Debata se nadaljuje – Keynes in/ali Marx?

Dva dni po objavi intervjuja z Lapavitsasom (Jacobin), se je na njegova stališča odzval Michael Roberts, ki se je v intervjuju v enem od vprašanj za Lapavitsasa znašel tudi sam. Michael Roberts je v prejšnjih objavah na blogu večkrat kritiziral poteze Sirize in finančnega ministra Varoufakisa. V povsem sveži objavi, katere del spodaj pripenjamo, pa je kritično prijel tudi levo opozicijo znotraj Sirize (in znova tudi “desno”, trenutno vodilno frakcijo v Sirizi), predvsem pa določene pozicije, ki jih v intervjuju za Jacobin zastopa Lapavitsas. Je torej Varoufakis keynesovec s pridihom Marxa? In Lapavitsas marksist s kar močnim pridihom Keynesa? Keynes in/ali Marx?

marxkeynes

Foto: socialisme.nu

Keynes or Marx?
Now here comes the really interesting bit. Lapavitsas goes on: “Let me come clean on this. Keynes and Keynesianism, unfortunately, remain the most powerful tools we’ve got, even as Marxists, for dealing with issues of policy in the here and now. The Marxist tradition is very powerful in dealing with the medium-term and longer-term questions and understanding the class dimensions and social dimensions of economics and society in general, of course. There’s no comparison in these realms. But, for dealing with policy in the here and now, unfortunately, Keynes and Keynesianism remain a very important set of ideas, concepts, and tools even for Marxists. That’s the reality. …. I’ve also associated myself with Keynesians, openly and explicitly so. If you showed me another way of doing things, I’d be delighted. But I can assure you, after many decades of working on Marxist economic theory, that there isn’t at the moment.”

So it seems that Marxist economics is less than useful for the immediate problems of the Greek people. As Sebastian Budgen puts it, Lapavitsas wants to make “a distinction between Marxism as an analytic tool and Keynesianism as a policy tool”. Costas spells it out: “Marxism is about overturning capitalism and heading towards socialism. It has always been about that, and it will remain about that. Keynesianism is not about that. It’s about improving capitalism and even rescuing it from itself. That’s exactly right. However, when it comes to issues of policy such as fiscal policy, exchange-rate policy, banking policy, and so on — issues on which the Marxist left must necessarily position itself if it is to do serious politics rather than denouncing the world from small rooms — then you will rapidly discover that, like it or not, the concepts that Keynes used, the concepts that Keynesianism has worked with, play an indispensable role in working out strategy, which remains Marxist. That’s the point I’m making. Unfortunately, there is no other way. And the sooner that Marxists realize that, the more relevant and realistic their own positions will become.”

So Keynes is realistic and relevant to policy and Marxist economics is not? Now is this right? Is Marxist economics just an analytical tool or a long-term strategy for socialism but irrelevant or at least less relevant to the immediate tasks of government trying to repair a broken economy than the Keynesian categories of devaluation, public spending and monetary policy?

I find that surprising coming from a Marxist. The Syriza government now has the opportunity to campaign among the Greek people and implement socialist measures to replace Greek ‘big capital’ with a domestic economy controlled by the common weal. Instead, it seems both the wings of Syriza want to adopt Keynesian solutions (only); except one wing wants to do it within the euro (Tsipras/Varoufakis), while the other says that is impossible and wants to do it outside the euro (Left Platform).

Now I’m not opposed to using Keynesian prescriptions as part of any socialist measures for Greece: e.g. progressive taxation, government spending, labour rights, minimum wage (not sure the latter are even Keynesian). But such measures must be part of a programme to replace capitalism, not try to make it work – in or out of the euro.

Grexit?
Lapavitsas is clear about his alternative: “the obvious solution for Greece right now, when I look at it as a political economist, the optimal solution, would be a negotiated exit. Not necessarily a contested exit, but a negotiated exit.” This would involve a 50% write-off the debt owed to the EU and protection of the new Greek currency (devalued by just 20%) with liquidity from the ECB.

Lapavitsas reckons that this policy might even get support from Germans wanting to get rid of Greece from the Eurozone. As he says: “Schäuble is on record, or at least Greek ministers are on record, stating that Schäuble offered an aided exit to the Greeks already back in 2011. I can see, from the perspective of the German power structure, why they might be tempted by this idea” And the IMF probably would support a debt restructuring. Devaluation would not have to be more than 20% because Greek labour costs have dropped so much already.

