Top ten posts of 2021

I began this blog eleven years ago. Over those years, I have posted over 1000 times with over 4 million viewings. There are currently 6100 regular followers of the blog up from 5300 last year; and 11500 followers (up from 10500 last year) of the Michael Roberts Facebook site, which I started six years ago.  On that Facebook site, I put short daily items of information or comment on economics and economic events. 

And at the beginning of 2020, I launched the Michael Roberts You Tube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYM7I0m-I9EVB-5gaBqiqbg/. This now has 2100 subscribers, up from 1200 in its first year. If you haven’t joined up yet, have a look at the channel, which includes presentations by me on a variety of economic subjects; interviews with other Marxist economists; and some zoom debates in which I participated.  This year there are sessions on Marx’s theory of value; his law of accumulation; and the law of profitability; also Marx’s reproduction schema as outlined in Volume Two of Capital; and an interview with Rick Kuhn on Henryk Grossman; as well as critiques of Modern Monetary Theory and imperialism.

As for the blog, 2021 has seen 540,000 views.  That’s down from 683,000 in the first year of the COVID in 2020.  But I did 82 posts in that year compared with 73 this year, the lowest yearly total since I started the blog.  So viewings per post this year actually rose to a new high.  Maybe I’m getting old, but my other excuse for fewer posts is the increased demand on my time in doing presentations, interviews, articles and, above all, in completing a new book with Guglielmo Carchedi, (entitled Capitalism in the 21st century: through the prism of value) to be published by Pluto Press in 2022. 

Where do my blog viewers come from?  From over 170 countries globally!  Led by 140k yearly viewings in the US (or about 25%); 68k from UK (12%); then a whole range of Spanish-speaking countries led by Spain; and there were 30k viewings from Brazil, fourth largest group.  Then Canada, Australia.  India is among the top ten countries.  Right at the other end of the spectrum, I have had viewings from the Cook Islands, Rwanda, Madagascar, Guadaloupe and even the Vatican City!  Also viewings from war-torn Yemen, Afghanistan, Haiti, Syria, and Kosovo.  There were nearly 300 viewings from Cuba, over 1000 from Vietnam, but only 1800 from China.

And yet China has been the main focus of interest by blog viewers in 2021.  The top post was an analysis of the membership of the Chinese Communist Party.  New research found that of the 95m CPC members, the majority are not manual workers or peasants, but nor are they capitalists or small business people.  The main contingent are professional workers.  Professionals are defined as “all the professional and technical personnel working in science-related sectors (e.g., science, engineering, agriculture, medical care) and social science-related sector (e.g., economics, finance, law, education, press and publication, religion)”.   So the CPC is not controlled by a capitalist class, but neither is it a party of manual workers or peasants.

And other China posts made the top ten.  Viewers were keen to learn about the impending bust of the Evergrande Group, the second largest property developer in China, which is saddled with almost Rmb2tn of total liabilities or over $300bn.  The explosion of the Chinese real estate sector has been driven by the need to house the influx of urban workers to the cities.  Real estate construction now accounts for 13% of the economy from just 5% in 1995 and for about 28% of the nation’s total lending.  But housing projects have been implemented through private developers for sale, not public projects for rent.  And these developers and their billionaire owners have racked up huge amounts of debt. 

In the post, I argued that that there was not going to be a financial crash in China.  The government controls banking, including the central bank, the big four state-owned commercial banks which are the largest banks in the world, and the so-called ‘bad banks’, which absorb bad loans, big asset managers, most of the largest companies. So the government can tell state-owned asset managers and pension funds to buy shares and bonds to prop up property prices and to fund property companies. And it can tell the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to do ‘whatever it takes’.  And it can tell the state bad banks to buy bad debt from commercial banks. 

Nevertheless, the Evergrande mess is a symptom that the growing size and influence of the capitalist sector in China has weakened the performance of the economy and widened inequalities.  The Chinese economy is now strong enough not to rely on foreign investment or on unproductive capitalist sectors like property for growth.  So increasing the role of planning and state-led investment, the main basis of China’s economic success over the 70 years of the People’s Republic, has never been more compelling.

In another top ten post, I discussed the new policy shift of the CPC in vowing to end what it called a “disorderly expansion of capital”.  The Chinese leadership was responding to a public backlash over increasing inequality, the cost of education and healthcare and conspicuous consumption. 

