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Robert Brenner – Reasons for the Great Recession

Hélène Barthélemy20 November 2013

In a recently uploaded video, Robert Brenner, author of The Boom and the Bubble and The Economics of Global Turbulence (among others) is shown offering his analysis of the 2007-2008 crisis, which he had predicted with his theory of the "long downturn". The video shows Robert Brenner speaking at a conference held in December 2011 at UCLA entitled "A Defining Moment for Capitalism: Historians Reflect on the Economic Crisis," just after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Robert Brenner firstly explains that analyzing the crisis as a short term development would be an absurdity: rather it "has deep historical roots going back more than three decades" due to "profound problems in the productive economy on a  world scale." The crisis came as the result of the long downturn that followed the long post war boom from the 1940's to 1970's. 

Then, as a result of slowed economic growth, Brenner said,

Corporations have reduced incentives to invest (...) In order to restore their profits corporations have unleashed a relentless assault on wages, salaries, and organizations of working people that is continued to this day. In this they've been aided by governments around the world which have reduced the growth of social services, the welfare state and made the survival of unions even more difficult. The upshot has been that ever since the mid-70s you've had ever greater austerity in aid of the recovery of profitability and this has resulted in the long term stagnation of working lcass incomes and the historic increases in income inequality that are today finally making the news.

In the absence of any real gain corporations therefore profited of offshoring and stagnation of worker income. Unions, weakened and forgotten by democrats despite helping to get them elected, had no control. As Brenner jokingly points out, this left us "depressed, very depressed" as after the crisis, corporate strategy did not change. But Brenner ends on a hopeful note, bolstered by the emergence of Occupy Wall Street:

The genius of OWS has been to portray themselves as speaking for the 99%. It couldn't be more obvious that virtually any element within the establishment has made clear that it doesn't want to or is unable to act in the interest of the 99%. They've been able to get away with it to a large extent not because we don't know what the 99 % want (there are plenty of polls) but because they basically have been able to control the conversation. As I said the actual 99% could not be clearer that they find the stasis in favor of the 1% quite unacceptable. (...) They have done something quite different from previous movements coming from siliar strata they looked from the beginning and made it crystal clear that they looked to the working class as a whole as the power base to make chagnes whose interest they want to organize.

Brenner ends hoping that unions and OWS will "crossfertilize one another and drive each other upward" so that "maybe we'll have a serious force that can offer an agency for the programs that I think the 99%, including most people in this room, actually want."

Visit YouTube to hear the talk in full.