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The Global Minotaur: America, The True Origins of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy - Economic Controversies
The Global Minotaur: America, The True Origins of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy - Economic Controversies
by Yanis Varoufakis
Edition: Paperback

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Left-Keynesian Interpretation of the Crisis, 25 Jan. 2012
Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economic Theory at the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, is mainly known for his work (with Shaun Hargreaves-Heap) on critical analysis of game theory. He is however also one of the foremost currently active left-Keynesian economists. In this book, "The Global Minotaur", he sets out his analysis of the origins and nature of the current economic depression from this perspective. The book is well-written and should be generally accessible to the interested layman, but it is also rather disjointed; it has at times insufficient theoretical depth to clearly separate causes, and at the same time insufficient structuring to make it wholly work as a popular text. That said, it is highly informative, clear in the purely descriptive aspects of its content, and should make the Keynesian interpretation of the current crisis and global trade relations clear to all involved.

The first two chapters, the introduction and "Laboratories of the Future", are the most rambling and unclear, and therefore may put off readers unfairly. In it, Varoufakis discusses and then dismisses various popular explanations for the crisis and explains the Keynesian theory of capital and of crisis in general terms, but I doubt whether anyone will be much the wiser for it. The later chapters, however, are excellent. Varoufakis systematically traces the two world-systems led by the United States that have existed since WWII. First this is the gold standard convertibility system of Bretton Woods, in which the United States financed its vassals in Europe and east Asia in order to provide itself with a market for its own manufactures, in exchange for which it could rely on their political loyalty in the struggle against its rival, the Soviet Union. He clearly outlines the significance of the Marshall Plan and the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, as well as the plans for the quick revival of Germany and Japan after being defeated in WWII, as part of the American 'global plan' to recycle its surpluses from production, so as to maintain demand for its own production. The Vietnam war and the attendant massive financing of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are also put into context in this manner. This is an interesting and controversial point, because generally the start of the European unification project and the revival of Japan are interpreted as developments necessarily ceded by the US against its short-term interests in order to prevent a Communist takeover; but in Varoufakis' reading, the Cold War as such does not play such a significant role, and these developments are read as actually being directly beneficial to America's global position. Although I am not so enamored of Keynesian demand theory as the author, the argument here is strong and allows for an interesting reinterpretation of these events, especially the creation of the 'unified Europe'.

The second stage of the recent world-system shows, from the moment Nixon abandons the US gold standard under the pressure of its now increasingly powerful and rivalrous allies (France, Britain, Japan), a pattern almost the reverse of the former. After the abandonment of gold standard convertibility and the introduction of the floating exchange rates, the US dollar functions as the world reserve currency almost entirely unbound by gold. It can do this thanks to the immense economic and military power of the US, which makes it a safe guarantee for all creditors. As a result, the United States has an "exorbitant privilege" in being able to print dollars pretty much ad libitum and thereby bankroll its massive trade deficits and its enormous military expansion from President Reagan onwards, at the expense of Europe and the new economic powers of East Asia, including today China, whose trade surpluses are promptly invested in US dollar bonds and assets denominated in US dollars. The United States in this way can run up almost limitless debt and can increase its world position in military and economic terms thanks to the seignorage benefits it accrues in this manner - it becomes the 'global minotaur' which receives tribute from all abroad.

But: it can do this only for as long as it is still the most trusted debtor, effectively. And this leads Varoufakis to his analysis of the crisis, which is perhaps the best part of the book. He explains in a clear and easy to understand manner how the endless flow of capital to Wall Street (and lesser gods parasitical upon it, like Iceland and Ireland) which could not be 'recycled' into productive investment led to the creation of a massive financial bubble of ever more remote derivatives and leveraging, which inevitably popped. From Varoufakis' clear overview, there can be no doubt that we haven't seen the end of the crisis yet and that the systemic responses on the part of the Obama administration as well as the European Commission are essentially just attempts to set the clock back, to return to the financialized system from before the collapse of the bubble without making the least serious effort at implementing reforms to prevent it from happening again. This is an important warning that none of the current governments are actually interested in the human consequences of the crisis or in preventing its future recurrence. Moreover, as the example of Japan discussed by Varoufakis shows, a debt-deflationary cycle can take a very long time to get out of, and may well result in a 'lost decade' or longer of nondevelopment of the economy for most people. The author ends therefore with a discussion of how the main challenge is that of the Chinese against the global minotaur and their attempt to supplant it, but this provides no solution of itself, just a change of the guard.

The main strength of "The Global Minotaur" is in its descriptive clarity, explaining the processes through which the two different postwar systems operated with the United States at the helm, and how the era of neoliberal policy is directly linked to the changes in the kind of economic hegemony the US exercises. However, from my point of view, the book's weakness lies in its inability to more systematically analyze the causal sequences in production and crisis, which is a problem with Keynesian economics generally. Where it comes to understanding actual production, the creation and flow of value and its relationship to crisis, the left-Keynesian theory has very little to say. Keynesian economics relies purely on psychological explanations in the last instance, and these often beg the question. This is shown in this book by the small segments on Wal-Mart and how it supposedly lured Americans into a psychology of wanting to buy for cheap; these and similar passages are superficial, and do not go into for example the relationship between lowering the cost of the reproduction of labor and the ability of capitalists to subsequently lower the wage rate. Similarly, Varoufakis takes the underconsumptionist paradigm, i.e. the explanation of economic crisis by the inability of capitalists to create sufficient demand for their products, as a given and takes no time to defend it as against those Marxist interpretations that locate crisis in the sphere of production, with a declining rate of profit. For example, the author points to great increases in the volume of profit for American companies since the 1980s neoliberal era; but given the massive flows of capital from everywhere else to the United States, this tells us very little about the rate of profit. Without a meaningful value theory, Varoufakis can explain how the crisis came about, but not why it came about. Similarly, he can explain very well through which processes the US managed to exercise its economic power, but not how this relates to wages, class struggle, or political and technological changes (although he does note how Mao's victory in China sabotaged the American plan to make China the dominant market in Asia rather than Japan). It also makes it difficult for him to discuss in-depth the problems with the economic theories underlying the neoliberal order, other than complaining about their mathematical abstruseness.

