The Power Axis: Bowles, Gordon, and Weisskopf's Theory of Postwar U.S. Accumulation
Can a radically new conception of capitalist economies be constructed by joining concepts of power to the basic terms of conventional macroeconomic discourse? Is profit itself comprehensible as the product of capitalist power? Answering such questions affirmatively, social structures of accumulation theorists have begun to construct an economic theory boldly different from both orthodox and alternative Marxian traditions. Even in the near term their potential impact is great, for they seek a radical theory of accumulation able to demonstrate its plausibility—and superiority over other frameworks—via forms of reasoning and proof accepted by orthodox economists.
The present article will analyze selected aspects of the rapidly evolving joint work of one set of social structures of accumulation theorists, Samuel Bowles, David Gordon, and Thomas Weisskopf. In recent papers these authors have given the framework progressively sharper definition.1 Translating its general principles into behavioural theses, they have modeled and estimated the determination of productivity growth, profit rates, and investment in the postwar United States. Using the results, they have endorsed a profit-squeeze explanation of cycles and longer-term trends in the postwar US economy. This analysis is linked in turn to a larger theory of long swings in economic activity.
Enabling and informing all these important developments is the distinctive premise which is the particular concern of the current paper: that capitalism is best understood as a system of power relations. Thus the social structures and institutions which Gordon, Weisskopf, and Bowles theorize are institutions modulating relations of power. Profit itself is *made possible by the power of the capitalist class over other economic actors with which it deals' (Bowles, et al. 1986, 137). These authors, it is now clear, propose no less than a recasting of economic theory along power-theoretic lines.
* Associated with the journal Rethinking Marxism.
Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 1-2, January-February 1991