Category Archives: Εισηγήσεις σε επιστημονικά συνέδρια – Papers in academic conferences

‘The Political Economy of the COVID-19 pandemic’,S.Mavroudeas

Selected and revised papers from the proceedings of the ICOPEC 2021 Conference have been published by IJOPEC Publications in a collective volume titled ‘The Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on societies and economies’.

I was an invited speaker at the conference and I contributed a paper titled ‘The Political Economy of the COVID-19 Pandemic’, which is included in this collective volume.

The links to my paper are the following:

The whole e-book can be assesed at IJOPEC’s website:


ONLINE CONFERENCE: ‘Social Consequences of Covid-19 Pandemic in Turkey and the World’ (Wednesday, December 8th), EURAS

EURAS organises an online conference (Wednesday, December 8th) on the ‘Social Consequences of Covid-19 Pandemic in Turkey and the World’.

I will present a paper on ‘The Political Economy of the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

‘Soviet Union: Socio-economic Type, Collapse and Lessons for the Future’, S.Mavroudeas, International Conference on Soviet Union

Presentation at the International Conference «Soviet Union: An Alternative of the Past, or a Strategic Project for the Future?», National Library of Russia, Plekhanov House, Association for Marxist Social Sciences, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 12-13/11/2021

‘Soviet Union: An Alternative of the Past, or a Strategic Project for the Future?’ – International Conference, 12-13 November 2021

The National Library of Russia, the Plekhanov House, the Association for Marxist Social Sciences and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation are organising an international conference in St.Petersburg (12-13 November 2021) titled ‘Soviet Union: An Alternative of the Past, or a Strategic Project for the Future?’

I will present a paper titled ‘‘Soviet Union: socio-economic type, collapse and lessons for the future’.

The abstract of my paper is the following.


According to Marxism class struggle is the mechanism explaining the evolution of class divided societies. This paper argues that the Soviet Union (SU) was a transitional to socialism but not a socialist socio-economic formation. As such it was characterized by internal class struggle between a latent bourgeoisie (to a great extent reborn within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – CPSU) and the working class. This transitional state of affairs corresponds to the Marxian ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ phase – which is a precursor to socialism – and in which class struggle continues and intensifies even under the disguise of different and antagonistic socialist policies. The collapse of the Soviet Union was the result of the gradual dominance of pro-capitalist tendencies in the CPSU. This paper offers a periodization of this struggle and an explanation of the mechanisms through which pro-capitalist tendencies – initially in quasi-capitalist forms and later overtly – took the upper hand. In this crucial is the distinction between the legal forms of ownership of the means of production and the actual control of them. From these premises, the main lessons for future socialist transitions that can be drawn from the soviet experience are (a) the continuous revolution process as the way through which an irreversible path to socialism can be paved and (b) the significance of realigning legal public ownership of the means of production with the actual control of their operation by the working class through democratic planning (the real subsumption of the means of production by labour).

The programme of the conference is the following.

12 November 2019 г.

9.30 – 09.50. Registration. Plekhanov House,

4-th Krasnoarmeysraya str. 1/33, Petersburg (Technological Institute metro st.)

09.50 – 11.20. Session 1. Moderator: Tatyana I. Filimonova.

Greetings: Vladimir GhennadievichGronsky, Gen. Director of the NLR

Michael-Matsas Savas. USSR and Imperialism: Back to the Future

Savran Sungur. The USSR: Peoples’  Federation of  Nations

Schiappa Jean-Marc. Commune de Paris, “The State and Revolution” and the USSR

Buzgalin Alexander Vladimirovich.  Citizens’ Social Creativity as the Justification for the Development of the USSR

11.20—11.30. Recess

11.30 – 12.50 Session 2. Moderator: Mikhail B. Konashev

Apanasenko Tatyana Evgenievna. The Soviet Economic Model for Substituting Exploitation and Incorporating Costs as a Guideline for the Future

Oreshnikov Vladimir Vyacheslavovich. USSR as the Result of the Great Socio-Economic Revolution, Carried Out Prior to Setting Up Necessary Economic Basis

Ogorodnikov Vladimir Petrovich. Objective Laws for the Development and  of the Fall of the USSR

Pilipenko Igor Valerievich. The Dynamics of Residence Construction and the Solution of the Dwelling issue in the Republics of the USSR, 1920-1980

12.50—13.30. Recess

13.00 – 14.00. Session 3. Moderator: Mikhail B. Konashev

Kalous Antal. Anti-Sovietism  in the Pre-war Period

Beolchi Luciano. The Break-up of  the antifascist front. Origins of the Cold War in Italy (1945-1950).