None of that is to say this is not a good book, however. When taken descriptively and read as a history of the current global financial situation and the history of high finance in the postwar period, it is probably the best book at this theoretical level one can find, and it is readable and concise. In particular the clear explanation of the role of the United States in creating two different world orders since WWII is highly suggestive for understanding many political developments in the postwar period as well, and should clarify much of the issues around the ability of the US to maintain its power (which of course have nothing to do with the ideology of 'free markets' touted by its politicians). For a more in-depth causal approach to economic crisis in general and this one in particular, the really interested academic might do better to read the works of modern Marxist economists on the crisis, for example the work of Costas Lapavitsas.


The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth
The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth
by John Bellamy Foster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ecological Rift, 25 Oct. 2011
This is a reproduction of the review published in the Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

In the last few decades, there has been a renewed interest in exploring issues of ecology and sustainability from a Marxist perspective. Partially inspired by the ecological movement more widely, partially by the revival of Marxist economic theory since the 1980s, the topic of 'Marx and ecology' has been given wide attention in a range of publications in recent years. All three of the authors of the present book have earned their stripes in this field of research, and in particular John Bellamy Foster has been influential in putting ecological questions on the agenda of socialist politics, a tradition that had hitherto often been hostile to the claims of (middle class) 'green' campaigners. That capitalism is incompatible with the demands of our ecosystem and the existence of a self-sustaining environment free from exploitation is now taken for granted by socialists of whatever kind in most of the world, even in China; and yet this is a thought that had largely lain dormant since the period of the Second International. Its revival in recent years is in many ways for a significant part due to the above authors, and this book can be seen as the culmination of their efforts in the theoretical development of the implications of Marxism for understanding what Marx called the 'metabolism' between mankind and nature (45, 46). The 'metabolic rift' that capitalism has opened is, according to the authors, due to the incompatibility of the drive for perpetual growth and accumulation with the requirements of the environment as the basis for life (85).

This disruption or rift in the metabolism between humans and the earth, the 'regulative law of social production' (124), expresses itself in three ways in the current-day catastrophic environmental feedback loop: first, the decline in the natural fertility of the soil, which has to be compensated for by transferring nutrients over long distances to new locations; second, the increase in the intensity of the exploitation of nature, extending and expanding the 'ecological rift' qualitatively and quantitatively; and third, the transformation of the earth in the capitalist production process into harmful waste and pollution (125). In the course of the book, the authors examine each of these in their historical development as well as in the findings of climatologists and other natural scientists regarding the current-day situation, underlining the scope and threat of the looming ecological disaster. This includes not only discussions of such politically familiar subjects as climate change and the carbon cycle, but also for example the impact of computer technology and electronic storage on the consumption of paper. The authors use not only Marx's understanding of the nature and expansion of capital to underline their argument, but also explore how the ecological degradations caused by capitalism despite its renowned 'efficiency' can be seen as a specific application of the famous Jevons Paradox - a study by the famous nineteenth century economist Jevons of changes in the consumption of coal with the introduction of more energy-efficient technologies, which contrary to all expectation led to an increase, rather than decrease, in the consumption and extraction of this nonrenewable good. As the authors are well aware, many of the liberal punditry and the political class today who are aware of the real dimensions of this ecological rift put their faith in capitalism's ability to achieve greater efficiencies by the introduction of new technology, and hope to avoid the impact of the ecological crisis in this way. But the Jevons Paradox and what the authors call the 'Paperless Office Paradox' (191) demonstrate why this cannot happen. Indeed, since the 1970s the energy consumption per unit of GDP of the United States has more than halved, but this has not in the least diminished the American over-consumption of energy resources relative to the rest of the world and the planet's carrying capacity. In a system based on limitless accumulation for its own sake, any savings in energy efficiency will only allow an expansion in economic activity based on the energy source, negating the environmental benefit from the new technology. This is the Jevons Paradox in action, and as the authors emphasize, capitalism shows this pattern time and again.

Despite the familiarity of the average economist (presumably) with the Jevons Paradox, the reality and consequences of the ecological rift are not much recognized by modern-day economists, who are loath even at the worst of times to say anything against the system of unlimited accumulation of value. The authors summarize the mainstream economic view of the ecological aspects of capitalism as threefold again: first, a belief in universal substitutability, in which no aspect of nature is in principle irreplacable; second, what they call 'demateralization', which is the belief or hope that the real production of goods can by technology somehow be decoupled from the use of resources, leading to a 'weightless economy'; and finally, the conversion of nature into natural capital, which although for the first time giving an economic weight to nature, at the same time equalizes it as a commodity with all the others, and denies its qualitative significance (112). This attitude is well summed up by a quote from Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning growth economist: 'if it is very easy to substitute other factors for natural resources, then there is in principle no "problem". The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe.' (122) Of course, in reality capitalism has found it much less easy than the economists have hoped to very easily substitute technology for the metabolism with nature. Unfortunately, given its importance, these excursions into non-Marxist economic theory and the ways in which it has dealt and still tries to deal with the ecological rift is very brief. The discussion of 'ecological modernization theory' takes up just a few pages (251-258). One would have wished the authors had expanded on this more generally, also in order to contrast more effectively the Marxist approach with the modern-day neoclassical one at the theoretical level, not just at the level of capitalism's practical incompatibility with the ecosystem.