The CPC has launched a crackdown on the consumer tech and media giants and introduced curbs on private education and speculative property development.  It has also banned cryptocurrency operations. The contradiction between China’s party/state-controlled economy alongside a large and growing capitalist sector has intensified during the COVID pandemic.  That contradiction is manifested in how to raise productivity to meet the social needs of 1.4bn people, in the face of vagaries of the profitability of its increasingly unproductive capitalist sector. China’s workforce is falling in size; productivity growth has been slowing and China faces a technology and trade war with the US and its imperialist allies.  These are the challenges for China over the next decade or so.

Apart from China, blog readers were also interested in issues relating to Marxist economic theory.  Second in the list of ten posts was one about the role of the rate and mass of profit in capitalist crises.  This post centred on the criticism made by David Harvey, the prominent Marxist scholar, of Marx’s law of profitability, as presented by me in particular.  Harvey claims that the movement of the mass of profit is ignored by ‘profitability promoters’ like myself.  In the post, I outlined my answer to this charge and showed that it is not the case.  Marx’s ‘double-edge’ law of the connection between the rate and mass of profit is not a refutation of the law of profitability as the underlying cause of crises; on the contrary, it is integrally connected. And alternative ‘multiple’ causes (like underconsumption, ‘too much surplus to absorb’, disproportion, financial fragility etc) remain unconvincing and unproven in comparison.

A world rate of profit (%): is the rate or the mass of profit that matters in crises?

The next most popular post was on the relative decline of US imperialism, as exposed in the ignominius US withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation.  In this post, I argued that the relative decline of the dollar will continue even if the Afghanistan debacle is not a tipping point.

During the year of the COVID 2020, output, investment and employment in nearly all the economies of the world plummeted, as lockdowns, social isolation and collapsing international trade contracted output and spending.  And yet the opposite was the case for the stock and bond markets of the major economies.  The US stock market indexes (along with others) ended 2020 at all-time highs and repeated that result in 2021.   In another top ten post, I explained the reasons for this and the role of what Marx called ‘fictitious capital’.  As Engels first said, speculating in financial markets is a major counteracting factor to falling profitability in the ‘real economy’.  But all good things must come to an end. 

And in another popular post, I discussed the profusion of financial scandals and busts that took place over the year.  In particular, the GameStop saga showed that company and personal pension funds run by the ‘smart people’ are really a rip-off for working people. What is needed are state-funded pensions not subject to the volatility of the financial game.  As Marx said, the financial system “develops the motive of capitalist production”, namely “enrichment by exploitation of others’ labour, into the purest and most colossal system of gambling and swindling and restricts even more the already small number of exploiters of social wealth”.

Alongside rocketing stock markets, the ‘real’ economy has started to experience rising inflation of the prices of goods and services.  In several posts, I discussed the inadequacies of mainstream economics explanations and tried to present a Marxist theory of inflation.  One post concluded that the US monetary and fiscal authorities may think they can control inflation (although the evidence is clear that they did not in the 1970s and have not controlled ‘disinflation’ in the last ten years).  But they can do little to get the US economy onto a sustained strong pace of growth in GDP, investment and employment.  So the US economy over the next few years is more likely to suffer from stagflation, than from inflationary ‘overheating’.

US annual consumer goods and services inflation rate %

China may have its problems in sustaining economic growth, improving living standards and reducing inequality, but that is nothing to what faces US President Biden in the remainder of his presidency.  Biden’s plan to boost the economy with infrastructure spending and fiscal stimulus has been floundering.  And my post earlier in the year predicted the failure of such policies to put the US economy onto a path of sustained higher growth.  If disillusionment in Biden’s policies rises, as it has, that could lay the political base for the return of something like Trumpism.

The last top ten post was on a long term view of productivity growth under capitalism.  It has been the historic mission of the capitalist mode of production to develop the “productive forces” (namely the technology and labour necessary to increase the output of things and services that human society needs or wants).  Indeed, it is the main claim of supporters of capitalism that it is the best (even only) system of social organisation able to develop scientific knowledge, technology and human ‘capital’, all through ‘the market’.  

But productivity growth in the major economies has been slowing for decades.  That’s because there is a basic contradiction in capitalist production. Production is for profit, not social need. And increased investment in technology that replaces value-creating labour leads to a tendency for profitability to fall. And the falling profitability of capital accumulation eventually comes into conflict with developing the productive forces. The long-term decline in the profitability of capital globally has lowered growth in productive investment and thus labour productivity growth.  Capitalism is finding it ever more difficult to expand the ‘productive forces’. It is failing in its ‘historic mission’ that Keynes was so confident of 90 years ago.

