Brenner again

michael perelman michael at
Wed Sep 2 20:04:38 PDT 1998

Several people have written me to point out how close Robert Brenner's short section that contains his discussion of his theory of crisis paralleled my own work. In our correspondence, he has a shown me how he came to his ideas independently.

For this reason, I've been going through his work relatively slowly. Like Tom, I found the idea of dating crisis back to the 1950s intriguing.

The work seems to run on two different levels. On one hand, Brenner shows how each of history nations -- Japan, Germany and United States -- succeeded when they were able to drive down wages and keep the foreign exchange rate low. On the other hand, Brenner does an excellent job, perhaps the best that I have seen, of laying out the institutional framework that allowed Japan to enjoy its period of enormous growth rates.

I did not find anything comparable in his discussion of Germany or the United States. In that sense, much of what I have read so far (only 90 pages) about these two countries parallels the very best of what you could find in the business press. Class forces appear only in the sense that capital either succeeds in restraining labor or it does not.

So far, I have found a couple brief mentions my pet hobby horses: the way both high wages and depressions force business to become more efficient and conversely, how low wages and prosperity promote inefficiency. In this sense, capitalist prosperity maintains the seeds of his own destruction.

Tom mentioned that Brenner is a historian and not an economist. I believe that this work shows the difference in disciplinary training. To use credit, Brenner's history shows a coherence that few, if any, economists could master. Nonetheless, so far I do not see a close connection between the early theoretical sections and the descriptive history that follows.

In any case, I believe that this article does merit the sort of attention that we are giving it. -- Michael Perelman Economics Department California State University Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321 E-Mail michael at

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