Another large section of the book is dedicated to 'dialectical ecology', which the authors identify as the line of thought extending from Engels' work on the dialectics of nature to Soviet applications of this thought to contemporary ecological questions. The authors, against the anti-Engelsian school of thought (e.g. Peter Thomas) and the general hostility towards the Dialectics of Nature by older interpretations of Marxist thought in the West, defend this approach as being not only shared by Marx and Engels alike, but also the cornerstone of their thought about the metabolism with nature and the creation of the ecological rift (241). To justify this, they contrast a Western tradition of critics of this dialectics, such as Lukacs and Gramsci, with a more sympathetic tradition within Marxist-oriented natural science, such as the works of J.D. Bernal, J.D.S. Haldane, and Hyman Levy as well as a similar current in the Soviet Union with Vernadsky, Oparin, and Hessen (241-243). The authors locate the roots of this dialectical way of thought about nature, that is nature as historically developing in its interaction with mankind and therefore always being in a state of 'emergence' (240), in Engels' work on dialectics as well as the Grundrisse. In this reading, the Marxist approach to ecological questions understands nature as being a historical (by which they presumably mean path-dependent) process, in which humanity since its existence has constantly come up against ecological boundaries to its social relations, which it can only overcome by reorganizing society to accord a better 'fit' with nature's laws (240). They contrast this view not just with the 'green' defenders of capitalism, who put their faith in technology, but also with holist systems such as that of James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis (260) and the views of the South African General and architect of apartheid Jan Christiaan Smuts, who used a crude social Darwinism to justify the oppression of blacks (318). In what is perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book, or at least the most original territory for a Marxist discussion of ecological questions, the authors use the chapter 'The Sociology of Ecology' to trace the historical development of notions of 'nature' and its 'laws'. They examine this through the lens of what they call the 'double transference' common to bourgeois thought about nature and biology: the reading of particular patterns from ecology as analogous with those of bourgeois society, and then the re-application of these ideas as modified by the bourgeois self-understanding to the domain of nature, in which they are raised to the level of eternal laws (309). The authors wisely note this double transference as being the foremost trap to be avoided in a political-economic thinking about ecological questions, and note how Marx and Engels opposed both the tendency to read capitalist competition into ecology as an eternal law as well as theories of limitless cooperation as a natural example for socialists and anarchists (311). Here, again, the material would allow for a much greater exploration of these issues, although it must be noted John Bellamy Foster has already done so to a limited extent in his earlier work Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature (Foster 2000), on which much of the present volume is based. Something of an omission is the authors' lack of interest in exploring the question of the idea of an 'ecosystem' as such (other than the reference to Lovelock), and its historical basis in the development of 'systems theory' and 'operations science', itself major political and intellectual influences on the development of neoclassical economics and neoliberal thought about man and society. I believe a very fruitful and interesting connection could be made here with the work in the history of economic ideas on these subjects by Philip Mirowski (e.g. Mirowski 2002). But given the length of the work, this can be readily accepted as being material for further research.

The last section of the book is dedicated to exploring the interrelation between these questions of capitalism's ecological rift and imperialism, taken in a broad sense. The authors tell the familiar tales of the guano rush in Peru, the ecological impact on the rest of the world of mass consumption in the West, and the use of outsourcing to the developing world as a way of 'greenwashing' production in the First World. This leads to the authors making the case for revolution, unsurprising perhaps in a work dedicated to a Marxist understanding of capital. But this revolution is to be as much ecological as it is socialist (at least when that term is understood traditionally): relying on the thought of István Mészáros, they very justifiably state that the influence of mankind's activities is now of such scope and degree that no part of nature is unaffected by it, implying that a total overcoming of capitalism is simultaneously a total overcoming of its anarchic alienation from nature, and vice versa (422). The authors plausibly suggest that the source of this transformation may well be found in capitalism's recent development of a 'new environmental proletariat' in Asia and Africa, particularly in places most likely to be affected by the coming ecological crisis in a direct, physical way (440). Exploring fully the impact of capitalism's shift towards the east and the divide between the Third and the First World is clearly beyond the scope of this book as well, being after all an admirably complete overview of the ecological question in Marxism as it stands. It is precisely that this work opens so many new avenues of further Marxist thought and research, together with its intelligent analysis and the historical erudition of its authors, that makes it a highly recommended read for all interested in Marxist thought on capitalism and the environment.


Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945
Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945
by William Hitchcock
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.77

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting corrective to American triumphalism, 17 Aug. 2011
"The Bitter Road to Freedom" is first and foremost a work written by and for Americans. Unlike in much of (continental) Europe, where the ambivalent and tragic nature of the end of WWII and the postwar settlement is widely recognized, in the United States the story of the 'good war' is generally one of fairly unabashed triumphalism. One need but think of the acclaimed series 'Band of Brothers' or the popular portrayal of figures like Patton to see this. It was therefore incumbent on the American historian William Hitchcock, specialist in 20th century European international relations at Temple University, to correct this all too self-congratulatory image. In this eminently readable book Hitchcock systematically describes the European experience of 'liberation' from West to East, starting with the launch of Operation Overlord and ending with the repatriation of the 'Displaced Persons' and the expulsion of the German-speaking peoples from Eastern Europe. As Hitchcock shows, from the 70.000 French civilian victims of Allied bombing to the Dutch famine of 1944-1945 and the lacklustre reception for Shoah survivors, the story of liberation was itself as destructive an episode of the war as the rest of it had been. In fact, World War II is remarkable for the fact that in every year the degree of violence, which seemed to have reached the maximum imaginable in each previous year, was raised to a further pitch, and the 'liberation' of Europe was but the final culmination of this.

