The Failure of Capitalist Production- Interview With Andrew Kliman


In late January of 2012 I interviewed Andrew Kliman about his new book on the economic crisis, “The Failure of Capitalist Production.” I am still working on getting a good method of recording Skype interviews so the audio is a bit scratchy, but still useable.

It’s a great interview, full of insights and challenging ideas.

The book can be found here.

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14 Responses to The Failure of Capitalist Production- Interview With Andrew Kliman

  1. Michael says:

    Thanks for posting the interview, Brendan. I’m reading Andrew’s book right now.

    Regarding your recording problem: I would use (I suspect you’re on a mac) either Piezo or Audiohijack from to capture the audio, and I’d record on 2 separate tracks.
    But aslo the skype connection has to be good and this also depends on the quality/speed of the connection of your interview partner.

    Thanks again for all your work! Best, Mike

  2. John K. says:

    Hey Brendan,

    Do you think you could possibly make the audio file available for download? (A good site that I use for sharing files is Mediafire, if that helps).

    Thanks for all your work!

    –John K.

  3. Great interview. Very different perspective on the crisis than that of other representatives of Marxian economics like Harvey and Wolff. The disagreement is ultimately related to differing interpretations of Marx’s law of value, isn’t it?

    • MrEverpresent says:

      I don’t think they have a different interpretation of the law of value.

      Only a different view of the ‘utility’ of the falling rate of profit piece in volume 3. Harvey doesn’t use it in his Enigma of capital for example.

  4. Bruce Wallace says:

    The tendency for the rate of profit to fall is a bit like a boat tending to veer to the left all the time. The person at the tiller has to continually compensate for the veer. However it is intrinsic to the boat’s hull. If the boat speeds up the veer can be more severe. There are countervailing influences on ther veer such as the direction of the wind or tide but the fault is in the design of the boat. It needs to be rebuilt! Just like capitalism.

  5. Now that the rest of the world is becoming capitalist, the United States is beginning to witness a decline in a standard of living, and it’s having a hard time maintaining it’s imperialism abroad, and keeping the public together at home.

    The under-consumptionist theories by Keynesian capitalists have been proved wrong in this book, and has brought Marxism back to the table in opposition to the capitalist economists, who simply come up with theories using abstraction and putting stuff out of their *** for the public to swallow, such as “capitalism is the only good system we have now” and “value exists in the subjective state of mind” and all sorts of wishy washy things that make people say wtf?

    It’s divided between the Tea Party corporate sheep the the working class movement Occupy Wall Street, the class struggle is sitting right here in front of our faces and it is finally liquidating.

    The Black Bloc tactics, ever since this Great Recession took place, have been unmasking and the violent class nature of the proletariat is being revealed to the public. This is what happens when you deny people wages, benefits, education, and all sorts of basic needs. The working class produces the wealth for the media and wall street while the working class suffer. Does this make any sense to you?

  6. Matt Wood says:

    This was a really interesting interview. I hope to get a copy of Kliman’s book soon.

    Like Brendan, I also found it a bit hard to take when I heard the argument that actually wages (or at least wages plus payments in kind) haven’t fallen in the neoliberal period.

    I think the ideological shift from the 1980s onwards is important for understanding capitalism though. The perception that things have changed for the working class is backed up by what was a political assault on the working class. I mean, here in Britain, the socialist trade union movement was seriously set back by Thatcherism.

    In this article ( which broadly agrees with Kliman, I think the author states that the late 80s through to the current crisis saw a big increase in the rate of exploitation (even if ‘wages’ didn’t decline) and that could not have happened without a weakened working class (and trade union movement).

    But the under-consumptionist view that everything was fine until neoliberalism turned up is one that Kliman seems to do pretty well at debunking.

    Thanks for the interview – this blog has been really useful for me in increasing my understanding of Marxism and capitalism.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Note that he says investment spending grew faster over forty years than consumer expenditures, therefore under-consumption is not, to him, a cause of crisis or stagnation.

    Then he shifts the quantitative terms under discussion from the percentage growth of investment (faster than consumption) to the split between Investment and consumer spending (roughly the same).

    to him, an under-consumption crisis didn’t happen because investment spending grew relative to wages; yet the share of wages in output didn’t appreciably drop relative to investment. Hmmm….

    Investment spending may indeed have grown faster in percentage terms than consumption did because:

    1) they started off from a smaller base;
    2) consumption growth was restrained & investment enhanced precisely because capitalists restrained wage growth to enlarge profits, reinvest surpluses, and grow faster;
    3) conversely, had the wages absolutely and relatively grown faster (along the prior postwar trajectory), investment might have grown yet faster still (i.e., the ratio of one to the other doesn’t necessarily at all address the underlying squeeze on workers pay);
    4) the percent share of domestic GDP that is wage income could remain steady whilst wages go down — because people are taking second jobs, an increase in two-income households, etc.

    His discussion seems fetishized — it’s not workers against capitalists, nor capitalists using the State to implement neoliberalism. Instead it’s things and systems exogenously, autonomously, and impersonally provoking problems — independent of all human projects and decisions or class political power.

    • Anon,

      I’m not so sure that any of your 4 scenarios actually validate an underconsumptionist take on the Great Recession.

      1. So what if the original proportion of investment an consumer demand is skewed in one direction or another? If investment demand is growing than it can potentially sop up the slack in consumer demand. Check out Kliman’s book “The Failure of Capitalist Production” for the details of his empirical argument on this point.

      2. I don’t think this was the case since profits have been falling, but if it was how would this validate an underconsumptionist argument? If investment demand is rising relative to consumer demand then it is rising, period. The cause of the rise doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that the rise can offset any gap in consumer demand.