14 thoughts on “Top ten posts of 2021

  1. Je voudrais vous feliciter pour votre blog qui nous aide nous travailleurs qui ne savons pas beaucoup d’économie et qu’on a du mal a trouver des informations fiables et accessibles en économie.
    Je me permet aussi de difuser le plus largement possible vos articles (traduits avec des outils informatiques) auprès des dieaines ou peut-être plus de camarades ouvriers qui s’intéressent et s’occupent des questions économiques.
    Notament un camarade qui voit un changement d’époque, une sorte de replacement du capitalisme actuel “classique” par une sorte de dominance des banques centrales.
    Si cela vous interesse ou un de vos camarades (si vous avez le temps et la patience) je pourrais vous adreesser quelques documents ou articles car je ne suis pas de force pour bien saisir si son approche est correct, jusqu’à quel point ou si c’est un phénomène ponctuel.
    Certains économistes et commentateurs bourgeois sérieux commencent à constater que les banques centrales (au moins européennes) sortent de leur “fonction” pour s’attaquer à tous les aspects de la vie économique, donc politique. Cesont eux, de fait, qui dictent la loi aux politiques et “dirigent” le capitalisme.
    Merci encore pour votre aide précieuse, nous avons besoins d’intellectuels qui écrivent pour nous et pas pour des cercles restreints et exclusifs bien qu’on comprend aussi cette nécessité.
    AQ

      1. Dear Michael,
        Here is one is his documents. In fact, links to his articles.

        “POUR ALLER PLUS LOIN SUR LE BANCO-CENTRALISME :

        L’ONU DÉCLARE OFFICIELLEMENT LA « GUERRE ÉCONOMIQUE » …CONTRE LES PEUPLES, EN RÉALITÉ, ET POUR LE COMPTE DES BANCO-CENTRALISTES !

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article8833

        Mort cérébrale du capitalisme, mort cérébrale de la gauche !

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article8724

        “Le Crime du Garagiste” – Le Casse Banco-centraliste !

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article8195

        « Great Reset » : le banco-centralisme est-il un « complot pervers » ou simplement la conséquence incontournable d’une évolution systémique ?

        http://interfrsituation.eklablog.com/great-reset-le-banco-centralisme-est-il-un-complot-pervers-ou-simpleme-a209547684

        NOUVEAU !!! >>>

        « Aux âmes damnées (…du banco-centralisme), la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années (…pour disparaître !)…

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article9503

        « Merveilleux » Monde d’Après : face à l’émergence du banco-centralisme, quelle forme de Résistance ?

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article6329

        Paradoxe et suspense économique en 2021 : le Capital atteindra-t-il, ou non, le Nirvana par la Dette Mondiale ?

        http://interfrsituation.eklablog.com/paradoxe-et-suspense-economique-en-2021-le-capital-atteindra-t-il-ou-n-a209197288

        SUR LE CONTEXTE :

        A propos du N.O.M. comme forme évoluée « moderne » du totalitarisme, …et de son « Innommable » succursale en France !

        http://interfrsituation.eklablog.com/a-propos-du-n-o-m-comme-forme-evoluee-moderne-du-totalitarisme-et-de-s-a209538864

        « PREMONITOIRE » ??? Mars 2015, la BCE met en œuvre son premier « Quantitative Easing »… Sur RTL François Lenglet « crache le morceau » sur la réalité du banco-centralisme… !

        http://interfrsituation.eklablog.com/premonitoire-mars-2015-la-bce-met-en-oeuvre-son-premier-quantitative-e-a209230140

        Autre pays, autres mœurs, débusquée en Inde, une responsable de l’OMS, « Criminelle de guerre sanitaire » ? Comment désigner les génocidaires mondialistes ?

        http://mai68.org/spip2/spip.php?article9237

        He has written a lot on the topic. Not to waste much of your time, these are some that resume his work.

        For me, his thesis is a tendancy that is more and more present but has not replace capitalism yet.

        For him, tha actual economyis ruled by the Central Banks that has taken power from the hands of capitalists and are creating a sort of new production mode.

        If you do not have time to peroused these texts, there is perhaps someone who reads french and have the time to go through.

        Thanks in advance

  2. Enhorabuena Michael. Es mi primer año en el blog y para mí tiene dos virtudes fundamentales. Su rigor teórico y su utilidad para nuestras luchas sociales y políticas cotidianas. Un fuerte abrazo desde España.

  3. You have a number of views from Greece too 😉
    We hope that you will keep informing us for the new year. Th classical marxist point of view is not very popular here in Greece. We anticipate that this will change

  4. So you also have a disproportionately high number of readers from Brazil. Paul Cockshott reports the same thing about the correspondence he gets.

