[Marxism] Michael Yates's Naming the System, by L. Proyect

Gilles d'Aymery aymery at ix.netcom.com
Mon Mar 1 09:47:03 MST 2004


Michael Yates's Naming the System
by Louis Proyect
Book Review
March 1, 2004    


Michael Yates, Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy, Monthly Review Press, 2003; ISBN 1-58367-079-3 - 288 pages. 

Michael Yates's Naming the System is very much in the spirit of Monthly Review's "The Leo Huberman People's Library," a series that was designed to "assist new people ... achieve revolutionary consciousness." Huberman's c
lassic Man's Worldly Goods was the best-known volume in that series and set the standard for clarity, scholarship and a commitment to working class politics. Naming the System is a work that Leo Huberman would have been p
roud to be identified with. 

When Huberman wrote his classic in 1936, he was trying to help working people understand the roots of an economic crisis that was producing massive unemployment, fascism and war. Although Keynesianism has supposedly made 
such disasters a thing of the past, the world is faced with a seemingly new set of problems. Although they fall within the rubric of neoliberalism and globalization, it is obvious that they are function of capitalism, jus
t as the ills of the 1930s were. In attempting to diagnose and find a cure for them, Michael Yates speaks to young people involved in global justice protests, working people in developed countries worried about downsizing
 and runaway shops, and a Southern hemisphere mired in poverty and hopelessness. 

To a very large extent, Naming the System is about debunking the claim that capitalism is a system that can "deliver the goods" despite unfortunate side-effects in the march toward progress. If one were persuaded that Ind
ia or China would eventually enjoy G-7 living standards in the long run, then it might be possible to tolerate peasants being driven from their land or rivers being turned into toxic dumps as a kind of growing pain. 

You can find Berkeley economist Brad DeLong and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman arguing along these Panglossian lines. Capitalism will eventually make everybody middle class as long as the market is free to work its magic
. Not only do poor people in a country like the USA have access to cheap consumer goods that were unavailable to the wealthy 100 years ago, the rest of the world will share in these riches eventually. 

A question that neither DeLong nor Krugman ask, however, is whether or not people from poor countries were better off before capitalism was introduced. Yates cites a very revealing article by Charles Mann that appeared in
 the March 2002 Atlantic Monthly. According to Mann, the European conquest of the New World left indigenous peoples far worse off. While it is a fact that some citizens of Mexico City can purchase a television today at a 
Wal-Mart, it is also a fact that their ancestors enjoyed a better diet and more leisure time on average five hundred years ago. 

Michael Yates cites one of the establishment's own experts. Not only 
did World Bank economist Lant Pritchett find that the ratio of per 
capita income between the richest and poorest nations grew by a 
factor of 9 to 50 between 1870 and 1960, he also projected that it 
would take India 377 years to erase this gap at current growth rates. 
If this is true for a supposedly dynamic country that is a pole of 
attraction for outsourced high technology, what hopes could possibly 
exist for the average African nation? 
[ Full: http://www.swans.com/library/art10/lproy12.html ]

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