This is not to say, of course, that anyone now doubts the absolute necessity for all powers involved to destroy Nazi Germany at whatever cost. But in recent decades the increasing historical distance to the real events has allowed for a more ambivalent and nuanced scholarship than was the case previously, and this has led to many debates on thorny moral and political issues arising from this final stage of the deadliest war the world has ever seen. Hitchcock navigates these deftly: while his approach is one of 'history from below', using the stories of civilian eyewitnesses, soldiers and UN workers wherever possible in lieu of a larger political analysis, he does not neglect the major controversies, and gets them right where it counts. The often needless destruction of the German historical cities, product not just of inadequate technology in strategic bombing but also of sheer vengefulness, is mentioned. So also is the failure of the Warsaw Uprising (where Hitchcock quite rightly notes that the Red Army had no ability to offer assistance, not a lack of will), the difficult relations between the military governors of occupied Germany and the 'Displaced Persons', in particular the Zionist Jews, and the painful decision to not liberate the urban Netherlands separately because of the military cost, condemning thousands to die of famine. Another useful corrective the author provides is to dispel the notion that it was only the Red Army in the east that, upon arriving in foreign territory, set about widespread rape and looting. In fact, the western Allies made hardly a better show of it in France or Belgium, and if Hitchcock is to be believed the Americans particularly had more warm feelings for the German civilians than for the ones they 'liberated' (despite attempts from on high to prevent this).

Hitchcock's warm and accessible writing style, his balanced judgement and judicious choice of anecdotal sources make for great reading. One could, however, object to the somewhat narrow focus of the book. It is very much oriented to Americans: the military experience is virtually entirely the American one, those elements of high politics provided as context are centered around American decision-making, and one could easily get the impression from him (though this is probably not intentional) that the liberation of Europe was largely an American effort, itself a popular conception that needs revising. Moreover, because the story starts when the Americans arrive with their main force on the scene, there is almost no attention for the interesting and tragic tale of the 'liberation' of southern Europe. Certainly the Italian experience after the switch of 1943, with its German reprisals and partisan warfare, the Yugoslavian story of self-liberation, and the Greek story of mass famine and British repression of the resistance movement would have been worth telling. One can hope however that Hitchcock or some other could do a sequel of this work, and include the Indo-Pacific theatre in it as well, which saw a possibly even more destructive 'liberation' and one where the Americans and other Allies shone (even) less obviously. Yet it is childish to accuse a good book of not being several good books, and there is no doubt that this work is part of a new and encouraging trend in historiography of World War II that takes a more 'revisionist' and politically ambivalent approach to the subject - one can think here also of Adam Tooze's wonderful book "The Wages of Destruction" (The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy). Recommended for all fans of WWII history, especially Americans.


Liberalism: A Counter-History
Liberalism: A Counter-History
by Domenico Losurdo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.80

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An anti-Whiggish history, 4 Aug. 2011
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Domenico Losurdo's "Liberalism: A Counter-History" is a brilliant and engaging exposé of the real history of liberalism as an ideology, in contradistinction to the hagiographical and justificatory self-descriptions that liberals usually give to it. Almost all systematic histories of liberalism and liberal thought have been written by liberals or its sympathizers, and therefore Losurdo's critical narrative is a welcome antidote to this in every sense Whiggish approach. Losurdo proceeds largely chronologically, but there is a clear thematic structure to the book. Using the writings of impeccably liberal sources and many of the most famous founders of liberal thought, from Burke and Locke to Jefferson and De Tocqueville, he shows how liberalism's self-perception and self-presentation as the politics of freedom was undermined time and again by its reliance on the suppression of 'inferiors'. In order to realize the freedom of the liberals, black slaves, women, the working class, and so forth all had to give way; the freedom of the liberal classes was always founded on the exploitation of others. Only when the gentry and the merchant classes were freed of the need to do manual labor and were guaranteed their position as rulers of society could they defend the liberty liberalism promised against the absolute and arbitrary power of monarchs, clergy, and other traditional opponents. In fact, as Losurdo shows by analyzing the writings of US Vice President and ideologue of the Confederacy John C. Calhoun, the stronger the oppression by the liberal class of their 'inferiors', the more they saw themselves as the ultimate defenders of human liberty and the more jealously they guarded their privileges against the dangers of oppressive government. In this sense, liberalism appears more than anything as the ideology of the middle layer, precisely as it was in historical reality: its purpose is to shield from the powers above it, and to keep down the people below it.

Of course, Losurdo is well aware that liberalism took on various forms, and he carefully if not always very explicitly shows the different strands of liberal ideology throughout time. He essentially identifies three main currents in liberal thought before 1848: a conservative strand, represented by the likes of Burke and Locke, which intended to maintain the traditional structure of society but opposed the absolutism of the monarchy on behalf of the merchant class, and which had no sympathy even for bourgeois revolution along the lines of the American and the French. The second strand was the 'moderate' one, which perhaps is better called the reforming one, represented by many abolitionist thinkers as well as people like Adam Smith, Benjamin Constant and Immanuel Kant. This group sought to abolish the feudal privileges previously inhering in society and wishes to extend the liberal conception of freedom to all. However, it was consistently unable to rhyme its desire for the extension of liberty in any meaningful sense to humanity without being confronted with the problem of inequality of property, most completely expressed in the oppression of colonial peoples, the working classes in the metropole, and servants. It could not resolve this problem without breaking the boundaries of liberal thought and turning against the class it represented, and this the liberal reformers, even J.S. Mill, were unwilling to do. Each time they came up against this barrier, they fell back and retreated to the safer terrain of the conservative position - as exemplified by Constant's opposition to abolishing the property requirement for suffrage, Mill's enthusiasm for colonialism, and so forth. The racism and hypocrisy required of the reformers to maintain their position in society while preaching the gospel of freedom was not, as Losurdo shows, much different to that of the 'liberal' defenders of slavery and the Confederacy in kind; perhaps only in degree.

The third trend, a very small one, is the trend of what Losurdo calls the radicals. These were the ones that did seek to make such a break with established society and having recognized the limitations of liberal thought as a social phenomenon were willing to criticize the order of society as such, not just call for liberty within it. Before 1848, these could not easily be called socialists, and instead we find them in the ranks of radical Enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Thomas Paine. But Losurdo traces the development of socialism as a competitor of liberalism to its origins in this wing of liberalism, what used to be called 'Bourgeois Radicalism', and he is probably correct in doing so. Only this group was willing to question the received order of society fundamentally, not just from the interest of the middle class against the aristocracy and monarchical power. Only this group was willing to re-imagine society afresh and to criticize oppression wherever they saw it. But even this group did not yet reach the understanding of socialism: they did not see oppression in many cases where it existed, not just the oppression of other races and of women, but also the genocidal policies implemented in colonization and settlerism in the name of the spread of freedom and civilisation. Challenging and uprooting the causes of these phenomena was to be the task of socialism, as was the development of a historical understanding which in the first place allows ideologies such as liberalism to be traced to their political-economic interests and vantage point within a given society. But without liberalism paving the way, this could not have been done.

