Top ten posts of 2015: Market turmoil, Greece,Mason, Varoufakis and Marxist crisis theory

Here is my usual resume of the top ten most read posts on my blog in 2015.

Topping the list was my post in August, Market turmoil, which picked up on the plunge in global stock markets.  It seems that blog followers were keen to note that, as I said in that post, the “big truth” about the global ‘economic recovery’, such as it is since 2009, is that it had been mainly based, not on investment in productive sectors to raise productivity and employment, but in fictitious capital, (buying back shares, buying government and corporate bonds and property).  Cheap and unending money from central banks through their quantitative easing (QE) programmes has restored the banking system, but not the productive part of capitalist economies.  Debt has not been reduced overall but extended in the corporate sectors of the major economies.  There is still a huge layer of fictitious capital, as Marx called it.  It appears that global investors are beginning to realise that the ‘recovery’ is fictitious and is based only on yet another credit-fuelled mirage. Markets continued to be weak through to the end of the year.

Also in the top ten was a post made slightly earlier in August about the demise of the so-called emerging economies.  In The emerging market crisis returns, I made the point that for the first time since the emerging market crisis of 1998, the so-called BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were in trouble, as well as the next range of ‘developing’ economies like Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Argentina, Venezuela etc.

Previously rising commodity prices in oil, base metals and food had led to fast growth in many of these economies.  But now the commodity boom had collapsed.  Commodity prices have fallen by 40% since 2011.  This was another indicator of the long depression and deflationary pressures in the world economy.  Alongside rising debt was falling profitability and weak consumer demand in emerging markets outside China.

But the most popular posts were those on the huge economic and political crisis in Greece, which dominated the thinking of many in the first half of 2015.  The leading Greek post was my critique of Greece’s economic star, Yanis Varoufakis, an erudite heterodox economist with Marxist leanings who briefly became finance minister in Greece’s leftist Syriza government.  My post took up what I considered were inconsistencies in his Marxist economic thinking.  Varoufakis considers himself an “erratic Marxist”. I argued that he was more the former than the latter.

Several other posts on Greece made the top ten in 2015.  First, there was the post I wrote before Syriza won the Greek general election last January, called, Syriza, the economists and the impossible triangle.  It was a review of the ideas of the now current Syriza finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos who took over from Varoufakis.  I argued that the key issue was reducing the huge public debt that Greece had incurred from previous bailouts.  Tsakalotos’ position appeared to be that a compromise would be reached with the EU leaders to reduce that.

But as I write today, nearly 12 months later, such a compromise has not occurred.  On the contrary, Greek debt is still rising and growth has not been restored, while the Syriza government imposes further measures of austerity to meet the demands of the Troika.  In the post, I posed what some have called the impossible triangle: namely could Syriza 1) stay in power, 2) reverse austerity and 3) stay in the euro?  Surely, one or more of these aims would have to go?  It was the second.  I predicted that Syriza would split under the pressure but that Greece would still be in the Eurozone by January 2016.

Readers of my blog also followed two further posts on Greece.  In March, I posted Greece: Keynes or Marx?, in which I took a look at the position being taken by Costas Lapavitsas, a leading member of the Left Platform in Syriza and a Marxist economist from SOAS in London University, then a newly-elected Greek MP.  Lapavitsas had strong criticisms of Varoufakis and PM Tsipras.  But I took him to task for leaning on Keynesian rather than Marxist policies for the way out for Greece. I also criticised his Keynesian-style solution that leaving the Eurozone and devaluing must be done first before socialist measures could be considered.  Read this post again to see what you think and whether you agree with Lapavitsas or me.

Then there was my post in July after the Greek people, against all the odds, had voted 60% to reject the Troika bailout and austerity in a referendum.  The post posed the question: what now?  I said there were three possible economic policy solutions. There was the neoliberal solution demanded by the Troika.  This is to keep cutting back the public sector and its costs, to keep labour incomes down and to make pensioners and others pay more. This was aimed at raising the profitability of Greek capital and with extra foreign investment, restore the economy.

