Brenner Again

Joshua Mason jmason at
Thu Oct 22 17:07:00 PDT 1998

Louis Proyect, responding to me:
> > Isn't it much more convincing--and more respectful of the real
> > historical context--to suggest that governments didn't pursue
> > demand-enhancing policies because of the fear that those policies would
> > further strengthen the working class?
> This puts the cart before the horse. The political goal of the US ruling
> class was to destroy the union movement, so as to be able to reduce wages
> under increased competition from overseas. You seem to think that a more
> prosperous working-class would not jeopardize capitalist profits. How

The point at issue here was made in the Kalecki passage that was posted a couple of weeks ago: "In the great depression in the 1930s, big business consistently opposed experiments for increasing employment by government spending... The attitude is not easy to explain. Clearly, higher output and employment benefit not only workers but entrepreneurs as well, because the latter's profits rise. And the policy of full employment outlined above does not encroach upon profits because it does not involve any additional taxation. The entrepreneurs in the slump are longing for a boom; why do they not gladly accept the synthetic boom which the government is able to offer them?" In other words, it would seem that in some circumstances (like a situation of chronic excess capacity of the sort Brenner describes) a more prosperous working class would not jeopardize capitalist profits.

But capitalists evidently feel otherwise. The reason is that although full employment might increase profits in the short term, it threatens them in the long term by undermining capitalists' power both politically and in the workplace. At least, that's what Kalecki says. Brenner explicitly rejects this and says that the sustained full employment of the postwar boom did not affect profits either directly or indirectly. That's the disagreement I was trying to focus on.

I appreciated your reply, and I'll look up the Shutt book.


PS: Bob Fitch tells me he faxed a piece he'd written on Wallerstein to Brenner recently. Brenner called back five minutes later and they had the following exchange: "What, you've read it already?" "I don't like this piece, Bob, and the reason I don't like it is, it's about Wallerstein when it should be about me."

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