One would think that with the economic crisis of 2007, the publication of fresh left-wing critiques of the current state of capitalism would have been on the rise. A quick search on Amazon will tell you otherwise, as most leftist critiques fail to address the major problems of the system in a persuasive way. They seem to me to be merely re-publishing old views under new names, and one would rather re-read his Marx, Keynes, or Schumpeter instead of books that simply recycle their ideas. Thankfully, David Harvey has produced a clear and original analysis on the economic crisis and capitalism in general, which can become a solid basis for a new left-wing critique of the system, as well as a guide for the direction of future political action.
Harvey begins by addressing the way the system was rescued from the crisis of the 1970s, and then moves on to examine how this has produced the condition on which the later crises developed, expanded, and accumulated to the great financial crisis of 2007. He examines the growth of the financial markets since the rise of neoliberalism, both in relation to the stagnation of wages and the fall in investment and profiteering in the productive economy during the same period. His analysis focuses on the increase of debt-financed demand in the place of effective demand to cover the lost demand from the stagnation of wages, and the increased risk taking of firms that began profiteering from their activity in the financial markets rather than the productive economy.
But in the typical Marxist tradition, Harvey begins with a specific event, and expands the critique to the whole capitalist system. He starts by explaining that capitalism is a process, based upon the idea of the accumulation of capital, and the expansion of the system into new markets and so on. Capitalism as a process constantly re-creates itself and further expands, breaking the boundaries to its movement. This expansion allows for the increase in the availability of the factors of production, and allows the exploitation of them. This process, however, is the source of the problem for Harvey. He sees crises as inherited in the system due to its internal contradictions. Its economic, social and ecological implications are enormous and cannot allow a system based on a constant increase in growth to continue forever. In this perspective, the foundations of our economic activity need to be changed in order to improve the current and future conditions of humanity. Of course, his analysis is much richer than simply this, but one has to read the book to really grasp his view.
Although often described as a Marxist, Harvey's book does not force to the reader a despotic Marxist interpretation of capitalism. It seems that Harvey selects only the bits and pieces found in Marx's works that are still useful for purposeful analysis, and avoids the use of problematic concepts that other Marxist scholars often make use of. Thus, ideas such as the base-superstructure analogy, economic determinism, or the labor theory of value are thankfully not found in this book. Harvey certainly adds his own touch on Marxist theory throughout the book, especially at the point when he takes a footnote found in Marx's Capital, and expands it into a developed, structured argument in itself.
The reason, however, that I give this book four stars and not five, is that it offers no real alternative, or a straight direction for action. Harvey suggests that the left, together with other anti-capitalist groups should unite and co-operate in order to achieve a change in the system, instead of allowing it to reproduce itself. But such a statement is general at best, and clearly shows the weakness of the new radical left in producing a specific and detailed alternative to capitalism.
Another point I did not like is the use of Maoist China as an example of a way of producing low infant mortality in absence of capitalism. Harvey is surely not an apologist of the Communist regimes of the 20th century. He simply tried to force an example in which a non-capitalist society managed to lower its infant mortality, but seeing how Mao's China also produced the greatest famine recorded in history, I believe that the example was truly inappropriate, and contradicts the point.
Other than that, this is the book to get if you are looking for a left-wing perspective on the economic crisis as well as a fresh critique of capitalism.