It is important therefore to keep in mind that this excellent work is first and foremost a work in the history of ideas, not a political critique. It is precisely as the title says a counter-history: a real history of liberalism and its great thinkers and the way in which liberalism has always relied on the exploitation and exclusion of groups outside its great realm of liberty to prosper. Importantly, it also does away with the mythology of liberalism as a self-repairing phenomenon. Most current-day liberal philosophers would gladly admit to the errors of the past, but these are always reinterpreted as being inherently part of liberalism's supposed amazing ability to overcome its own flaws and move forward; ironically, an almost dialectical self-analysis. But Domenico Losurdo tells the story more realistically: for most of the great liberal thinkers, the exclusionary aspects of their thought were not just flaws or personal prejudices, but were in fact inherent and essential parts of their worldview, and they knew full well that such exclusion was absolutely necessary to maintain the order that liberalism was invented to defend in the first place. The racist and genocidal aspects of liberalism are no mere mistake or an idiosyncrasy of a particular time and place, as a sort of liberal counterpart to the Moscow Trials. They were 'working as intended', and that is precisely what socialism originated to critique. As Losurdo reminds us, in a time when liberalism has once again become the ruling ideology and looks on its past with increasingly warm feelings (viz. Niall Ferguson), that critique is more needed than ever.


The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective
The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective
by Philip Mirowski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £46.50

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, 21 July 2011
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"The Road from Mont Pèlerin" is the first work since the in-house history of the society by Hartwell to trace the origins, meaning, and development of the Mont Pèlerin Society and its role in the making of the neoliberal thought collective, as the editors call it. This collection is therefore first and foremost a work of modern history of ideas. While many people have written critical histories of the meaning and origins of neoliberalism, this work is perhaps the most academic and most strongly researched of them all, and goes beyond the more popular level of discussion of the effects of neoliberal policy in practice and the ways of political power, instead focusing more on the way in which 'neoliberalism' has become a strong and identifiable political philosophy. As the authors of this collection emphasize, it is first and foremost that: not an economic theory, nor simply an old laissez-faire doctrine in a new jacket, but an entire political philosophy and world outlook that is all the more powerful for the obscurity of its real content. Whereas other authors have at times simply sufficed to identify neoliberalism with particular politicians (Thatcher, Reagan, Blair) or with 'free market' policies, as co-editor Mirowski explains in his excellent postface, the philosophy of neoliberalism as it originated as an integral whole at Mont Pèlerin is quite distinct in several ways.

It is characterized by Mirowski in a number of important differentia specifica, useful to consider: Neoliberalism, contrary to the classical liberalism, believes that its vision of society is not the product of a natural development as long as the government is kept out of the way, but that it must be consciously constructed as a free society; this free society is based on the notion that the free market is the best and only competent processor of knowledge, which is partial and embodied in individuals; therefore, despite propaganda for political purposes, the actual neoliberal goal for the state is not to disempower it, but to empower it to create a free market state rather than its current functions; neoliberalism therefore operates within and through state power; the ultimate goal of the free market is to be a mechanism to advance freedom; the freedom of market actors must therefore be as absolute as possible, with this freedom defined solely as a negative freedom to be free of interference in acting within this market, making freedom the freedom to use one's personal, partial knowledge; and therefore, finally, in the last instance the free market as an exchange of individual knowledge, not democracy or well-being, is the ultimate moral goal. These points are in clear contradistinction to classical liberalism from Smith to Mill onwards, with its rather traditionalist view of the paternal state, its concern about inequality, its distrust of joint-stock companies and monopoly power, and its belief in social contract order and the 'natural' results of limited government. But, as Mirowski, Plehwe and the other contributors make clear, this neoliberal programme is inherently full of contradictions in its intellectual thought. Its greatest thinker, Hayek, made his entire career on promoting the notion that all knowledge of society is partial, that the course of society cannot be foreseen and the effects of individual action are always subject to unintended consequences, that only through the market system information can be processed efficiently, and that any attempt to change society according to a preconceived plan must therefore fail. But of course for neoliberalism's ideas to be true, it requires Hayek c.s. to be able to do just all these things: plan a free society, oversee the causes and consequences of individual action in current and the desired society, intellectually comprehend the whole, and then set about politically implementing their ideas. In this way, neoliberalism as an intellectual program is effectively refuted by the success of neoliberalism as a practical program, which is why its talk of freedom is always such hypocrisy and its effects have always been the opposite of its claims, even to the point where the neoliberal hegemony of the last 30 years has not anywhere in the developed world actually reduced the size of the state.

The contributions to this volume trace not only the origins of Mont Pèlerin as such, but also delve deeper into specific issues often not explored fully in more introductory works. Yves Steiner analyzes the neoliberal ideas about the trade unions, Ralf Ptak very usefully outlines how neoliberalism and German 'ordoliberalism' reach similar political conclusions through a somewhat different route, Dieter Plehwe briefly goes into neoliberal talk of Third World development (a subject really worth a book on its own), and Timothy Mitchell traces the way in which Hernando de Soto's neoliberal property rights project in Peru was presented as a victory for neoliberal thought, and its real background. Some of these contributions are decidedly too long and detailed, however, and some boredom is inevitable. There is also very little on the influence of neoliberal ideas today, particular on current day politics, and the role of the MPS, which is somewhat surprising. Nonetheless, for understanding the intellectual meaning and background of neoliberalism, rather than its immediate political mode of appearance, one could do no better than this volume.


