The Shell Economy and Crisis Theory

Came across this excellent essay by Benjamin Kunkel of n+1 on the London Review of Books blog, reviewing Marxist scholar David Harvey‘s two most recent books, The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism and A Companion to Marx’s ‘Capital.’ I haven’t read any Harvey, though I’m certainly going to check him out after reading this essay. Harvey, formally trained in geography, has become a leading scholar of “crisis theory,” which examines turbulence, instability, and ultimately, well, crisis in the global economy through the prism of Marx’s critique of capitalism as laid out in Das Kapital and the Grundrisse.

My familiarity with Das Kapital is basic, but Kunkel’s main point — that mainstream and even “progressive” accounts of the economic crisis of the last three years rarely cross the left boundary demarcated by economic Keynesianism and political left liberalism — is trenchant and telling. Now it seems to me that there are any number of reasons for this — in the American media, at least, the rightward shift of media and politics in general occasioned by corporate monopoly over the main media channels — but the question is relevant. We hear the crisis framed in technocratic terms, according to which regulations were lax, oversight dysfunctional when present, individual incentives misaligned with corporate/social incentives, etc. But we rarely hear any question of whether or not the crisis was not a dysfunction of capitalism, but rather a feature. I’m skeptical as to whether that conversation can take place in the United States outside of explicitly socialist channels on the fringe, but perhaps it’s time to ask those questions again.

~ by Benji on January 28, 2011.

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