There was the Keynesian one, boosting public spending to increase demand, introducing a cancellation of part of the government debt and leaving the euro to introduce a new currency (drachma) that is devalued by as much as is necessary to make Greek industry competitive in world markets.  I argued that this would not work.

The third option was a socialist one that recognises that Greek capitalism cannot recover to restore living standards for the majority, whether inside the euro in a Troika programme or outside with its own currency and no Eurozone support. The socialist solution was to replace Greek capitalism with a planned economy where the Greek banks and major companies are publicly owned and controlled and the drive for profit is replaced with the drive for efficiency, investment and growth.

Although posts on Greece were prominent in the top ten, the most popular were theoretical ones around the issues of the theory of crises under capitalism and its long-term future, expressing the interest in these issues among many blog followers.  The most popular of all posts after stock market turmoil and Yanis Varoufakis was the one on Paul Mason’s new book, Post-capitalism.

Mason argued that capitalism is set to be replaced by ‘postcapitalism’ for three reasons. First, there is an information revolution which is creating a society of abundance in information, making a virtually costless and labour-saving economy. Second, this information revolution cannot be captured by the capitalist market and the big monopolies. And third, already the ‘post-capitalist’ mode of production, based on free ownership and cooperation in information, is emerging from within capitalism, just as capitalism emerged from within feudalism.

In my post. I commended Mason’s optimistic vision for a post-capitalist world but reckoned Mason ignored the two sides of technical advance under capitalism.  Yes, one side suggests the potential for a super abundant, low labour time world.  But the other suggests inequality, class struggle and regular and recurrent crises.  Postcapitalism’ cannot emerge without resolving this contradictions generated by capitalism.  Mason’s book and the seeming rise of robots and artificial intelligence continue to provoke debate among Marxists. And in August and September, I did three posts on the rise of robots.

Another key debate among Marxist economists, namely the nature and causes of crises in capitalism, led to a post in June in the top ten. Entitled There is a long term decline in the rate of profit and I am not joking!, it took up the issues of debate among Marxist economists at a special Capitalism Workshop in London last May which included several Marxist economic luminaries.  Marx’s law of profitability came in for a hammering for its relevance to crises, both theoretically and empirically.  The papers presented at that Workshop will be published as a series of chapters in a special edition of Science and Society in 2016.

As a follow-up to that debate and to the one that I had with Professor Heinrich in Berlin in the same month, I recently posted a short essay called A Marxist theory of economic crises in capitalism that presented my arguments for relying Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as the basis for explaining recurrent and regular slumps under capitalism.  That got into the top ten.

Finally, the theme of rising inequality of wealth and incomes in the major capitalist economies remains a subject of keen interest among blog readers, and for the third year running, the post on the latest measure of global wealth inequality as provided by Credit Suisse’ annual report made the top ten.  Yes, the top 1% of wealth holders in the world own nearly 50% of all the wealth (properties, land, companies, shares and cash) globally.  Such is the result of 250 years of capitalist ‘progress’: no real change in overall inequality seen in previous class societies.

Finally, let me thank all my (now thousands) of blog followers for their interest in the blog this year and also to those who have made comments on my posts (sometimes favourably, but often critically).  During 2015, I had over 400,000 viewings of posts on the blog and over 185,000 different visits to the blog.

The blog aims to provide information on the world economy, discuss and develop economic theory and research from a Marxist point of view and comment on economic policy with the aim of replacing capitalism with a new stage of human social organisation, socialism.  The task continues.

Also remember, you can follow my Facebook site here, where I cover day-to-day items of interest.

https://www.facebook.com/Michael-Roberts-blog-925340197491022/

You can get my Essays on Inequality here.

Createspace https://www.createspace.com/5078983

or Kindle version for US:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RES373S
and UK
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?field-
keywords=
Essays%20on%20inequality%20%28Essays%20on%20modern%
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.

And hopefully, in the early part of 2016, my new book, The Long Depression, will be out for you all to consider, criticise and review.

http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/The-Long-Depression

Best for the New Year.

