For years, the discipline of economics has been moving steadily away from the real world towards formalized axioms and mathematical models with only a precarious bearing on actuality. Commentators seek to fill the gap as best they can, but in the absence of real background scholarship, journalism is vulnerable to the myopias of fashion and immediacy. The deeper enigmas of post-war development remain in either case largely untouched.
Bringing together the strengths of both the economist and the historian, Robert Brenner rises to this challenge. In this work, a revised and newly introduced edition of his acclaimed New Left Review special report, he charts the turbulent post-war history of the global system and unearths the mechanisms of over-production and over-competition which lie behind its long-term crisis since the early 1970s, thereby demonstrating the thoroughly systematic factors behind wage repression, high unemployment and unequal development, and raising disturbing and far-reaching questions about its future trajectory.
“Autumn of the Empire” is the title to Joshua Clover’s analysis of the current economic crisis, approached within the context of four books reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Among the titles that Clover discusses are Robert Brenner’s The Economics of Global Turbulence and two books by the late Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century and Adam Smith in Beijing.
All of the books were first published before the economic bubble burst—a significant detail because like many before him, Clover disputes the retrospective argument that the crisis was unforeseen. More importantly:
The question of why so many danger cries went unheeded may seem to invite an inquiry into ideological blindness. On a different conceptual plane, however, it may be more interesting to ask instead: What counts as a prediction? Or, perhaps, the practical corollary: Who counts as an economist?
After all, other thinkers—other sorts of thinkers, concerned with broader understandings than the tightly focused technicians who dominate contemporary debates—grasped the situation at a considerable distance and with remarkable acuity. They mostly don’t appear in surveys of crisis callers, even as their predictions may have the most significant things to tell us about how best to peer from our current vantage, toward the horizon.
Benjamin Kunkel has written a lengthy article on David Harvey for the London Review of Books. Nominally a joint review of his recent books The Enigma of Capital and A Companion to Marx's Capital, it engages with Harvey's entire body of work, and especially his seminal The Limits to Capital.
Over recent decades, the landmarks of Marxian economic thinking include Ernest Mandel's Late Capitalism (1972), David Harvey's Limits to Capital (1982), Giovanni Arrighi's Long 20th Century (1994) and Robert Brenner's Economics of Global Turbulence (2006), all expressly concerned with the grinding tectonics and punctual quakes of capitalist crisis. Yet little trace of this literature, by Marx or his successors, has surfaced even among the more open-minded practitioners of what might be called the bourgeois theorisation of the current crisis.