Chris Harman: A masterful book

Issue section: 
(342)

Zombie Capitalism is a masterful book, a culmination of Chris Harman's work spanning four decades as one of the world's leading Marxist economists. The timing of his passing is both tragic and deeply ironic.

For years Chris argued passionately that capitalism was a system uniquely prone to crisis. Many of his warnings were borne out by the credit crunch. He consistently warned that there would be no easy solutions to the current economic debacle. Events are likely to prove him right.

As a revolutionary socialist peering in from the "outside", Chris always used to say that it was never easy to access the data that would unravel capitalism's darker secrets, allowing one to pinpoint when economic cycles would break. But he compensated with an impressive grasp of the longer-term dynamics of the free market that few could rival.

Chris sparred with many other Marxist economists over the issue of corporate profitability. He argued strongly that companies in the industrialised west were running deeper into trouble, with real rates of return trending down to such low levels they would expose the contradictions of capitalism sooner rather than later. His analysis on this critical issue was first rate.

Stock markets have continued to rise, even as the Wall Street Journal warns that companies have only been able to report higher profits by cutting costs aggressively. The flipside has been soaring unemployment.

There are very few economists of recent years who have shaped and influenced our thinking at GFC Economics. But Chris was one of them. He could be a critic, and we had some differences over the interpretation of Keynes. But Chris was always fair, objective and, above all, honest. I learnt a lot from his observations on our work. His critique of The Credit Crunch, which we published in the spring of 2008, was by far and away the most honest. He rightly concluded that we had not followed the logic of our analysis to its ultimate conclusion. However, he phrased his comments in a positive way that encouraged us to look closer at the underlying causes of boom and bust.

Chris will be a hard act to follow. His appetite and work ethic, covering such a vast range of material, were extraordinary. Zombie Capitalism has been selling well. Perhaps in his memory we can all promote this book as a fitting tribute to an outstanding economist.


Graham Turner is an economist and author of The Credit Crunch