Remembering Peter Martin discomforting an audience

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

In an FT [1] review of Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, by David Harvey, and Utopia or Bust: a guide to the present crisis, by Benjamin Kunkel, Martin Sandbu raises a point about the viewing of difficult and seemingly intractable issues as fundamental 'contradictions', as Marxists are won't to do, as opposed to seeing them as being amenable to trade-off, as neoclassical economists would tend to argue.

Sandbu argues that most of the contradictions that are set out in Harvey's book work just as well as trades-off that can be calibrated in a conventional way, and don't need an assumption of ultimate economic implosion that Marxists seemingly always have to anticipate.  in other words, capitalism need not be doomed as an economic system.

Sandburg has a passage very pertinent to our present predicament which is worth quoting in full:

"Unlike Marxists, [conventionally trained neoclassical economists] assume that a social outcome can be found that perfectly balances any 'contradictory' considerations – where the increased risk to the planet is exactly offset by the value of the extra growth, for example.  (Whether free-market capitalism can implement the optimal solution to this problem in practice is another question)".

Quite.  Sandbu criticises both writers for a blinkered distinction between capital and labour, and thus for overlooking a large group of people who are both wage-labourers and capital owners (I write as one such – if modestly in every sense), and ends his review thus:

"The omission is serious: if there is a fundamental contradiction (rather than a trade off) between the interests of capital and labour, how this group resolves it is surely crucial."

Whilst reading the review, I was reminded of WWF UK's Peter Martin who would routinely tell audiences that he looked forward to the overthrow of global capitalism – although not quite yet; that is, not until his pension had been fully paid.   This was always an discomforting moment for those who thought about it – although not everyone did, or still does.

[1] "Capital Contrdictions". Financial Times.  Life & Arts, May 3rd 2014 p. 8

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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