providing a greater impetus for the deepening of neoliberalism.

Although finance is at the forefront of globalization, there is hardly an aspect of contemporary life that is not affected by globalization, making it a very elusive concept indeed, while adding new levels of complexity to the task of forming appropriate economic and political responses to a system bent on instability and prone to large-scale crises. Globalization creates new systemic risks [27] which we are simply uncertain how to address given the existing power structure in the global political economy where a plutocracy reigns supreme as national governments have capitulated to the whims of the corporate and financial elite and the formal global governance structure needed is missing. Yet, this is precisely the environment that makes predatory capitalism thrive, and one can be certain that its insatiable appetite for more and more profits will only intensify problems in the years ahead if it is not stopped.

Where to Go From Here

Unsurprisingly, given how dysfunctional and dangerous the neoliberal order has proven to be, proposed solutions for the problems stemming from unfettered capitalism are not in short supply. They extend from short-range (proposals for tax reform in order to close the gap between rich and poor) and medium-range goals (reregulation and even nationalization) to some rather long-range structural reforms (redesigning the architecture of the global financial system). The Stiglitz Report is a prime example of the latter set of proposals.[28] Controlling climate change also represents a long-range goal, in fact of vital importance for the stability of any future social and economic order.[29]

On the political front, the task of recapturing the state would seem to be a necessary first step in the drive of any progressive movement or political party seeking to reestablish balance in the relationship between labor and capital, resurrect democracy, redress social injustice and reorient the economy toward sustainable and balanced growth.

Nevertheless, proposals for major reforms that fail to incorporate a vision of alternative social orders must be treated with skepticism. The same goes for approaches that rely purely on reforms undertaken by the elite without citizen involvement and participation. By the same token, progressive forces bent on social change must re-embrace fundamental political principles and courses of social action. Building and sustaining a mass movement remains the best route to challenging the practices of predatory capitalism. However, progressive forces need to stop being constantly on the defensive in order to protect basic and fundamental values from neoliberal jackals and vultures and seek, instead, to sharpen strategic abilities in order to go on the offensive. Narrow ideological blinders must be dropped and joining forces with kindred groups is an absolute necessity in today's world.

Theoretically, we need an eclectic political economy approach which relies on Marxian, Keynesian and post-Keynesian traditions in order to understand contemporary capitalist developments. There are no intellectual giants in the neoliberal tradition. We still need to look to Marx, Keynes and Minsky for great insights into the true workings of capitalism.

On the political front, the task of recapturing the state would seem to be a necessary first step in the drive of any progressive movement or political party seeking to reestablish balance in the relationship between labor and capital, resurrect democracy, redress social injustice and reorient the economy toward sustainable and balanced growth. Still, such undertakings are likely to fail if they are pursued in the absence of a solid understanding of the nature of the current system and without having captured the public imagination, with ignorance of political and social developments and activist practices in other advanced capitalist countries and elsewhere around the world, and without a vision towards a new global order. A long-term vision should not stand in the way of pursuing immediate reforms that alleviate human pain and suffering, and short-term goals should not block the imagination from opening up a world of new possibilities for human relations.

As this article may have made clear, a major advantage that predatory capitalism has over alternative social orders, especially in the direction of a truly democratic future where the economic system produces wealth for the benefit of society as a whole is that it has managed to (a) break free from national government control, (b) shift the balance of power between labor and capital overwhelmingly towards the latter, (c) establish ideological hegemony, and (d) globalize the environment in which it operates. The future of a progressive social order probably requires nothing short of the reversal these trends.

Notes

1. "If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows," Galbraith quipped in response to Ronald Reagan's supply-side economics. See John Kenneth Galbraith, "Recession Economics." The New York Review of Books (February 4, 1982) at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1982/feb/04/recession-economics/

2. See Costas Lapavitsas, Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All. New York: Verso Books, 2013.

3. A classic work on this topic, unrivalled in its scope, narration and clarity, is L. S. Stavrianos's Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981.

