It was with some excitement that I noticed David Harvey decided to post his class lectures openly on his own website a few months back. I was such a fanboy I even created an aggregated Reading capital site (which has been recently overhauled) that would allow anyone who was discussing this lecture to share their RSS feeds more centrally. Hell, I even installed an integrated forum for discussion ’cause I’m that good 🙂
But what is even more exciting for me is the fact that professor Harvey is openly publishing his talks, such as “The Enigma of Capital” and “A Financial Katrina”, both of which trace his understanding of our current financial crisis. More recently, he has been blogging his thoughts about why the recently passed stimulus package is bound to fail. Harvey examines why the idea of a stimulus package in the US, inline with a Keynesian approach to recovery, is destined to fail. The analysis is unabashedly Marxist—which I love—and is rooted in a larger, conceptual consideration of geopolitical shifts of power in an attempt to both imagine and map the changing landscape and scale of capital in our moment. The discussion focuses specifically on China as an emerging hegemonic power, discussing why, in fact, it may very well be the most likely candidate for a real Keynesian stimulus package that could radically shifts the poles of geopolitical power. It is a fascinating reading of the larger geographic, national, and political factors that inform our current crisis.
While reading the post, I found Harvey’s observations about the different tenor of issues regarding state-controlled banks and redistributing resources in China (both of which have created a violent reaction in the US during this crisis as a kind of “dirty socialism”) quite telling and resonant:
In China, on the other hand, both the economic and political conditions exist where a full-fledged Keynesian solution would indeed be possible and where there are abundant signs that this path will likely be followed…the Chinese have the economic wherewithal to engage in a massive deficit-finance program and have a centralized state- financial architecture to administer that program effectively if they care to use it. The banks, which were long state owned, may have been nominally privatized to satisfy WTO requirements and to lure in foreign capital and expertise, but they can still easily be bent to central state will whereas in the United States even the vaguest hint of state direction let alone nationalization creates a political furor.
There is likewise absolutely no ideological barrier to redistributing economic largesse to the neediest sectors of society though there may be some vested interests of wealthier party members and an emergent capitalist class to be overcome. The charge that this would amount to “socialism” or even worse to “communism” would simply be greeted with amusement in China. But in China the emergence of mass unemployment (at last report there were thought to be some 20 million unemployed as a result of the slow-down) and signs of widespread and rapidly escalating social unrest will almost certainly push the Communist Party to massive redistributions whether they are ideologically concerned to do so or not.
How wild that the unlikely marriage of communism and capitalism that so many have remarked on in China over the last twenty years may be the reason for its ultimate emergence as the dominant world power after this crisis! There is so much intelligent re-mapping of how we look at the world in some larger sense in this post that I couldn’t begin to do it justice.
And it has led to reactions from scholars far better equipped than a lowly instructional technologist to take issue with Harvey’s argument. Two days ago, Berkeley professor and Neoliberal economist Brad DeLong responded vehemently to Harvey’s post, and after a few tired attacks on Harvey for being unreadable, he responds to the point that the US can, indeed, borrow as much money as it wants because John Hicks told as much. Now, I’m out of my depth here, and I haven’t read John Hicks, additionally I’m not an economist (nor would I ever want to be) and when I see DeLong discussing interest rates in response to Harvey’s attempt at a conceptual framing of larger shifts in world power—there is no doubt in my mind who is earning their salary as a scholar. Therein lies my bias for philosophical and politically relevant thought. With that said, I’m happy DeLong responded as he did because it led to a follow-up response from Harvey that marks a moment wherein the world’s top political economists and geographers are engaging in a cross-disciplinary debate openly, online about issues that are absolutely critical to the world in which we live, as well as the future shape it takes.
This is real school, and it is happening out in the open, free of charge. Want to know how Marxist geographers and Neo-Classical Economists think in the wild? Now you can! And what’s more, to quote Harvey’s response to DeLong, “What is needed is generous critique, the taking of whatever is positive in competing accounts and a real struggle to come to terms with ways we might better proceed.” Amen to that, and now we have the tools to think through these issues like we never have before. Let’s not fall prey to obeisance and anti-intellectualism, join in the discussion and figure out what the hell is going on in our moment of global insanity, which has been proudly brought to you by capital run amok.