Ossin Roman Sergueevich. Stalin’s Argument about Class Struggle Aggravation Under Socialist Conditions and the Experience of  the  Soviet society

14.00 – 15.00. Lunch

15.00 – 16.20. Session 4. Moderator: Tatyana I. Filimonova

Abramson Joseph Grigorievich. A combination of objective and subjective factors that led to the End of the Soviet Union

Epstein David Berkovich. Contradictions of the Socio-Economic Nature of the USSR and Causes of its Perishing

Kurenyshev Andrei Alexandrovich.  On the Pitfalls that Eroded the USSR

Konashev Mikhail Borisovich. On Some Economic and Philosophical Aspects of the Evolution of the USSR

16.20—16.30. Recess

16.50-17.30. Discussions. Moderator: Mikhail B. Konashev

13 November 2019 г.

Plekhanov House, 1/33, 4-th Krasnoarmeysraya str., Saint-Petersburg (Technological Institute metro st.)

10.00 – 11.20. Session 5. Moderator: Tatiana Ivanovna Filimonova

Bugakov Mikhail Mikhailovich. The Lithuanian Irony of the “Perestroika»

Retinsky Stanislav Grigorievich. The Defeat of Socialism in the USSR and the Party as the Class Conscience carrier

Mavroudeas Stavros D. Soviet Union: A Socio-economic Type, Collapse and Lessons for the Future

Isaichikov Viktor Fedorovich. Is It Possible to “Come back” to the USSR, Under What Conditions, and to What Type of the Union?

11.20—11.30. Recess

11.30 – 12.30 Session 6. Moderator: Mikhail B. Konashev

Boreyko Anton Vladimirovich. «Collapse» of the USSR and «Perestroika» in Cuba: a «Special period» as an Alternative to the restoration of capitalism (1991-2000)

Koppe Renate. The growth of anti-communism and Russo phobia in the Politics of German Imperialism as a Result of the Collapse of the USSR

Pavlenko Vladimir Borisovich. The USSR,  People’s Democratic  Countries and Modern Russo – Chinese Alliance as Alternative Projects for the Historical Development of and for the XX-XXI  Centuries

12.30—12.40. Recess

12.40 – 13.40. Session 7. Moderator: Mikhail B. Konashev

Arkhangelsky Vladimir Alekseevich. To Meet the Actual Crisis in Sociology is but Essential Condition for the Future Success for the Doers, carrying Common Interests of the Humankind.

Filimonova Tatiana Ivanovna. «Our Party»: on a Special Role of the Communist Party in a Social and Socialist Transformation of the Society

Gafurov Said Zakirovich. The Global Nature of Modern Capitalism and the Class Struggle in the Countries of the Former USSR

13.40 – 14.40. Lunch

14.40 – 17.00. Round Table «Left parties and Social Movements of the Republics of the Former USSR: Problems of Inter- and disintegration” Moderator: Tatiana I. Filimonova

Presentations by delegates from Belarusian, Georgian, Ukrainian and other republics of the USSR.