How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism
How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism
by Eric Hobsbawm
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marxism in the history of ideas, 19 April 2011
Professor Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the world's most famous living Communist intellectual, hardly needs any introduction. His great age has not diminished the impact of his works or their popularity, and for good reason. It may therefore disappoint some to learn that this most recent publication is not a wholly new production. This despite its somewhat incongruous title ("How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism"), and its equally silly cover with Ernesto Guevara on the front, whom Hobsbawm generally dislikes. Instead, it is a collection of essays and prefaces hitherto either unpublished entirely or unpublished in English, having been written for his German and Italian publications. The fact alone that these are other major intellectual languages Hobsbawm is entirely familiar with despite being a native speaker of English does him credit among his colleagues.

Perhaps somewhat unorthodox in my judgement on Hobsbawm, while I think he is an excellent writer and a very good social historian, I do not think his political history or his political analysis worth much. He has been consistently mediocre when it comes to writing about practical politics, especially those of the last century, as shown also in his memoirs. I was therefore very pleased to see that this book concerns itself entirely - with the exception of the last chapter - with the history of ideas, the discipline Hobsbawm commands best. The various essays in this collection, ranging from notes on the prehistory and the contemporary reception of Marxism to musings on Gramsci and Marxist thought in the postwar world, are all concerned with Marxism as one major intellectual influence and current in the history of ideas. This is as it should be, because it allows Hobsbawm the necessary distance as well as giving him the freedom to exercise the kind of subtle and nuanced reflection on the nature and spread of ideas in history and their effect on politics that has made him justly famous. While this is therefore by all means a very intellectual book and certainly one step removed from any practical political question (even historical ones), it is a delight to read for those who value ideas and their history for their own sake. Some of the chapters, such as "Marx on Pre-Capitalist Formations" and "Dr Marx and the Victorian Critics" are so good that despite their considerable length they make the reader want them to go on for much longer. What greater praise for the historian?
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A Brief History of Neoliberalism
A Brief History of Neoliberalism
by David Harvey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.60

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 3 April 2011
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David Harvey's book "A Brief History of Neoliberalism" is exactly that. It traces the origins of neoliberalism in the attempt of the capitalist class to reform itself and find a new class consciousness after the stagnation of the 1970s had ended the one great boom period of capitalist history (1950s-1970s). Neoliberalism is and was the project of destroying the power of organized labor and the social-democratic consensus in order to reconstitute the capitalist class as a power controlling and dominating all societies and the world. This is not a question of conspiracy, but a matter of the capitalists of different countries responding in similar ways to similar challenges to the accumulation of capital and the maintenance of their power over production and distribution; both the timing and the success of their endeavours vary by country and this is not to be assumed to be the product of some worldwide coordinated effort. But the policies and rhetoric in each case are largely the same, a combination of extreme liberalization and commodification with a strong emphasis on freedom in rhetoric and on authoritarian exercise of state power and nationalism in practice. This allows us to identify neoliberalism as one clear movement across the globe, from China to Chile and from the US to Sweden. It also allows us to identify neoconservatism, as it is called in America, as neoliberalism armed for conquest.

As David Harvey chronicles, far from actually increasing the freedom and wealth of all individuals, neoliberalism has failed to perform on all counts. It has devastated environments, destroyed the rights and position of labor, massively increased inequality and precariousness, led to an upsurge of crime and the 'informal economy', made many countries bankrupt while enriching the rich few in the Western world, and so forth. It has decreased our liberties by implementing ever more aggressive state postures against the inevitable backlash from the people, whether it is in the form of stringent anti-terrorism laws or the explosive increase in the proportion of the population that is imprisoned in the most neoliberal countries. It has shortened life expectancies and decreased social and health indicators. It has, moreover, failed even by its own test: worldwide growth rates have stagnated significantly in the period of neoliberalism compared to the semi-Keyenesian boom period after the war, with average worldwide annual growth rates declining from 3.5% pa to less than 1%. In fact, if it weren't for the reproletarianization and commodification of China, this worldwide growth might well be zero. So even by the standards of capital accumulation, it has not succeeded. David Harvey correctly emphasizes therefore that neoliberalism is not first and foremost a theory of economic policy, nor is it a philosophy like Hayek's; first and foremost it is using such policies and philosophies for the purpose of reconstituting and re-empowering the capitalist class, an ever smaller minority with ever greater wealth. It is for this reason above all that neoliberalism is a threat to the interests of the great majority everywhere in the world, and must always be defeated. Another world is possible.


Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences
Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences
by Cordelia Fine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant critique of neurosexism and Evo Psych, 1 April 2011
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Cordelia Fine's "Delusions of Gender" has been making the rounds among the literati and the general public interested in popular science alike, and with good reason. Her work is the much-needed answer to all the explicitly or implicitly sexist nonsense peddled in the domain of popular science nowadays and a breath of fresh air after all the pseudoscientific screeds along the lines of "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus" etc. Fine, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Melbourne, wrote this work out of frustration with the proliferation of such books, and a fine counterblast it is. With humor, insight, and a knack for making complicated issues obvious and appealing, she systematically demolishes the case for understanding gender differences in culture and society as the immediate result of 'inherent' brain functioning or hardwired evolutionary patterns.

Fine's book discusses priming, that is how women perform worse when reminded of womanhood rather than of some other trait or none at all, as well as stereotype threat, the phenomenon when women are reminded of particular stereotypes adhering to their identity as such and this undermines their performance also. These issues are not just important for gender discrimination and exclusion, but also for racism in testing and recruitment. She discusses the way in which, often inadvertently, various cultural and subcultural elements in everything from big business to computer science recruitment are set up in a way that unnecessarily discourages and presumes against female participation. Following that, she considers in depth the many studies that have been done in social psychology on test differences between men and women as well as the meaning and nature of studies done on the basis of PET and fMRI scans of the brain, and the habitual nature of wildly overinterpreting them in favor of patriarchal conclusions on the part of both some neo-sexists like Baron Cohen and the Pinkers as well as popular science journalists. She shows how most 'innate' test differences disappear when the tests are set up differently and correct for preconceived notions and priming. Another major part of the book is concerned with gender differences in babies and young children, and the supposed confirmation of the thesis that gender differences are large and innate and have immediate social consequences following from the repeated failures by individual parents to raise their children 'gender-free'. As Fine points out, the chances of succeeding at that on your own in such a heavily genderized society as ours are virtually zero, so that's not very surprising. But as she discusses at length, the evidence actually strongly indicates that gender identification and segregation is learned behavior of young children (albeit at a very young age indeed), reinforced often unwittingly by parents and supervisors, not an innate phenomenon; this goes even for choice of toys and play partners. Finally, the book spends some - though perhaps not enough - time on discussing evolutionary psychology and its modular brain thesis and the way in which this misrepresents how the brain works in favor of an imaginary, retroactive patriarchal interpretation of human behavior. This bit has been done more in depth in the work of David Buller and Valerie Hardcastle, "Adapting Minds" Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Bradford Books).

Given the prevalence of these notions about how women and men's behavior really are innately and predeterminedly different across the board in society and the manner in which, since the 1970s, the gradual acceptance of this new 'scientific sexism' has created a counterrevolution against gender equality, it is of the utmost importance that as many people as possible read this excellently written book. Fine writes with subtlety and humor and will not turn off any reader even remotely inclined to objectivity. The next time some false concern is expressed by a condescending businessman or Harvard professor stating that he wished it weren't so that women are unsuited for maths and politics, but that one just can't argue with science, the reader of this book can now throw the real science right back at him. Real science always triumphs over human prejudice and naked self-interest, and the sciences of psychology and neurology are no different. All throughout the 19th century scientists attempted to find the inferiority of women, blacks, and other oppressed groups in their skull shape, facial angle, brain size, brain/pelvis ratio, and whatever else they could find to 'scientifically' ground their antiquated patriarchal nonsense. Today, it is genetics and neurology that play these roles. We must reclaim these sciences from the avatars of sexism and racism and in so doing free the way for good research and real social reform. For more on how sexism affects women in practical ways in daily life 'even' in our modern Western societies, try The Mismeasure of Woman.
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Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx
Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx
by Robert Albritton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing case for general equilibrium Marxism, 22 Mar. 2011
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Robert Albritton is Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto and has written various works on Marxist political and economic theory. Generally in his works he derives inspiration from one of the eminences grises of Marxist economics, Thomas Sekine, who in turn was influenced by the Japanese economist Kozo Uno. This Unoist school of Marxism has some peculiarities which come to the fore in "Economics Transformed", Albritton's attempt at summarizing Marx's economic theory for the modern day.

There are of course a great many introductions, companions and summaries of Marx's thought, and therefore the interesting thing in any of them lies not in the points of agreement about what Marx thought and wanted, but in the differentia specifica, their disagreements. Albritton's view of Marx's theory is in fact refreshingly different from those of many others. For Albritton, Marx's theory of capitalism as established in Capital and its companion works should be read as a theory of 'pure' capitalism, that is, a theory of a society in which the commodification of all aspects of labour and life is complete. In such a society, according to Albritton, there is no room for resistance to capital and therefore there is no class struggle; there is no historical specificity, there are only two classes (labour and capital), there is no differentiation of the value of labor, and so on and so forth. The assumptions made in Capital, Vol. 1, for the purposes of making the law of value clear as a social relation between capital and labour are to be read as holding for this ideal-type capitalism only. The implications of this are clear: since in reality there never has been and probably never will be a capitalism that is pure to this extent, not in the least place because people actively attempt to oppose commodification of their life because of its negative consequences, Marx's theory in Capital should not be seen as being directly applicable to any actually existing capitalist society. Instead, it should be read as a general theory, familiar in economics, which attempts to outline certain economic relations and causal mechanisms as they hold in the ideal case, and which then needs to be made specific and contingent, with many exogenous aspects added in, in order to be applicable to a real society. For this reason, Albritton makes a persuasive argument that what is missing in much Marxist discussion is middle-level analysis between the abstractions of Capital and the direct empirical history, a level of analysis in which the really existing phenomena are theorized in terms of their implications for the kind of specific form of capitalism (including many non-capitalist elements) that holds in any given society or time period, using the terminology and framework for analyzing capitalism as provided in Capital.

This is interesting of itself, but it has a number of quite controversial and somewhat strange consequences. One aspect of Albritton's argument is that effectively Marx's theory in Capital becomes for him a general equilibrium theory; Albritton in fact even, against virtually every other Marxist economist, excoriates heterodox economists for criticizing general equilibrium theory. He sees this as a necessary aspect of any theory of capitalism because under the circumstances of a pure form of capitalism, supply and demand necessarily equalize in equilibrium, and the point of Marxism is then to demonstrate how nonetheless exploitation can occur. In order to defend this thesis adequately however, Albritton should at the least write a separate work defending explicitly this understanding of Marxist economics against the critiques of general equilibrium theory in general as well as the specific problems of understanding Marx's terms in an equilibrium theoretical manner, such as the tautological nature this gives to much discussion of value and price. As it stands, it is a very interesting idea and rather uniquely brings Marxism a lot closer to neoclassical economics, which could have major benefits for its interoperability with other economic approaches and lower level theories. But it is not sufficiently defended to be convincing yet. Another issue is that Albritton does argue strongly against the mathematization of economics, and defends this on the grounds that the quantification of general equilibrium could only make sense if capitalist society actually were fully commodified in the way he describes, which it clearly is not. But this is a naive argument: the whole neoclassical argument for general equilibrium approaches in the first place is that they allow vastly greater mathematical tractability than any partial equilibrium or qualitative methodology! No neoclassical economist actually believes that people are fully self-regarding individuals with perfect information and so forth in real life, and this is not an argument against mathematical neoclassical approaches.

