10 Replies to “Almost Funny”

  1. So, I recently bought and started reading “Monopoly Capital”, which I learned about here. It’s easily on par with “The Wealth of nation”, “Capital” etc. in terms of comprehensiveness (if not in detail).

    I wonder where did this type of writing disapear? Judging from their bibliography, the red scare notwithstanding, it seems that there was a lot of work in the 1950s that openly questioned and criticized capitalism. Where the hell did it all go? All we have now is Chomsky, and even he is uncomfortably close to the negative stereotype of neutered burgeons armchair revolutionary with giant personal wealth…

    I any case, I just stopped by to holler that “Monopoly Capital” is indeed a great book…

  2. Their analysis and predictions are eerie. So much of what they said is doubly true today.

    However, there is one fundamental problem (other than the defeat of communism) that negates the bits of optimism their espouse:

    They well explain that the system’s ability to generate surplus could conceivably lead to its downfall, in part because people will wake up to the absurdity of huge wealth next to poverty. However, this reasoning is contingent on availability of resources. Even if we overnight transition to a rational, efficiently planned economy, resources are still going to be an issue.

    And herein lies the weak spot: it just occurred to me that the ruling elites will *welcome* resource depletion, rather than consider it a threat to stability: resource scarcity is the best justification for the necessity of exploitative and unequal social order locally and globally. Actual resource scarcity could have been easily avoided had we taken another path a century ago. Now is probably too late. The fuckers won, and the medieval squeeze of the masses will commence shortly…

  3. Sweezy lived another 40 years after that book came out, and was one of the first lefties to decide that ecology, rather than the united masses, was going to be capitalism’s death knell.

    As for the psychology of power, I think the system’s competitive structure and its immense ideological efforts fool the rulers into paying less attention to their collective interests than they might summon if they ruled via a Central Committee. They actually believe their own dogmas, one of which is that the free market will solve all problems, not matter how late in the game it is.

    I generally agree with High Arka: When ecology really starts to bite, it will be disastrous for capitalists. Once growth is known to be impossible, their legitimacy is gone.

  4. Thanks, i didn’t know that Sweezy lived this long after the book. I’ll look up his later work.

    As for the implications of ecology, I agree, though as I’ve speculated before, the major problem i see is that its consequences are likely not going to be sudden and dramatic, and certainly will affect the west last. The data on environmental destruction is already beyond conclusive, yet, with the assistance of mass propaganda, it seems to affect the public psyche in the same way the ongoing wars and atrocities in the rest of the world do – i.e. virtually not at all. With this “boiling frog effect”, it may be well past our lifetime until something meaningful is triggered. The reactionary right is as convinced as ever that the good times will return if “we only get the environmentalists out of the way”…

  5. BTW: regarding the elite’s own fundamental belief that the “free market” will just solve everything in due time – I’ve seen this plenty, even in my own family. But it is a hilariously inconsistent position, that should be evident even to the “dullest”:

    – on the one hand, they furiously oppose the very notion that reason can manage human affairs better than the “invisible hand” (eh…) of the market

    – on the other hand, they have no doubts that the very same human reason will magically find solutions (e.g. to the oil crisis) in unspecified due time, in spite of the fact that the very best knowledge produced by the same human reason shows beyond reasonable doubt that no continuation of the status quo will be possible even if extraordinarily lucky circumstances (e.g. rapid deployment of breeder reactors and solar energy capacity) were to magically start to develop overnight. (In fact, no continuation of the status quo will be possible even if we get a limitless source of free and clean energy NOW.)

  6. Final note, actually a question:

    Michael, can you recommend some good work on planned economy (i.e. actual computation and management issues?)? I vaguely recall seeing long time ago some authors (both Russian and western) working on this problem at least since the 1930s, but obviously it is not something that occupies prominent place in the economics literature… Also, I would imagine there should be some decent recent literature on nationalized industries… I’ll appreciate any tips.

    You are probably familiar with the Project Venus and the Jan Fresco crowd, but they really have mostly a marketing type of presence (not that there is anything wrong with it), rather than actual blueprints.

    In any case, the Soviet experience was discarded and forgotten far too soon – even I, having actually lived through early adolescence in a soc country (bulgaria), I have no substantive knowledge of how things worked – the only thing that I can recall the sort of Panopticon type atmosphere (which appropriately heads your blog, though with a different intent) – basically everybody somehow knew what to do, with the knowledge of rigid and potent, though mostly invisible, structures in the background.

    Basically, as ghastly as a lot of this was, there are probably some principles that deserve to be salvaged – if only to be modified…

  7. (Not only legitimacy, dear Mr. Dawson, but sustenance. When their hosts run out of water, and begin to die off, there will be no one left to trim the hedge, deliver the meals, or produce a population of young, attractive breeding stock. They’re likely hoping to have inspired engineers and doctors to have, by then, developed worker robots who can replace the dying masses, but even if this experiment does work, the same problems will arise for the next model.)

  8. Marla, I haven’t kept up on planning, so take this lightly. Leontief‘s stuff on input-output analysis is crucial. Michal Kalecki is another classic figure. Bukharin, too. Mondragon is another pehnomenon to know about. Harold Vatter has a book on the U.S. economy during WWII.

    FWIW, I tend to see the U.S. economy as quite planned in many ways. What happens inside corporations is certainly not determined by free trade. Likewise, the sheer construction of the nation’s cars-first transportation infrastructure was both dictated from above and immensely effective at shaping further decisions and actions. The Pentagon, alas, seems to work quite well at what it does, too.

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