Temporal regulations: Presentations – 15 min; Questions – 5  min; Reviews – a 5 min speech

Presentations at the Round table

Key-speakers: 10 min,  a 5 min finalizing talk

I.I.Rubin and the fallacies of old and new «Rubin schools’ – S.Mavroudeas

Presentation at the 3rd Marx World Congress organised by the School of Marxism, Peking University, Beijing 17-18 July 2021


I.I.Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value played a crucial role in the 1970s Value Debate between Marxist and neo-Ricardians as it gave inspiration and support to the Marxist argument about the social dimension of the political-economic analysis and also about the difference between Marx’s and Ricardo’s LTV. However, the subsequent self-proclaimed ‘Rubin school’ overemphasized the social dimension and neglected the technical dimension of value. This led to a theory of form without content by identifying immediately value with money and thus abandoning labour values and substituting them with monetary prices. This old ‘Rubin school’ betrayed both Marx and Rubin as the latter never ascribed to their fallacies. Nowadays, a new stream of ‘Rubinists’ (e.g. the proponents of a monetary theory of value) appear that again identify immediately labour values with money and thus also make labour values redundant. This paper argues that the new ‘Rubinists’ betray also both Marx and Rubin and, moreover, fail to understand the essential working of the capitalist economy.

The powerpoint of my presentation follows:

The video-recording of my presentation flows:

‘The Political Economy of Covid-19’ – S,Mavroudeas, ICOPEC 2021

I will be one of the invited speakers at the annual INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON POLITICAL ECONOMY (ICOPEC), which is organised by ICOPEC and is hosted this year by the Manisa Celal Bayar University (Manisa, Turkey).

I will speak at the first plenary meeting whose subject is ‘POLITICAL ECONOMY OF COVID-19 CRISIS AND ITS HANDLING‘ (Thursday 24/6/2021, 10:30 – 12:45 Athens time).

The theme of my contribution is ‘The Political Economy of COVID-19’.

Other participants in this plenary meeting are

  1. Mishandling COVID-19: From Contagion To Catastrophe‘, JOMO Kwame Sundaram (Academy of Science, Malaysia)

2. ‘Capitalism after Covid’, Costas LAPAVITSAS (SOAS, University of London, UK)

The plenary can be assesed via the following ZOOM link:

Meeting ID: 882 199 98 30
Passcode: icopec2021

Additional information and the full programme of the conference can be found at


‘Marxism and its contemporary relevance’ – Stavros Mavroudeas, FARAK International Conference

I was invited to speak at the International Conference on ‘Liberalism, Marxism, Study of Realism, Gandhism and Communism’, organised by FARAK in India.

The subject of my speech is ‘Marxism and its contemporary relevance’.

The transcript of my speech and the video follows.



FARAK international conference

‘Liberalism, Marxism, Study of Realism, Gandhism and Communism’


‘Marxism and its contemporary relevance’


Stavros Mavroudeas

Professor of Political Economy

Panteion University, Athens, Greece



What is Marxism and why is relevant today

In 1989, after the fall of the Eastern bloc, mainstream pundits professed the death of Marxism.

However, not long since, around the 2008 global capitalist crisis this mainstream belief was shaken. Even die-hard mainstream voices (like the FT and the Economist) professed that Marx is more relevant than ever today. Of course, they gave a distorted picture of Marx and Marxism. Nevertheless, the ‘death of Marxism’ argument was buried for good.

The advent of the current COVID-19 health-cum-economic crisis reverberated even more strongly the contemporary relevance of Marxism.

But what gives Marxism this enduring analytical and practical power?

The answer lies in his ‘DNA’. Marxism is an entity comprising of (a) a worldview, (b) a socio-economic analysis and (c) a guideline for social praxis.


Marxism’s worldview

The essence of Marxism’s worldview is the very realistic proposition that our world is material, conflictual and dynamic.

  • Material because it is the matter (rather than some metaphysical mind) that forms our world.
  • Conflictual because contradictions (between social classes, opposing interests etc.) are the rule.
  • Dynamic because the struggle between the opposing sides of these contradictions generates change.

This is the old philosophical tradition of dialectics. Marx and Engels based this perspective on material conditions (rather than on idealist principles as for example in Hegelian idealist dialectics).

Hence, Marxism conceives the world as a material entity which is riddled with contradictions (and not harmony) and is prone to changes.

Marxism’s world view is organized on the basis of two intertwined theoretical sets: Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism.


Dialectical Materialism

Dialectical Materialism offers the methodology to understand our world. It is founded on the old dialectical scheme of thesis – antithesis – synthesis. This scheme signifies that out of the struggle between opposing sides (thesis and antithesis) a new situation will emerge (synthesis).

