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.
Nissan plant, Smyrna, TN.
The 2016 election was primarily a referendum on US trade and immigration policies. Trump’s case, insofar as one could be found amid all his bloviating, was something like the following: the US sent jobs abroad at the same time as it let workers in from Mexico, and that has been bad for most Americans. It’s worth remembering that Trump began his campaign by attacking financial elites, who, he said, had paid off the politicians to keep this con act going. Since Trump is so rich, he won’t have to take their bribes. He’ll renegotiate.
Well, it doesn’t take a degree in political science to predict that Trump will fail to “make America great again.” In all likelihood, the real winners here will be the traditional constituencies of the Republican Party: big business and social conservatives. Everyone else will lose. Meanwhile, Trump will use the presidency to hound his enemies and expand his personal wealth. And that’s the best case scenario.
After the election of Donald Trump as American President, Verso republishes a classic piece of analysis from Robert and Johanna Brenner produced in the wake of Ronald Reagan's presidential election victory in 1981. It was originally published in socialist magazine, Against the Current.
Robert Brenner: I would say that the key to the emergence of the New Deal reforms was the transformation in the level and character of working-class struggle. Within a year or two of Roosevelt’s election, we saw the sudden emergence of a mass militant working-class movement. This provided the material base, so to speak, for the transformation of working-class consciousness and politics that made Roosevelt’s reforms possible.
Following the labor upsurge and radicalization that came in the wake of World War I, workers’ militancy tailed off, and the 1920s saw the American capitalist class at the peak of its power, confidence, and productiveness, in total command of industry and politics. Manufacturing productivity rose more rapidly during this decade than ever before or since, the open shop (which banned union contracts) prevailed everywhere, the Republican Party of big business reigned supreme, and the stock market broke all records.