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Pandemic Depression

October 16, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

U.S. billionaires have recouped all of their wealth—and more—during the Pandemic Depression. Meanwhile, since May, the number of poor Americans has grown by about 8 million. And the number of American workers applying for and receiving unemployment benefits continues at record levels.

According to Forbes,

Pandemic be damned: America’s 400 richest are worth a record $3.2 trillion, up $240 billion from a year ago, aided by a stock market that has defied the virus.

Read more…

Limits of mainstream economics today

October 12, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

Keynes’s criticisms of neoclassical economics set off a wide-ranging debate that came to define the terms of—and, ultimately, the limits of debate within—mainstream economics.

On one side are neoclassical economists, who celebrate the invisible hand and argue that markets are the best way to efficiently allocate scarce resources. On the other side are Keynesian economists, who argue instead for the visible hand of government intervention to move markets toward full employment.

That tension, between the theories and policies of neoclassical and Keynesian economics, is the reason why in most colleges and universities the principles of economics are taught in two separate courses: microeconomics and macroeconomics. Moreover, the tension between the two schools of thought plays out within every area of economics, including (but certainly not limited to) microeconomics and macroeconomics.

One way of understanding the differences between the two approaches is to think about them as conservative and liberal interpretations of mainstream economics. Conservative mainstream economics tend to presume that the basic assumptions of neoclassical economics hold in contemporary capitalism, while liberal mainstream economists think they don’t.

Let’s consider two examples. Read more…

Inequality in the United States—pandemic edition

September 24, 2020 16 comments

from David Ruccio

Year 3 of the Trump presidency was absolutely terrific—indeed, record-breaking—for Americans.

At least that’s how things look in terms of the headline numbers from the Census Bureau: median household income was up (by 6.8 percent, a record) over 2018 and the official poverty rate decreased (by 1.3 percentage points, to 10.5 percent, the lowest rate observed since estimates were initially published for 1959).*

And then there’s Kevin Hassett, former chair of Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisers (who returned to the White House to lead its pandemic-response team, downplaying the danger of coronavirus and pushing the administration to re-open the economy amid lockdowns and social distancing) who seized on the report to make another of his wild claims:

If you’re a social justice warrior and you’re looking at the data, you would have to say that the Trump years, through the beginning of the pandemic, were the sort-of best years for advances in social justice since World War II.

The problem is that other data in the same report show nothing of the sort. Read more…

Beyond the Mainstream

September 21, 2020 5 comments

from David Ruccio

In this post, I continue the draft of sections of my forthcoming book, “Marxian Economics: An Introduction.” This, like the previous two posts, is for chapter 1, Marxian Economics Today.

This is certainly not the first time people have looked beyond mainstream economics. There is a long history of criticisms of both mainstream economic theory and capitalism from the very beginning. Although students won’t have read about them in traditional economics textbooks.

Those texts are generally written with the presumption there’s only one economic theory and one economic system. The existence of Marxian economics opens up the debate, creating space for both multiple ways of thinking about economics and a variety of different economic systems.

Criticisms of Mainstream Economic Theory

In the history of economic thought, criticisms of the mainstream approach were formulated early on. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and others (such as Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Robert Malthus, and John Stuart Mill) developed classical political economy in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, when the new economic system we now call capitalism was just getting off the ground—and almost immediately their approach was debated and challenged. Read more…

A tale of two capitalisms

September 17, 2020 4 comments

from David Ruccio

Marxian economists recognize, just like mainstream economists, that capitalism has radically transformed the world in recent decades, continuing and in some cases accelerating long-term trends. For example, the world has seen spectacular growth in the amount and kinds of goods and services available to consumers. Everything, it seems, can be purchased either in retail shops, big-box stores, or online. And, every year, more of those goods and services are being produced and sold in markets.

That means the wealth of nations has expanded. Thus, technically, Gross Domestic Product per capita has risen since 1970 in countries as diverse as the United States (where it has more than doubled), Japan (more than tripled), China (almost ten times), and Botswana (where it has increased by a factor of more than 22). Read more…

Mainstream macroeconomics—pandemic edition

August 31, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

Right now, the United States is mired in an economic depression, the Pandemic Depression, not dissimilar to what happened in the 1930s and again after the crash of 2007-08.

Real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product contracted by an annual rate of 31.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020 (according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis) and at least 27 million American workers are currently unemployed (counting workers continuing to receive some kind of unemployment benefits, according to my own calculations).* By all accounts—from both macroeconomic data and anecdotes reported in the media—the current situation is an economic and social disaster equivalent to what the United States went through during the first and second Great Depressions.

