Stability and Change in Capitalism

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM

Swissotel Chicago, Monte Rosa
Hosted By: Union for Radical Political Economics
  • Chair: Don Goldstein, Allegheny College

Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory

Moshe Postone
University of Chicago


Based on his reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory (Postone 1996), this presentation will explore the distinction between labor as a standpoint for a critique of capitalism, on the one hand, compared with an analysis of the historically specific form of labor in capitalism, on the other. That is, the analysis of the role of labor in capitalism provides an entrée for the critical understanding of the capitalist system as a whole. This critical perspective can incorporate the role of theory itself in the construction of a given set of social relations, and enhance the potential of critique as a method of social change. Further, categories such as value, commodity, competition and price form a core set of concepts for analysis of the contemporary economic system, as well as a framework for analysis of historically specific forms in a given period.

Financial Innovation and Social Institutions

Robert Meister
University of California-Santa Cruz


Derivatives were responsible for one of the worst financial meltdowns we have ever seen, one from which we have not yet fully recovered. However, they are likewise capable of generating some of the most incredible wealth we have ever seen. What kinds of social institutions and policies would we need to put in place to both avail ourselves of the derivative’s wealth production and make sure that production benefits all of us? To answer that question, a social understanding of the derivative is necessary, using such concepts as the gift, ritual, play, “dividuality”, and performativity. Second, a derivative understanding of the social, using financial concepts such as risk, hedging, optionality, arbitrage, and liquidity can uncover new dimensions of contemporary social reality. With these tools, a renewed vision of derivative finance emerges as a deeply embedded aspect not just of our economics but our culture.

The End of United States Hegemony?

Leo Panitch
York University


In recent work (Panitch and Gindin 2012), the definition of historical materialism has been considered, and utilized to analyze contemporary capitalism. In spite of the presumed separation of state and market, the role of the state in stabilizing and globalizing the American economy is an essential aspect of the contemporary world economy. The world system established under US hegemony especially since World War II has been integrated in developed and developing countries alike, in spite of the financial crisis of 2008. Prospects for its continuation will be explored.

Fetichism of Commodities and Financialization

Ann E. Davis
Marist College


Marx’s analysis of the “fetishism of commodities” and money remains relatively unexplored in contemporary economic analysis. The proposition in this paper is the contemporary relevance of this concept of fetishism, in terms of manifestations such as “financialization,” the importance of “conspicuous consumption,” and the rationale for the distribution of income in the current period. Typically the view of mainstream economics and the general public alike sees money as useful and valuable in itself, which helps to justify the claims of financiers to exceptional returns to “risk.” In fact, the financial circuit encompasses the entire economy and its gains are due to the extensive division of labor, innovation, and systemic integration, rather than the isolated decisions of individual property owners, investors, or seemingly heroic CEOs. That is, certain conceptions of money reinforce its abstract power and the imperative for its apparent self-expansion.

Social Structure of Accumulation Theory, Marxist Theory, and System Transformation

David Kotz
University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Marxist theory offers an analysis of capitalism whose aim is to explain both how the system works and how it can be superseded through a transition to socialism. The social structure of accumulation (SSA) theory, originally proposed by Marxist economists in the USA at the end of the 1970s, contributes to our understanding of the processes in capitalism that can lead to socialist transition. SSA theory argues that each form of capitalism, or SSA, eventually enters a period of structural crisis that can be resolved only by major institutional restructuring. Such a period of structural crisis can create conditions favorable for the development of anti-capitalist movements and ideas. The paper notes that the SSA literature succeeded in identifying the 1970s as such a period of structural crisis and offered a basis for explaining the unexpected neoliberal transformation of capitalism that followed. The current structural crisis since 2008, this time of neoliberal capitalism, was predicted by some SSA theorists. SSA theory explains the sharp political polarization that emerged in the US and elsewhere after 2008, which has included widespread support for some version of socialism as well as support for neofascist ideas. While socialist transition is not immanent in advanced capitalism, the current structural crisis and the continuing stagnation and political stalemate it has produced have created conditions in which socialist movements are likely to grow in strength in the coming years, bringing a transition to socialism onto the political agenda.
Don Goldstein
Allegheny College
Michael Perelman
California State University-Chico
Matias Vernengo
Bucknell University
Robert Chernomas
University of Manitoba
William McColloch
Keene State College
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches