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The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences

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  • Posted September 12, 2009

    The Great Financial Crisis - Causes and Consequences John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff

    John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review. He is professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and the author of many books, including "The Theory of Naked Capitalism". Fred Magdoff taught at the University of Vermont in Burlington, is a director of the Monthly Review Foundation, and has written on political economy for many years. In this book, Foster and Magdoff present a rigorous and sorely needed historical and forward-looking perspective of the capitalist system out of control. They argue that the current financial implosion is a logical consequence of the contradictions of monopoly finance capital - contradictions that are reflected in the twin processes of financialization and stagnation that have dominated the development of the U. S. economy in the recent decades. They present convincing evidence that the financial crisis of 2007-08, and with more certainly in store for 2009 and beyond, is one of the great calamities of modern neoliberal capitalism.
    Needless to say, the field of macro-economics is not the easiest for the average reader, not unlike me, to grasp and understand. Foster and Magdoff, as exceptional investigative journalists, provide an in depth understanding of the forces that have shaped our economy in recent decades leading to the current crisis. Two things become clear in reading this book: First, long-term trends clearly predicted the series of events that more recently lead to the current financial crisis. Secondly, there can be no return to "business as usual"!
    The authors make the important point that the global ramifications of the Great Financial Crisis need to understood in the first instance in the context of the waning political, economic, and military hegemony of the United States. It is important to discount any attempts to present the serious economic problems that now face us as a kind of "natural disaster." They have a cause, and it lies in the system itself. And although those at the top of the economy certainly did not welcome the crises, they nonetheless have been the main beneficiaries of the system, shamelessly enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of the population, and should be held responsible for the main burdens now imposed on society. It is the well-to-do who should foot the bill. There should be no golden parachutes for the capitalist class paid for at taxpayer expense.
    If any discussion - or mention of - socialism sets off alarm bells in your belief system, be prepared for some loud ringing. But I would urge you to not dismiss what these authors have to offer, or worse yet, not to read them at all. It is compelling reading for anyone seeking to both understand and change the world we live in today.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Useful study of capitalism's failure

    This is a very useful study, composed of essays published in the American journal Monthly Review from May 2006 to April 2008, with an introduction and a last chapter written in December 2008. It covers the USA's household debt bubble, the wider boom of debt and speculation, the emergence of monopoly-finance capitalism, the financialisation of capital, the crisis' onset in 2007, and the financial bust of 2008.

    The authors show how finance capital has been taking more and more surplus value from the real productive economy. This led not to growth but to more debt: in the USA, $4.5 trillion in 1980, $51 trillion in 2007.

    Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve Bank, said at the peak of the housing bubble, "these price increases largely reflect strong economic fundamentals." As a mad monetarist he sees the crisis as solely monetary and the solution as monetary - print more money. But life is proving that printing money means more hoarding by the rich, not new loans and investment.

    In 1965, financial profit was 15 per cent of all US domestic profits, and manufacturing 50 per cent; by 2005, finance took 40 per cent, industry just 15 per cent. The financial sector has outgrown its base in the real economy. No government now has enough money to act as lender of last resort. War spending dragged the USA out of the 1930s slump, but now even larger war spending (doubled since 1995) can't prevent a slump. As Keynes wrote, "the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation."

    The authors write, "increasing inequality in income and wealth can be expected to create the age-old conundrum of capitalism: an accumulation (savings-and-investment) process that depends on keeping wages down while ultimately relying on wage-based consumption to support economic growth and investment."

    They quote the great American economist Hyman Minsky who concluded, "Capitalism is a flawed system in that, if its development is not constrained, it will lead to periodic deep depressions and the perpetuation of poverty." But restraints on the financial markets are impossible (under capitalism) because the markets burst through all regulation. So capitalism does always lead to deep depressions and mass poverty.

    Stagnation and financial busts, not growth and full employment, are capitalism's norm. Its inherent laws cause its absolute decline.

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