Accumulation by dispossession

Posting here has fallen off as i pursue the chimera of getting ahead of my teaching so I can research during the week. The recent debate between David Harvey and Brad de Long attracted nil attention in Australia, probably because much of the Australian left is still reliving 1980s debates on the inequities of economic rationalism. Perhaps Harvey and de Long share some ground however. De Long muses that:

The standard mode of discourse in economics is positive-sum win-win Pareto-optimality. You provide people with the right incentives through property rights to invest and accumulate and they do so—and the benefits of their investment and accumulation spill over and produce higher incomes for everybody else as well. You provide people with secure contract rights and they trade what they personally value less for what they personally value more—redistributing the goods of society across individuals until the Pareto frontier is reached. You incentivize people through property rights to be good stewards of natural resources, and they are. But a look back at human history suggests that this focus is perhaps misplaced. Much of human economic and political history looks as though it is made up of thugs with spears (or kalishnikovs) taking stuff; or those who can for some reason command the services of thugs with spears taking stuff; or those who can for some reason command the services of thugs with spears threatening others so inducing them to enter into contracts on unfavorable terms. Slavery. Serfdom. Debt peonage. Latifundia. Land barons. Cattle barons. Capital barons. Perhaps economics should focus not on Pareto-optimal exchange equilibria and economic growth but instead on distribution: perhaps economics should be not a hymn to the win-win bounties of the division of labor but instead a discourse on the origins (and maintenance) of inequality.

This has some resemblances to Harvey’s concept of accumulation by dispossession. How do financial bubbles fit within this? Do they function as means of upward redistribution? Harvey’s analysis might be more applicable to the US than China or India, see Bill Dunn’s analysis of China here. Strangely ex-Communist ex-Foucauldian David Burchell, who once dreamed of being Graham Richardson but is now the academic equivalent of Reba Meagher, argues that Chinese economic growth is fictitious, a strange inversion of old Trotskyist dogma about the never ending cris of post-WW I capitalism.

One thought on “Accumulation by dispossession

  1. [...] the disproportionality approach over theorists of underconsumption? Some earlier thoughts of mine here. Share Geoff Robinson [...]

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