David Harvey is a professor of anthropology and geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He has been teaching classes on Marx’s “Capital” for more than 40 years, and is the author of a two-volume “Companion” to Marx’s magnum opus. That “close reading” of “Capital” is based on a series of 13 lectures, videos of which Harvey has made available online.
His latest book is “Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism”. It begins from an insight of Marx’s—that periodic crisis is endemic to capitalist economies—and goes on to attempt to offer an analysis of the current historical conjuncture. I spoke to Harvey in London last week.
JD: At the beginning of the book, you observe, as many others have, that there’s something unusual about the most recent crisis of capitalism, the global financial crisis of 2008. “There should,” you write, “by now be competing diagnoses of what is wrong and a proliferation of proposals for putting things right. What is astonishing is the paucity of new thinking or policies.” Why do you think that is?
DH: One hypothesis is that the huge concentration of class power right now is such as to raise the question why they [the capitalist class] would want to see any new thinking. The situation, while it’s disruptive to the economy, is not necessarily disruptive to their capacity to assemble more wealth and power. So there’s a vested interest in keeping things as they are. What is curious, of course, is that there was surely a vested interest in keeping things as they were back in the 1930s, but that was overwhelmed by Roosevelt, Keynesian thinking and the like.
The problem of aggregate demand, which was at the centre of thinking in the 1930s, is a realisation problem in Marxist terms. People answered that question and then ran into a production problem, which got answered by monetarism and supply side economics. And right now the world is divided between supply siders who want to go further with austerity and others—China, Turkey and most of the developing economies—who are taking the Keynesian line. But it looks as if there are only two answers—there’s no “third way”. Therefore, within the ambit of capitalism, the possibilities are limited. The only way in which you could find another answer is to go outside of…