4. See C. J. Polychroniou, "Actually Existing Capitalism: Wrecking Societies for the Benefit of Big Capital and the Super-Rich." Truthout (December 12, 2013) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/20558-actually-existing-capitalism-wrecking-societies-for-the-benefit-of-big-capital-and-the-super-rich

5. Graeme Wearden, "Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world." The Guardian (January 20, 2014) at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world

6. See Daniel Boffey, "Middle-class young 'will fare worse than their parents.'" The Guardian (October 12, 2013) at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/oct/12/middle-class-young-people-future-worse-parents; also Eugene Steuerle, Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, and Sisi Zhang, "Lost Generations? Wealth Building among Young Americans." Urban Institute (March 2013) at http://www.urban.org/publications/412766.html

7. While the existence of a global capitalist class and its power in influencing government policies across the world is undeniable, the analysis advanced here does not subscribe to the instrumentalist and conspiratorial view of a global elite running the world. What it suggests, instead, is that the links that have been created in the global economy have produced a global plutocracy whose vast wealth and control of major corporations and organizations impact heavily on the shaping of domestic economic and social policies. The way national governments bend over backwards in order to accommodate the needs and wants of big corporations and the global rich via low taxation is but one example of the way this influence is carried out. So is the demand placed on national governments by global financial markets for the adoption of austerity measures when deficits and debt ratios are seen as running out of control. The much revered notion of "competitiveness" - national economies undergoing structural reforms in their labor markets in order to reduce unit labor costs - is yet another example of how the global environment shapes domestic policymaking.

8. See C. J. Polychroniou, "The Political Economy of Predatory Capitalism." Truthout (January 12, 2014) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21138-the-political-economy-of-predatory-capitalism

9. Henry Giroux, "Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability." Truthout (April 8, 2014) at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/22958-neoliberalism-and-the-machinery-of-disposability

10. Heather Saul, "'A new tyranny': Pope Francis attacks unfettered capitalism and says rich should share wealth". The Independent (November 26, 2013) at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pope-francis-unfettered-capitalism-is-a-new-tyranny-and-rich-should-share-wealth-8965045.html

11.Paul Krugman, "Why We're in a New Gilded Age". The New York Review of Books (May 8,2014) at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/may/08/thomas-piketty-new-gilded-age/

12. For an interesting and insightful analysis of the ideological factors leading to the making and consolidation of the neoliberal counterrevolution, see Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

13. Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development, edited with an Introduction by Tom Bottomore. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 21

14. The discussion on Hilferding draws freely here from the author's own work titled Marxist Perspectives on Imperialism: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Praeger, 1991, pp. 53-58.

15. Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital, p. 107

16. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in Selected Works in one volume (New York: International Publishers, 1976), p. 200.

17. Hyman P. Minsky, "The Financial Instability Hypothesis." Working Paper No. 74. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute (May 1992), pp. 2-3 at http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp74.pdf

18. Ibid., p. 4

19. Ibid., pp.4-5

20. Ibid., p. 5

21. Ibid., p. 6

22. Ibid., p. 7

23. See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and L. Randall Wray, "Minsky's Analysis of Financial Capitalism. Working Paper No. 275. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute (July 1999) at http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp/275.pdf

24. L. Randall Wray, "The 1966 Financial Crisis: a Case of Minskian Instability?" Working Paper No. 262. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute, January 1999.Available at SSRN: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.150728

25. Moritz Schularick, "140 Years of Financial Crises: Old Dog, New Tricks." Freie Universität Berlin (August 2010) at http://www.jfki.fu-berlin.de/faculty/economics/team/Ehemalige_Mitarbeiter_innen/schularick/Old_Dog_New_Tricks_Schularick.pdf?1376087682

26. Piero C. Ugolini, Andrea Schaechter, and Mark R. Stone, "Introduction." In Piero C. Ugolini, Andrea Schaechter, and Mark R. Stone (eds.), Challenges to Central Banking from Globalized Financial Systems. Washington, DC.: International Monetary Fund, March 2004.

27. See Ian Goldin and Mike Mariathasan, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks and What to Do About It. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 2014.

28. See Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Stiglitz Report: Reforming the International Monetary and Financial Systems in the Wake of the Global Crisis. New York: New Press, 2010.

29. See, for example, Bert Metz, Controlling Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou

C.J. Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a columnist for a Greek daily national newspaper. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He has taught for many years at universities in the United States and Europe and is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Levy Economics Institute or those of its board members.


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