Economics and learning from the facts

Submitted by AWL on 14 August, 2019 - 8:24 Author: Natalia Cassidy
Crisis and Sequels

Martin Thomas’s book Crisis and Sequels: Capitalism and the New Economic Turmoil since 2007 is constructed around 32 interviews, discussions, and debates with left wing economists and other thinkers.

It takes the reader; mostly chronologically, along the timeline from the immediate aftermath of the crash itself in 2007-8 across the next decade, up to 2016.

Thomas offers a substantial introduction, with overviews of the debates that take place across the book between the various contributors and himself.

Issues in debate centre around Marx’s “tendency of the rate of profit to fall”, US hegemony after the crisis and beyond, and the resilience or fragility of neoliberalism as a political and economic project.

Thomas, both in his introduction and in an appendix, gives a convincing argument against the use of the “tendency of the rate of profit to fall” as a theoretical framework through which to view the 2007-8 crisis.

He argues that the rate of profit has in fact, by any reasonable measure, risen substantially since the 1980s. Thomas asks us to consider the relevance of some of the writings of Hyman Minsky, which in my opinion offer a framework that is much closer to what actually went on.

It is indicative of a broader problem on the left that many still try to contort the reality of what was happening in the build-up to 2007-8 to suit their preferred theoretical explanation rather than seeking to know what was really happening. The approach comes close to adjusting reality to suit our preferred theory rather than using reality to sharpen our theoretical toolkit.

Thomas, both in facilitating contributions and in his afterword, does not push for any single conclusion we as readers must draw from the events of the previous decade. Instead, he highlights the importance for us on the left of maintaining a critical lens in our understanding of economics: “the economic question is not just, or even mainly, about techniques for promoting growth. It is about what sort of growth, for whom, controlled by whom, at the expense of whom” or, to put it as Lenin did, “who, whom”.

This book is a valuable resource, an archive of debate happening as events unfold. It gives us the chance to see contributors disavowing previous assertions they had made on the basis of being proved wrong by reality.

Largely, the contributors accept it when they’ve got things wrong, and seek to correct themselves by looking more closely at the situation, rather than by distorting reality to suit their original assertion or theoretical outlook. This, I think, is the key lesson Marxists should draw from this book.

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