Now, until 2011, distribution was a non-issue. Save for a few ivory-tower experts and justice-seeking activists, nobody spoke about it. It received little media coverage, let alone headlines, and elicited no meaningful debate. But with the global crisis lingering and upward redistribution continuing unfazed, the Occupy slogan ‘We are the 99 percent’ has finally gained traction. Suddenly, inequality and the excesses of the Top 1% are hot commodities, broadcast, discussed and written about all over the media.
The debate itself, though, remains largely conservative. The protest movements succeeded in putting distribution on the political table, but they haven’t figured how to take this achievement forward. So far, they have produced no new policy template, let alone a new theoretical framework, and this vacuum has left the political centre-stage open for policymakers, leading academics and Noble Laureates to recycle their worn-out platitudes.
In order to buck this trend, however symbolically, we wrote a short, pointy article titled ‘Why Capitalists Do Not Want Recovery, and What That Means for America’. The paper delivered a clear massage, backed by two highly contrarian graphs. The graphs showed that, contrary to the conventional creed, both mainstream and heterodox, accumulation thrives on crisis and sabotage. They demonstrated that, over the past century, the capitalist share of U.S. domestic income and the income share of the Top 1% have been tightly correlated not with growth and prosperity, but with unemployment and stagnation.
Looking for a publisher, we started with the two bastions of American liberalism: The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. We sent them the article, free of charge, but neither replied. We then moved to England, emailing the paper to The Guardian. Again, silence. Our last stop was The London Review of Books. This time we got a polite response, stating that the article ‘isn’t quite right for us’.
Clearly, the enlightened capitalist press wasn’t particularly keen on showcasing the power basis of accumulation. The article was too counterintuitive for readers to digest and too politically incorrect for advertisers to subsidize. It suggested that upward redistribution and its associated sabotage were not unfortunate manifestations of ‘social injustice’, but the twin drivers of capital accumulation. And that message, apparently, was unpublishable.
There was no point banging our heads against the wall. It was time to head elsewhere. And since salvation always comes from the East, we turned to the emerging market of India. Unlike in the United States and England, capitalism in India is still being debated, including in the mainstream press. So we submitted the article to Frontline, a fortnightly magazine published by The Hindu Group. And to our pleasant surprise, it was promptly accepted, as is, and appeared in the very next issue (Nitzan and Bichler 2014). One must admit that globalization does have its upsides.
Scarcely had a day passed from the article’s publication that we got an angry email from an asset manager whom we’ll call ‘Mr. X’. Mr. X is an enlightened capitalist, and reading our piece had set him on fire. Our article, he protested, was ‘terribly flawed’. It ‘failed miserably’ in understanding capitalism, and its allegation that capitalists do not want recovery is doing ‘tremendous harm’: