RSA Animate I: David Harvey and a Plausible Theory of Capitalist Crises.

There is a wonderful series of “animated” lectures from the Royal society of Arts, where a skilled cartoonist, illustrates the guest speaker’s talk. It really is a fabulous collection where key speakers raise crucial issues of our times. In future postings, we want to discuss in more detail the issues they so eloquently raise. To introduce the series, we have posted the talk given by David Harvey, Marxist geographer, who touches on issues we have raised here concerning the nature of capitalist crises.

Where we would differ with Harvey, however, is the importance we attach to Marx’s concept of the rise in the organic composition of capital and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so well defended here by Fred Moseley. It is not that we disagree with Harvey’s central thesis that each crisis is qualitatively different and that each solution plants the seeds of further crises, it is that we believe the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) is the underlying motor of those crises. In short, the tendency of the rate of profit is brought about by capital’s need to continually lower the costs of production, primarily through technological innovation. Such innovation though, spread across the anarchic competing units of capital, will only lead to unemployment and overproduction and, most tellingly, a drop in the rate (not the volume) of profit. There are of course tendencies which run contrary to this like finding cheaper raw materials (exploitation of poor countries) pushing wages down,  the state “creaming off” profits to invest in public works (Keynesianism) or military expenditure (military Keynesianism) but the tendency of the rate of profit to fall eventually re-exerts itself. The concrete form it exerts itself in is shaped naturally by the combination of the TRPF and it is countervailing tendencies. We say this because Marxists (and we count ourselves amongst this “orthodoxy”) generally believe that crisis cannot be truly resolved (albeit temporarily in the history of capitalism) until over-accumulated capital is destroyed through war or deep recession, whereby surviving capital (more centralised and in the hands of fewer and fewer people) can restart the process of capital accumulation. We say all this because we believe the crises of the 1970’s (the end of the post-war boom- long wave capitalist expansion) was never resolved and the threat of a 1930’s style depression and world war (nuclear annihilation) is ever-present.

Nevertheless, all this said, our great admiration for Harvey continues regardless and we hope you enjoy the clip:



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2 responses to “RSA Animate I: David Harvey and a Plausible Theory of Capitalist Crises.

  1. Thanks for the enjoyable video, a succinct explanation over the origins of our current economic malaise.

    However, I wonder why a “Marxist” take on this would be the only answer. Marx was just one man amongst many professional thinkers.

    One way to create a society beyond our current state-supported capitalism would be to extend the (admittedly limited) democratic rights we have in the European political arena to the economic sphere.

    Capital needs to be spread democratically amongst the majority of the population in order that we can determine our own economic life and not be mere “employees”/slaves to the few who do hold significant capital.

    This would be an “economic democracy”, not merely a representative political one.

    “The people who work in the Mills
    ought to own them”
    –1840’s Labor Press

    In the 1840s young women, called “Factory girls” back then working in the mills in Lowell, Mass. Noam Chomsky quotes from the labor press in those days:

    “When you sell your product, you retain your person. But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress.

    “Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.” [ref: p. 29, “Chomsky on Democracy and Education, edited by C.P. Otero]

    Chomsky adds, “just in case you are confused, this is LONG BEFORE Marxism. This is American workers talking about their experiences in the 1840s”


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