8 Responses to “Top ten posts of 2015: Market turmoil, Greece,Mason, Varoufakis and Marxist crisis theory”

  1. Guillem Says:

    Thanks for the amazing resource that is your blog Michael. And I’m happy that you liked the idea of the Facebook page, I can see it’s very successful!
    I’m guessing next year will bring us another grinding slow economic recovery, hope to read your comments on it. We are likely to see interesting things happening in Spain (if whoever gets to form government has to face the territorial crisis plus a slump).
    Also, can’t wait to get my hands on your next book.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. stephenhinton Says:

    I’d like to echo the words.of appreciation for your work with the blog the past year. I especially appreciate your writing style. Consise, clear, and easy to follow even for us non-economists bringing insight to Marx and current events. THANKS and best wishes for the new year.

  3. SimonH Says:

    Syriza and the betrayal it brought about against it’s voters indeed Greece in general may well be the most important act of 2015 now over. Boffy tried to use the rise of Syriza as evidence of a Long Expansionary Wave that supposedly started in 1999. I mean really, just compare the actions of workers parties in the post World War 2 boom to Syriza, for all the flaws of mid 20th century social democratic reformism it was leaps and bounds ahead of Syriza and its quick capitulation.

  4. Giorgos Says:

    2015 has been a hell of a ride here in Greece.

    It has been a year of great expectations and big disappointment. Problems are still mounting for the majority of the people and the so called “Radical Left” (Syriza) has added its name to the long list of political powers that capitulate to the “iron law” of the eurozone. In fact, the whole parliament acts en bloc and only some minor, marginal voices still call for genuine change – themselves often plagued by their sectarianism and parochial rhetoric. For those living on the downside of advantage here, the very fabric of society disintegrates in front of our very eyes.
    Since it was only this year that i discovered this blog and its author, i would like to send my thanks for all the help i received, trying to understand things.

    Happy new year – keep up the good work,

    Giorgos

  5. jschulman Says:

    “The socialist solution was to replace Greek capitalism with a planned economy where the Greek banks and major companies are publicly owned and controlled and the drive for profit is replaced with the drive for efficiency, investment and growth.”

    Given the lack of a working-class majority consciously pushing for the overthrow of capitalism in Greece, how was this to occur?

    A planned economy requires a workers’ state. A single workers’ state anywhere in Europe, let alone Greece, would be strangled by economic sanctions very quickly and then collapse. (If a chain of successful national revolutions couldn’t happen in the early years of the Communist International, when there were millions of consciously Marxist workers in Europe, how could it happen today, when there aren’t?)

    Your solution requires a mass revolutionary socialist international existing throughout Europe with more than one party taking power (and I mean power, not “government”) at the same time. Said international is going to take a considerable amount of time to build.

    Given that (multi-national) socialist revolution wasn’t in the cards in 2015, your solution unfortunately isn’t a solution, unless you’re simply speaking of what to build towards at some point in the future.

    This doesn’t mean that the Syriza leadership is blameless. It does mean that we should understand what’s politically achievable at a certain point in time and what isn’t.

    Highly recommended reading: http://newpol.org/content/what-next-greek-crisis

  6. Victor Onrust Says:

    Your blog is great Robert, I often read it with great interest. This top-ten led me to read your blog on Varoufakis, which I missed.

    I agree with you that YV’s reading of Marx seems too deterministic. At the same time he is quite right that what resulted out of Marx interventions in politics was, with a few exceptions, deterministic (social democracy, Stalinism) or voluntarist (Marcuse, Fromm = loony left). Somehow your own writing has strong deterministic overtones as you (and most commenters here) seem to seek for the truth or falsehood of laws without any suggestion how these are or could be disrupted more or less by (re)actions of social agents. Exactly the point of YV it seems. In this respect one of the biggest problems for me is the (non-)existence of the “proletariat”. I think its existence and role (as a (proto-)subject, not as an economic category) is a dogma, even for Marx himself. For me your insights are more valuable as a shareholder then as a political agent.

    This said I have a question: your studies are oriented towards the US, GB and EU economies. I very much wonder what the Chinese economy looks like. What are its “laws” under Chinese “communist” bureaucracy.

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