    The irony is that on the surface, Brazil is a conservative dystopia, a basket case of comprador elites, obsequious professional classes and fragmented, disorganised workers. People abroad focus on Bolsonaro’s election, but they don’t realise our Congress is an even greater problem, teeming with fundamentalist Christians, corporate creatures, outright criminals, rich people who decided they need no middlemen, and a few well-intentioned, powerless politicians in the trade-unionist tradition.

    I guess the political atmosphere in the country is so suffocating for leftists without local options that we resort to reading about Marxism abroad. It’s certainly my case. I’ll vote for the Workers’ Party in the next election, but I don’t pretend to believe they’ll do much more than provide some economic aid to the dispossessed and do some cosmetic fixes to the economic policy while appeasing Congress and agribussiness until the next inevitable crisis.

    Classical liberals here like to complain Brazil has never had a true liberal representation in politics (the ones who called themselves the Liberal Front fittingly changed their names to Democrats and are basically a bunch of contemptible agribusiness conservatives). But it’s equally true that since the military dictatorship destroyed the original Communist Party, we don’t have significant presence of Marxism in politics. The current Communist Party is basically a waiting room for politicians to cut their teeth before changing to the Workers’ Party, and we have a couple of small Trotskyist parties that never get elected to anything. Our only Marxists are in the universities, skulking down while growing old.

    1. “Our only Marxists are in the universities, hiding as they age.”
      It will not be that fact in the Brazilian private universities but it will be in the public ones. And it is true that they hide and grow old but they do it at the same time that they receive excellent public salaries FOR LIFE with which they more than satisfy their needs. It happens in Brazil, it happens in Spain and all over the planet. Almost all public employees (a considerable workforce, since they constitute from 15% to 25% of the workforce worldwide) are pure labor aristocracy. Aristocracy of a socially regressive character that does not move a single muscle in its body for any workers’ struggle. And a source of oppression and extraction of surplus value for the rest of the citizens.

      1. I’m one of that aristocracy, so at least I can’t be accused of lack of class consciousness.

        Yes. The civil service in most countries has been co-opted by the elites, long ago. The deal seems to be that the civil service can be given the *near* certainty of a comfortable life in exchange for compliance and with the understanding that we’ll earn less than people of similar education attainment in the private sector, but won’t be fired because tenured.

        Before I go further, let me say two things.

        I) I believe academic tenure is important, at least in a capitalist setting. If an academic can advance novel, unsettling ideas or theories without fear of losing their job, then society gains from their candidness. A case in point is the finding that tobacco causes cancer: several universities in the US at the time took grants and donations from tobacco companies, Duke University among them. The scientists who found the link might have lost their positions had it not been for tenure.

        II) I’m an adherent of labour tokens per amount of time, so I’m against differential pay per educational attainment. I merely remarked on earning less than people in the private sector as an illustration of the reality in capitalist countries. At least in Brazil, we earn far less than people with a doctorate in the private sector.

        I think it was Simone Weil who critiqued Leninism for remarking that it failed to take into account the behaviour of the managerial class as gatekeepers for the elite. But I’m quoting second-hand, so I don’t know.

        Let me add this: while it’s true that this labour aristocracy often loses class consciousness (either by identifying with the wrong class, or by considering itself a different class), we’re still wage earners. As a lynchpin of the capitalist state, of course the civil service ends up aiding it in extracting surplus value from workers. But we’re not rentiers, and we don’t own the means of production. So we also lose purchase power when the economy tanks, and the elites work around the clock to increase the chasm between us and the wage earners in the private sector, in classical divide and conquer. They make sure that we’re hated by workers, even though we do teach their children, and often ours, as well as their children’s teachers, and we also do heal their sick (or teach those who do) and make sure they get a modicum of social services. I can’t blame them because from their point of view, we sure lead a comfortable life. But instead of bringing our quality of life down to the level of theirs, the goal should surely be to lift theirs up to the level of ours, no?

        And the elites make it damn sure that we cannot be too comfortable, either. Half of my salary isn’t classified as a wage, but as a benefit, and can be removed at any time, pending a judicial decision or a governmental whim. Even an aristocracy has its ruined baronets and gilded dukes, and Brazilian university teachers are much closer to the former. For the latter, you may wish to check out some civil servants in the judiciary.

        You think our salaries are excellent? Sure they are, by comparison with precarious labour in the private sector. But my base salary is about 800-1000 US dollars. With benefits (the ones that can be removed anytime), it gets to about double that. Given the exchange rate, it’s a good salary, yes, but by no means a princely one. It’s common to have selections for new professors for which no candidates show up, because many people decide their doctorates deserve more than that. And if you have children and have to put them in a private school because government chronically under-funds public education, then a third of the combined salaries of two professors who marry each other will go to pay for the education of two children.