Lapavitsas poses the ‘success’ of the Argentine debt restructuring and devaluation of the peso in 2001 again as the example to follow. “I hasten to add that in the case of Argentina (though by no means would I suggest that Argentina is a shining beacon for the Left), it is much-maligned and much-misunderstood. What was obtained in that country after default and exit was vastly better than what held before and vastly better than what would have happened had the country continued along the same path, for working people. Let us stress that: for working people. If you look at it in terms of employment and in terms of income, there’s just no comparison.”

Well, I’m not convinced. In a joint paper with G Carchedi we showed that the recovery in real incomes in Argentina after the 2001 crisis was more to do with the debt default and the recovery in profitability of Argentine capital (see pp 108-9, The long roots of the present crisis). And the apparent success of the Argentine case was shortlived at best (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/argentina-paul-krugman-and-the-great-recession/). The breathing space created for Argentina by breaking the dollar peg does not seem to have restored the Argentine economy to stable growth. After a few years of a commodity-export led boom, the Argentine economy is back in crisis, despite Keynesian policies adopted by the government. There has been a 6% fall in per capita GDP since 2011.

Even if the Troika were to agree to such a ‘negotiated exit’, which is a moot point; and even if the new Greek drachma only depreciated by 20% (extremely unlikely), the Greek economy would still be on its knees, unable to restore living standards for the majority. Devaluation and rising prices would eat into any gains made from cheaper exports. Lapavitsas seems to recognise this: “Wages must rise, but even if they rise, you’re not going to go back to where you were. It’s just not feasible at the moment. We need a growth strategy for that.” Exactly.

Why stop there?
Whether Grexit was negotiated or not, as Lapavitsas says, the government would have to act to control capital flows (not illegal even within the euro). And the banks would have to be nationalised. “Re-denomination would create a problem for the banks, and bank nationalization would obviously be immediately necessary. But bank nationalization is clearly a vital step for the Greek economy right now because the private banking system, or the banking system generally, has failed. So we’re not doing anything particularly shocking.”

So why stop there? Why not propose the replacement of ‘big capital’ with public ownership and workers control and a plan for growth? Apparently, that is something for the future, the medium-term, not now. “I am very skeptical, though, about this in the context of Greece right now… These are medium-term questions. These are questions that one should knuckle down and begin to confront once the problem of debt, fiscal pressure, and the monetary union have been resolved.” But can the latter be resolved without the former?

Costas spells it out: “I don’t think that Syriza should come out with a broad and wide nationalization program right now. What is necessary is to nationalize the banks, of course. And to make sure that energy privatizations stop, electricity in particular. That stops. And privatization of other key assets stops. To put a growth and recovery strategy in place immediately outside of the euro, and then to have a medium-term development plan.”

This last sentence is key for me (that’s why I have emboldened it). If I were Costas, I’d be advocating within Syria now for just such a broad and wide programme to replace capitalism. For me, the Marxist analysis of Greek capitalism leads to the policy prescription for its replacement now, in or out of the euro. But for Costas, a Marxist analysis is fine, but the policy prescriptions should be Keynesian – because the latter is more practical?

And yet Lapavitsas recognises in the interview at one point that the problem for the Greek economy has not been being in the euro as such but the weakness of Greek capitalism, translated into its lack of competitiveness: “the emphasis on the service sector means that Greece has become uncompetitive internationally because services are well-known for being not particularly competitive”.

Povsem na koncu zapiše:

Costas Lapavitsas and Yanis Varoufakis are economists who have become politicians and are now in the frontline of the fight by Syriza to restore the living standards and rights of the Greek people in the face of an onslaught from European capital.  It ain’t easy – it’s certainly easier to criticise from well behind the lines.  But if they read this, I hope they take it in the spirit of best intentions.

The issue for Syriza and the Greek labour movement in June is not whether to break with the euro as such, but to break with capitalist policies and implement socialist measures to reverse austerity and launch a pan-European campaign for change.

Vir: Michael Roberts

Celotno objavo preberite na blogu Michaela Robertsa.

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