The question is, does mainstream macroeconomics have anything to offer in terms of insights about the causes of the current crises or what should be done to solve them?

Many readers are, I’m sure, skeptical, given the abysmal track record of mainstream macroeconomic thinking in the United States. Going back just a bit more than a decade, to the Second Great Depression, it’s clear that mainstream macroeconomists failed on all counts: they didn’t predict the crash; they didn’t even include the possibility of such a crash within their basic theory or models; and they certainly didn’t know what to do once the crash occurred.

Can they do any better with the current depression? Read more…

Pandemic Depression

from David Ruccio

The number of initial unemployment claims for unemployment compensation in the United States once again surpassed one million—for the 21st time in the past 22 weeks—signaling a continuation of the Pandemic Depression. Read more…

Billionaires—pandemic edition

August 25, 2020 4 comments

from David Ruccio

 

2019 was a very good year for the world’s wealthiest individuals. The normal workings of global capitalism created both more billionaires and more combined wealth owned by those billionaires.

According to Wealth-X, which claims to “have developed the world’s most extensive collection of records on wealthy individuals and produce unparalleled data analysis to help our clients uncover, understand, and engage their target audience,  as well as mitigate risk,” the size of the global billionaire population increased strongly in 2019, rising by 8.5 percent to 2,825 individuals, while their combined wealth increased by 10.3 percent to $9.4 trillion.

To put that into perspective, the world’s real Gross Domestic Product grew by only 2.9 percent (International Monetary Fund) in 2019—while the value of global equities, which is key to billionaires’ wealth, soared by more than 25 percent (MSCI World Index).

Read more…

To the victor belong the spoils

August 22, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio 

The phrase, which was used in the early nineteenth century to describe the the spoils system of appointing government workers, accurately describes the American economy today.* And it’s pretty clear who the victor is, and it’s not the working-class.

Instead, a small group at the top have come out as the victor—and that’s been true for decades now.

How do we know?

Read more…

Whither global capitalism?

August 18, 2020 18 comments

from David Ruccio

Mainstream economists and commentators, it seems, are worried that the global economy is going to come crashing down as a result of the COVID crisis. That’s why they’re willing now to consider the possibility that the current crisis is more than a normal recession, more serious even than the so-called Great Recession; in their view, it’s an economic depression.

That, at least, is the argument they present up front. But there’s something else going on, which haunts their analysis—that capitalism itself is now being called into question.

But before we get to that alarming specter, let’s take a look at the logic of their analysis about the current perils to the global economy—starting with the Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson, who is basically taking his cues from a recent essay in Foreign Affairs by Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart.*

Their shared view is that the current slowdown is both more severe and more widespread than the crash of 2007-08, and the recovery will be much slower. Therefore, they argue, the COVID crisis represents the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This is a big deal: mainstream economists and commentators are uneasy about invoking the term “economic depression.” Read more…

Zombie capitalism

from David Ruccio

walking-dead-1666584_1920-e1539267621878

Capitalism’s crises are clearly becoming deeper and more severe. After the crash of 2007-08, the United States (and much of the rest of the world) was subjected to the Second Great Depression, the worst economic downturn since the depression of the 1930s. Now, in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, business activity has ground to a halt and unemployment has soared to levels reminiscent of the first Great Depression.

Not surprisingly, both Main Street and Wall Street firms have once again turned to the U.S. government to be bailed out through a series of programs that dwarf anything the world has seen before.

Read more…

Divergent recoveries—pandemic edition

July 21, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

The existing alphabet soup of possible recoveries—V, U, W, and so on (which I discussed back in April)—is clearly inadequate to describe what has been taking place in the United States in recent months.

That’s because there’s no single path of recovery for everyone. For some, the recovery from the pandemic crisis has been just fine, while for many others there has been no recovery at all. Instead, things are going from bad to worse. In other words, there’s a growing gap between the haves and have-nots—or, as Peter Atwater has put it, “there have been two vastly divergent experiences.”

That’s why Atwater invented the idea of a K-shaped recovery.

I think he’s right, although I don’t divide the world up in quite the same way.

The stem of the K illustrates the quick and deep crash that almost everyone experienced as the pandemic spread and large parts of the U.S. economy were shut down. Then, as time went on, with massive federal bailouts and businesses reopening, the arm and leg of the K have moved in very different directions. Read more…

178 new cases per million people in the United States compared to 27.6 cases for the world as a whole.

July 13, 2020 3 comments

from David Ruccio

initial claims12 Read more…

The condition of the black working-class in the United States – 9 charts

from David Ruccio

Before he was killed, George Floyd worked as a truck, a bouncer, and a security guard. Ahmaud Arbery worked at his father’s car wash and landscaping business, and previously held a job at McDonald’s. Breonna Taylor was a certified Emergency Medical Technician who had two jobs at hospitals in Logettyimages-1216644292uisville, Kentucky. Eric Garner worked as a mechanic and then in New York City’s horticulture department for several years before health problems, including asthma, sleep apnea, and complications from diabetes, forced him to quit. Trayvon Martin was the son of a program coordinator for the Miami Dade Housing Authority and a truck driver; he washed cars, babysat, and cut grass to earn his own money.

All of them, and most of the other African Americans who have been killed in recent years (by the police or other Americans), were members of the black working-class in the United States. Read more…

45.7 million USA unemployment claims

June 19, 2020 4 comments

from David Ruccio

Initial claims9

They came for him in the morning, before coffee break. — Stewart O’Nan, The Odds

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.5 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 44.2 million workers who were laid off during the preceding twelve weeks.

Read more…

Freedom—pandemic edition

June 18, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

“Formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates.

— Slavoj Žižek, On Belief                           

The novel coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how shallow and restricted the notion of formal freedom is in the United States.

After years of pretending that private healthcare and health insurance expanded the freedom of individual choice, even with the changes introduced by Obamacare, the existing health system has failed to protect most Americans from the ravages of the disease. Right now, with over 2 million confirmed cases and over 100 thousand deaths, the United States has over one quarter of the world’s cases and fatalities. And the numbers continue to rise in many states, with the forced reopening of businesses. Read more…

Cars and drivers—in the age of inequality

June 11, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

How many of you read Car and Driver magazine?

Not many of you, I presume. But maybe you should. At least the June 2020 issue.

It’s certainly a sign of our obscenely unequal times that a magazine better known for its reviews of foreign supercars and domestic muscle cars and for an editorial policy that courts controversy only when it attacks SUVs (in favor of minivans and cars) highlights the story of Oliver, Jason M. Vaughn’s family’s 260,000-mile Subaru in a piece subtitled “The Fear of Failure.”

Turning the key has become an act of faith. As the engine grumbles to life on this fine southwest Colorado morning, the yellow check-engine light comes on, as it has every day for the past four years, and the same questions swirl in my mind. Is this the day that tiny head-gasket leak turns into a gusher? Is this the day the catalytic converter chokes closed for good? Is this the day that one speck of sand too many works its way into that cracked CV-joint boot, causing it to seize up at some bend in the road and send me spinning into a ravine, not to be discovered until spring?. . .

I intimately know everything wrong with this car. I feel the squishy brakes and the engine straining to get up a hill, and I hear the ominous grinding sounds coming from under the right-front wheel well. But I can’t afford to do anything to ward off those looming disasters.

That’s because Vaughn’s family is like many American households, who don’t have any emergency savings and therefore can’t cover a surprise $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something. Or they can’t come up with the money at all. Read more…

Rigged unemployment numbers—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics.

— Robert Giffen, Economic Journal (1892)

Are U.S. unemployment numbers rigged? Sure, they are!

They’re not rigged in the way Paul Krugman implied last Friday (“This being the Trump era, you can’t completely discount the possibility that they’ve gotten to the BLS”). Or in the way former General Electric CEO Jack Welch suggested back in 2012 (when he asserted that the Obama White House had manipulated the job figures for political gains). Or in the way Donald Trump used to say the unemployment rate was “phony” (“The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35 [percent]. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”) until, of course, he became president and declared the rising jobs numbers a “blowout” (even though he and his economic advisers used some questionable math) and, most recently, the falling unemployment rate a “great day” (for George Floyd, whom Trump said was “looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” and “for everybody”).

No, the jobs numbers are not manipulated in those ways. They’re rigged—in my view, much more seriously—in terms of the ways the various categories are defined and measured and the manner in which the data are collected. And, of course, the ways values are imputed to the rising and falling numbers. Read more…

Where has all the surplus gone?

from David Ruccio

CEOs

Where did all the capitalist surplus in the United States go last year?

Well, as in recent years, a large portion was paid to the Chief Executive Officers of the nation’s largest corporations, the ones that make up the S&P 500. Read more…

“A riot is the language of the unheard”

from David Ruccio

 

More than 50 years ago (on 14 April 1967), Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his famous speeches, on “The Other America,” at Stanford University.* King patiently explained to the audience of students and faculty members that, while in his view “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating,” they are “in the final analysis. . .the language of the unheard.” Read more…