        Are you REALLY sure it’s our “excellent” salaries “for life” that you should be resenting?

      2. ” Are you REALLY sure it’s our “excellent” salary “for life” that you should be resentful of? ‘’
        ” But instead of bringing our quality of life to their level, the goal should surely be to raise theirs to ours, right? ‘’
        “I think that academic permanence is important, at least in a capitalist environment.”
        Starting with his most concrete and majority answer, about high wages and permanence in employment, I do not fight, at all, for a society in which public employees lose standard of living and job security, but, on the contrary, I fight to that these benefits are extended to the entire population. The current states, and the previous ones, are workers ‘conquests, they are workers’ constructions, especially due to the influence of real socialism, and they must be extended to all citizens. I fight and defend socialism. A radical democratic socialism. With an absolute abolition of wage labor and with the cradle of ownership of the common and cooperative means of production. That was not my criticism.
        My criticism of the group of civil servants went a little further than the salary issues. It was going in the direction of asking questions about what role officials play today in workers’ struggles and what can be expected of them. Knowing that public employees form a considerable workforce. And a group of civil servants who, added to the ruling political class in each country, give a complete body shape to the economic subject called the State. Economic subject with very complex and decisive characteristics in the capitalist model, and characteristics impossible to indicate in a short comment. Unfortunately, the first question has only one answer in light of ample evidence that I will not relate: the civil servants collective, in general, is a regressive and reactionary collective today. It is in the same regression as the state it forms. Regressive does not mean that the State and its employees do not produce essential goods and services (education, health, etc.) for the population and working class. It only means, exactly, that this state production is increasingly scarce, inefficient and more expensive (taxes). And it means that these states are being privatized. In a systematic and deterministic way.
        Obviously, in my criticism I was referring to the (world) collective of civil servants in general and not to you. Person who is unaware of his job role and commentator in whom he would always have appreciated an excellent technical level and a high class consciousness in his comments.
        More important and comprehensive questions and answers are:
        1.- Because there are historical periods throughout the world in which states and their employees are progressive and others in which they are reactionary. Will this regression continue today, a regression that began in the eighties? When it ends?
        2.-The previous analysis must be included within an economic-political analysis of the State and its members. Analysis that is quite absent in current Marxist literature.

  5. I’ve been a reader here for only a year or so, and find your texts, commentaries from readers and the ensuing dialogues very useful and refreshing.
    I’ve also been trying to catalogue the entries according to topics, with the presumption that such an ordering of themes will assist readers in obtaining a more thorough and better understanding of the content.
    So, was just wondering, you wouldn’t happen to already have a catalogue of the entries in here? Do you?

    And a happy (Covid free) new year to all!
    (Though looks like this sucker will be around for a while).

    BTW, some of your articles from here have also been translated into Persian and are posted on an Iranian site.
    The site is a called “Critique of Political- Economy”

    نقد اقتصاد-سیاسی
    https://pecritique.com/

    1. Hi Hoshang. Thanks for the Persian site. The best way to get a catalogue of subjects on the blog is to go to the search button which is to be found by scrolling down on the opening page HOME. The button is not in view unless you scroll down. Then you can compile posts by subject.

  6. What you say is true only for the core imperial countries, especially the US, but increasingly so for the rest of the G7. Even a Lulu is impossible here in the US.
    Mao once said that China and other colonized countries were the true “proletarian” countries.
That only the imperialist countries were capitalist countries (in the sense that even poorest workers there, including the unemployed, live better on capitalist crumbs that those in the the proletarian countries.) What seemed at the time a far-fetched analogy has become fact in the neoliberal era.
    Most of world’s surplus products are extracted from the labor in the so-called Global South, packed into container ships and transmographied within the West’s “post industrial” high tech/service/consumer economy into surplus value. Here, surplus value accumulation takes the forms of salaries for workers in the West’s purely destructive armaments industry and its mercenaries, dividends for investors in mammoth capital-managing equity funds (which are more interested in extracting interest and rent than profits from even the service and IT sector enterprises they own), and in wages for public employees. Indeed, the wage system is under attack with the spread of gig labor.
    Under such conditions it is impossible for any kind of worker in any kind of employ (public and private are the same) a in our our super-exploiting capitalist countries)to organize anything close to a revolutionary moverment. But we can support rebellion in the peripheries and as best we can, as well as the supporting captured, super-exploited labor here (mainly the US) growing and packing our food, nursing our sick, and cleaning up our mess.

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