A major issue with Albritton's book is that his analysis, both of Marxist economics as a 'general theory' in the mainstream economics sense and in consequently rejecting the immediate applicability of Marx's theory to any real historical circumstance without a mediating level of theory, is original and interesting, but it does not actually find that much purchase in Marx and Engels' own writings. While Albritton goes out of his way to justify his interpretation with many quotations from Marx's mature economic writings (where he is besides to be commended for actually crediting Engels as the author of the comments and footnotes in Capital vols. 2 and 3, which everyone knows is true but is rarely acknowledged), a lot of these seem to be given more theoretical weight in Albritton's defense than they can bear. What's more, it is as if for Albritton historical materialism and Marx's writings on historical method do not exist at all! When he claims that Marx's theory of capitalism has no immediate possible application to real historical events due to its nature as a general theory, and that class is not a component of Marxist thought at the level of this general theory, and that in fact history itself is radically contingent and cannot be put in terms of any general theory at all without falling into economism (and Albritton does put it this boldly), it is as if he has never heard of the passages in the Communist Manifesto, the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, etc., where Marx and Engels say the exact opposite. This is not to say that Albritton is wrong: on the contrary, he is to be commended for this stimulating and unique representation of Marxist ideas, one that is courageously heterodox against the heterodoxy. But it is to me exceedingly unlikely that he will get away with passing these ideas off as Marx's rather than Albritton's, and I am not sure why he tries. These ideas need a lot more working out in their theoretical implications, especially as it relates to comparing Marxist economics with neoclassical economics, but as introduced in this book they stand for now reasonably well on their own. Albritton does not need to pass on the credit to Marx.


Economics--Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns? (Science & Its Conceptual Foundations)
Economics--Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns? (Science & Its Conceptual Foundations)
by Rosenberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and stimulating discussion of neoclassical microeconomic foundations, 17 Mar. 2011
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What's wrong with neoclassical microeconomics? It's one of those things where, as the famous phrase goes, one "knows it when one sees it". Everyone realizes that neoclassical microeconomics doesn't work in any way that we would want economic theory to work, but where exactly the problem lies is less easy to pinpoint. Many writers both within and without economics have attacked neoclassical economics, but there is surprisingly little agreement on what the core problem is, with explanations running the gamut from ideological critiques to blaming excessive mathematics. In this book, the famous contemporary philosopher of science Alexander Rosenberg (at the time Professor of the Philosophy of Science at UC Riverside, now at Duke) tries to answer this question in the form of a series of essays in analytical philosophy about what neoclassical microeconomics is and what it is not. Rosenberg's intention here is not to argue for or against neoclassical economics, which he simply takes as given, but to try and understand on the basis of the peculiar form it takes what possible scientific goal it could be said to pursue. In some sense, this means that he is committed to giving the greatest possible charity to neoclassical microeconomists in that he refuses to accept any answer that simply dismisses it as an enterprise or understands it as ideology - for him, the mere fact that many people do neoclassical economics is apparently sufficient to guarantee its scientific status. The question is then what sort of science this dismal one might be.

In information-dense and tightly argued chapters Rosenberg then courses through mathematics in economics, biological metaphors, the underpinnings of neoclassical microeconomics in philosophy of mind, and the status and meaning of general equilibrium theory. With much reference to Lakatos' philosophy of science, which neoclassical economists themselves tend to use to justify their enterprise and which Rosenberg quite deftly exposes as being unacceptably vague and insufficient to form a criterion of scientificity, the author tries to get at the 'hard core' of neoclassical economics as a research program. He locates this finally in general equilibrium theory as such combined with a 'rational actor' meta-theory of intentionality. As Rosenberg argues in the final chapter, for these to make any sense at all in the face of the continued empirical disconfirmation of these tenets and the seeming uselessness for any political purpose of modelling on this basis, the only real way to understand neoclassical economics as a science is then to see it as a peculiar branch of applied mathematics. This branch then concerns itself, analogous to Euclidean geometry, with applications of mathematical deduction of a series of axioms about individual choice within the boundaries of an extremely restricted space (the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu conditions). The author is somewhat surprisingly mellow about the consequences of this analysis: since one can fairly assume the mathematics employed to be valid and the deductions to work, and one can never know what mathematical abstractions may turn out to be useful in the future for other sciences, there is no reason to object to this research program. This is odd since Rosenberg also pays some attention (though perhaps not quite enough) to the political embedding of this applied mathematics in contractarian liberalism, which would seem to make it a little more significant than just any obscure special topic in applied mathematics would normally be. This goes also for the major influence, deserved or not, economists tend to have on policy issues, which Rosenberg himself points out.

Overall this book is not an easy read, with its heavy grounding in the style of Anglo analytical philosophy, but it is a very important read and highly stimulating. At times it is even brilliant, such as Rosenberg's critique of rational actor theory as not being wrong because actors are not entirely 'rational' (which every neoclassical economist knows and accounts for), but because it attempts to be a meta-theory of intentional behavior and it is inherently impossible, as philosophy of mind shows, to improve on folk psychology in this regard. Rosenberg somewhat oddly at the end of the book seems to draw the unjustified conclusion from this that not only every such meta or replacement theory is wrong, but folk psychology itself is too, but possibly I did not understand him correctly. Another excellent chapter in the book is the one dedicated to comparing neoclassical economics as a research program with evolutionary biology, in particular natural selection; pace Hodgson and others, Rosenberg (whose specialism is in philosophy of biology as applied to economics) shows that neoclassical economics or anything based on similar methodological individualist premises cannot work in the same way natural selection does or be understood as a subset of natural selection, because of our inability to distinguish between the core variables (the gene equivalent) and the 'environment', and the absence of any clearly defined time unit by which to measure change (the generation equivalent). These chapters alone make the worth absolutely worth buying for anyone interested in economics and philosophy of social science, and his overall argument is suggestive and worth a serious debate.


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