      3. I don’t follow you here at all. What are you arguing? What is point is your hypothetical scenario intended to refute?

      4. So what? If demand for consumption goods remains steady then underconsumptionism can’t explain the crisis, period. It doesn’t matter if the jobs are shittier or people work two jobs. That has nothing to do with what you are trying to argue.

      Lastly, pointing to the objective economic laws of capitalist isn’t fetishism. When Marx says, “Because, in the midst of all the accidental and ever fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labour time socially necessary for their production forcibly asserts itself like an over-riding law of Nature,” in chapter one of Capital is this fetishism?

      Value is objectified labor time. Value relations are objective economic relations that have taken on a life of their own, outside the control of people. This is why the fetishism of commodities exists.

      The underconsumptionist view, on the other hand, just subjectivises everything so that economic laws don’t matter. It’s all just about the actions of people. The implication is that capitalist isn’t inherently one way or another. Capitalism’s problems are a result of politics not the deep structure of capitalism.

      • Anonymous says:

        Let’s say for sake of argument that the Great Depression WASN’T initially caused by a shortage of aggregate demand.

        Nevertheless once a contraction had set in, Keynesian prescriptions worked to revive the US economy, putting people back to work, raising their pay and stimulating consumer spending.

        that’s b/c the conditions of underused human and industrial resources as described by the underconsumption thesis existed. and therefore could respond to such stimulus. Duh.

        Also, throughout the postwar period, for 30 years, counter cycle policy worked to prevent a repetition of the 30s. that’s a powerful validation of at least some of the underconsumption theory.

        So detaching productivity growth from wage growth, a la neoliberalism, is a different subjective political strategy of the ruling class in the present period to gain increased profits.

        that’s an alternate subjective strategy to grow profits than had formerly obtained under the Fordist/Keynesian/union productivity deal regime which was consumer driven rather than supply side.

        it was conscious policy and not the result of impersonal forces. it’s an artifact of the subjective conditions of class struggle since the 70s, i.e. workers are weaker. Reagan and Thatcher won and Clinton/Obama and Blair/Cameron carried on.

        Whether or not a crash is caused proximately by restraint in the growth of consumet spending, the economy must substantially revive without benefit of consumer spending of the lower two thirds. that recovery will surely be slower. also what does it mean to have a “recovery” in profits and production but not revive conmeasurately in household living standards?

      • You haven’t responded in any specific way to any of the critiques I made of your last comment. I can only infer from that that you have no response and that you agree that I was correct in pointing out that your arguments did not prove any of the things you wanted them to prove.

        In regards to this newer comment…. It is certainly not the case that there is anything even close to a consensus on what got the US economy out of the Great Recession. There are many who claim the opposite of your claim: that Keynesian policies were failing until WWII came along, and that it was the massive destruction of capital values that accompanied WWII that made the postwar boom possible.

        Also, it is not clear at all that the post-war boom was a result of Keynesian policies. Cycles of boom and bust are implied in the theory of the tendential fall in the rate of profit. But the booms are theorized as a result of the inherent motion of capitalist crisis not as a result of contingent state planning. Crisis throughout history have been followed by booms, long before the capitalist state was capable of fashioning responses. If these Keynesian policies are so effective in averting crisis then why did they end in stagflation? Stagflation, after all, was supposedly impossible according to Keynesian planners.

        I’m not sure I follow the last part of your comment. Perhaps you could rephrase…

  8. Anonymous says:

    ok, does your alternate explanation for recessions account for their onset, duration and magnitude?

    you or Kliman predicted them?

    • I have carefully responded to your last two comments and you have not addressed any of my replies but rather changed the topic. I do not care to waste my time in this sort of conversation. I am happy to reply to this most recent comment and say what I think a theory of crisis can and cannot explain and what the role of prediction is in this, but only if I know that the time I am taking to address comments is actually advancing a constructive dialogue rather than just fending off a troll.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think Kliman is saying that consumption can be stuck at any given level or even fall infinitely towards zero and that would neither explain nor itself define a “recession” or “depression” . Pretty audacious thesis.

    This, you and he both say, is because in principle spending on producer goods can grow infinitely whilst spending on consumer goods stays stuck at the same level or infinitely contracts.

    he says that investment growing faster than consumer spending necessarily refutes a role for underconsumption in CAUSING a crisis. I suggested two things in response: first, a greater percentage growth over base for investment spending than for consumption spending doesn’t say anything about the ABSOLUTE magnitudes of value circulating and being realized, nor the different sectors’ roles in either starting or continuing a recession.

    Does a greater growth in one sector (investment) fully make up for the relative decline of the other sector’s growth (consumption)? using absolute dollar magnitudes might be a better way to show this than talking about percentage growth rates of the subsectors. it might make the case or it might not, I’m not sure. Exploitation might not originate in exchange, but crisis can and does at least in surface manifestations. bank panics, stock crashes, currency crises etc

    Second, the CAUSE of a recession may not be the reason it CONTINUES. I suggested in my clumsy way that regardless of the trigger for the onset of a crisis, contraction in consumer demand is the commonplace explanation of why a recession deepens and persists, with counter-cycle policy offering means to reverse that down spiral of contracting demand, whether that policy is good for the business of provoking revolution or not. Maybe you guys don’t want to give Keynes his due because you think it makes your case that capitalist crises can only be resolved by socialism less compelling.

    Also whose perspective are you pushing when you say an economy can grow infinitely while its workers’ living standards don’t improve? seems not very pro-worker. Subjectively, for many, their situation is always depressed, even if economists of various persuasions say there is no depression or we are between crises.

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