Accumulating through the Exploitation of Labour and Nature

The Dynamics of Capital Accumulation in Managerial Capitalism: The United States Since World War II

Gerard Dumenil and Dominique Levy

The main features of capital accumulation in the United States since World War II are familiar, with the high rates during the 1960s and 1970s, the decline during the 1980s, the resurgence during the 1990s, and the low rates since the recession of 2001 (Section 1.1). The present study is an attempt at the deciphering of this historical profile.

It is an ambitious endeavor. The method is not the building and estimate of an “investment function” that would “explain” the ups and downs of accumulation with reference to a set of arguments. The dynamics of accumulation are, in our opinion, the outcome of a broad set of mechanisms, in which historical tendencies, social relations, and the technicalities of macroeconomics are intertwined. In all of these respects, a close relationship must be maintained with empirics. Our analysis is grounded in the Marxian interpretation of social relations, a mix of “fundamentalism” and “revisionism”: the basic principles of Marx’s theory of history are center stage but prolonged to the consideration of developments that Marx perceived but could not master. One must also acknowledge that the methods of economics were deeply altered since the mid-19th century, including the availability of data of which Marx could not even dream. In our opinion, this fundamentalist-revisionist approach is the unique alternative to the so- called deconstruction of Marxism. The most recent synthesis can be found in our book Managerial capitalism: ownership, management, and the coming new mode of production (Dumenil-Levy, 2018). The analysis hinges on two pivotal notions:

1 Modes of production. Contemporary societies are hybrid social formations, the combination between capitalist-managerial social relations along the road from capitalism to “managerialism” as new mode of production. Three fundamental classes can be distinguished, namely, capitalists, managers, and the popular classes of workers and subaltern employees. Thus, two upper classes exist side by side, capitalists and managers, manifesting a significant degree of merger at the top.

2 Social orders. Moving from class structures to power relations, the class pattern of managerial capitalism is susceptible of variegated political configurations of domination and alliance between classes: (i) The first financial hegemony from the managerial revolution to the Great Depression, under the hegemony of big capitalists like the Morgan or Rockefeller; (ii) The post- World War II compromise up to the 1970s—1980s, marked by the alliance between managers and popular classes (consequently, manifesting the repression of the traditional capitalist component); and (iii) Neoliberalism as second financial hegemony, since the 1970s—1980s, whose main feature is the alliance struck at the top between the two components of upper classes, capitalists and managers. Despite the “crisis of neoliberalism” in 2008-2009, this social order is still under way (Dumenil-Levy, 2011).

We are presently working on macroeconomics, and the present study considerably borrows from this investigation, both theoretically and empirically. The analysis is limited to the United States, though many of the mechanisms considered are also at work in other countries (with the necessary specifications).

The first section is introductory. The focus is on what must be explained, namely, the rate of accumulation in the US economy since World War II. This section also gives the outline of the remainder of this study devoted to interpretations.

 
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