The deepest economic crisis in eighty years prompted a shallow revival of Marxism. During the panicky period between the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the official end of the American recession in the summer of 2009, several mainstream journals, displaying a less than sincere mixture of broadmindedness and chagrin, hailed Marx as a neglected seer of capitalist crisis. The trend-spotting Foreign Policy led the way, with a cover story on Marx, for its Next Big Thing issue, enticing readers with a promise of the star treatment: “Lights. Camera. Action. Das Kapital. Now.”
“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.