Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx

Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx

Chris Harman

Language: English

Pages: 425

ISBN: 1608461041

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


We've been told for years that the capitalist free market is a self-correcting perpetual growth machine in which sellers always find buyers, precluding any major crisis in the system. Then the credit crunch of August 2007 turned into the great crash of September–October 2008, leading one apologist for the system, Willem Buiter, to write of "the end of capitalism as we knew it."

As the crisis unfolded, the world witnessed the way in which the runaway speculation of the "shadow" banking system wreaked havoc on world markets, leaving real human devastation in its wake. Faced with the financial crisis, some economic commentators began to talk of "zombie banks"–financial institutions that were in an "undead state" and incapable of fulfilling any positive function but a threat to everything else. What they do not realize is that twenty-first century capitalism as a whole is a zombie system, seemingly dead when it comes to achieving human goals.

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different sectors of world capitalism would not have become dependent on the bubble had profit rates returned to the levels of the long boom. Financialisation provided a substitute motor, in the form of debt, for the world economy in the decades after the US arms economy lost a good part of its effectiveness. The permanent arms economy had to be supplemented by the debt economy. But by its very nature a debt economy could not be permanent. The massive profits that banks make during any bubble

were limited falls in some prices by the beginning of 2009舒although not to the level of two years earlier. The crisis was more likely to be an omen for the future舒the threat of immense hardship to hundreds of millions of people舒 than the immediate onset of global catastrophe.39 The 舠real risk舡 remained of a 舠food crunch at some point in the future, which would fall particularly hard on import-dependent countries and on poor people everywhere舡, reported one study.40 Indications were that the food

See also Rick Kuhn, Henryk Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp224-234. Grossman based his argument, in part, on a passage in Volume Three of Capital (p247), where Marx writes that, 舠a portion of the capital would lie completely or partially idle (because it would have to crowd out some of the active capital before it could expand its own value), and the other portion would produce values at a lower rate of profit, owing to the pressure of

Nanto, 舠China舗s Trade with the United States and the World舡, CRS report to Congress, January 2007, available at http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=key_ workplace 62 China舗s share of global output was estimated at 10.9 percent, the US舗s at 21.4 percent. See Selim Elekdag and Subir Lall, 舠Global Growth Estimates Trimmed After PPP Revisions舡, IMF Survey Magazine, 8 January 2008. 63 See Financial Express, 30 April 2004, available at

surplus value available for productive investment, so counteracting the tendency towards over-rapid accumulation and crisis. But the eventual effect in slowing down accumulation was to create a whole new series of problems for the system, as we will see in Chapter Nine. Welfare and the supply of labour power Not all the state expenditures listed earlier fall into the unproductive category as narrowly defined or into the wider category of waste. State-financed research and development

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