Among the many other features of the dialectical materialist analysis two have a prominent role and are particularly pertinent for comprehending the contemporary world.

The first feature is the distinction between appearance and essence. Its situation has an external appearance (the way it is presented in everyday life). But beneath it is hidden an essence; that is a system of generic relations that may not be viewed with a naked eye, but it dictates the way things evolve. For understanding the true condition of things, the human theory must move beyond the realm of appearances and discover the hidden essence of things. According to Marx’s very accurate dictum ‘all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided’. The essence represents the general, generic elements and their concomitant laws of motion of a thing and/or a situation. Thus, it represents its general characteristics or, in dialectical materialist terms, its abstract dimension. The appearance is the modification of this general character with specific and special (for each particular case) characteristics. Hence, the appearance belongs to the level of the concrete.


Appearance Essence
concrete abstract



The second crucial feature is the method of abstraction. It follows from the previous feature. In order to understand the world, we have to proceed beneath the level of the appearances and discover the hidden but governing level of essence. Science should do this through the method of abstracting from special characteristics (which are of a lesser importance), concentrate on the few basic aspects and then dig beneath them to discover the hidden essence.

abstract                     concrete



Historical Materialism

Historical Materialism is the application of the dialectical materialist perspective in comprehending the human history. Marxism breaks radically from pre-existing conceptions of history as the result of the impact of ideas that were to effect changes in a society. For Marxism, ideas stem from material conditions. At the heart of material conditions is the economy; that is the system through which the humankind gets the necessities for its subsistence. This has been characterized, by friends and foes, as economic determinism. It is indeed economic determinism (as even Bill Clinton recognized that ‘It is the economy stupid’ that matters). But, contrary to the various anti-determinists, it is a determinism that (a) permits degrees of freedom and (b) recognizes feed-back effects. Hence, it is not a mechanistic determinism, as they erroneously clamour. In more strict Marxist terms, the economic relations are the base on which the superstructure (the rest of the social relations) is erected.

Contradictions – that is the struggle between opposing sides – in class-divided societies takes the form of class struggle between social classes. The primary field of this class struggle is the economy, but it subsequently spills over to the rest of social relations (which in turn affect the economy through feedback circuits).

Then Marxism explains the evolution of human societies through a stages of history theory. Human societies are organized on the basis of modes of production (MoP – that is configurations of socio-economic relations between different classes). Thus, different modes of production are recognized (primitive communal societies, slavery, feudalism, capitalism etc.). Each MoP has exhausted its life cycle and is ready for substitution by another MoP once it can no longer develop the forces of production (FoP – that is expand the well-being of societies).



Marxism’s socio-economic analysis

The world’s materiality rests primarily on the economy. For this reason, Marxism accurately profess the primacy of the economy over the rest of the social relations. Thus, Marxism’s second fundamental axis is his system of political economy. It consists of the Labour Theory of Value (LTV) and the Theory of Surplus-Value.


Labour Theory of Value

This theory regards human labour as the sole creator of wealth. Human labour is the only active component of the production process and the one that sets in motion the other FoP (means of labour etc.). Without human intervention no wealth-production can take place. Consequently, in capitalism (capitalist commodity production), where almost all goods become commodities, the amount of labour spent over the production of each commodity is its value. This (labour) value passes through a series of transformations (as it passes from the sphere of production to the spheres of circulation and distribution) and it is ultimately expressed as (monetary) price. Hence, value determines price but the latter – contrary to D.Ricardo – almost never coincides with its determining value; it rather fluctuates around it. This is the famous Law of Value:

value      determines               price


Marx formulated this conception through his Value Theory of Abstract Labour (that is a social conception of labour), as distinct from Ricardo’s (and the majority of Classical Political Economy) Value Theory of Embodied Labour (that is a technical conception of labour). Also contrary to Ricardo, value determines price but (a) through an indirect mechanism passing through different spheres (Prices of Production) and (b) at a subsequent phase prices feed-back on values.

Theory of Surplus-Value

This is the theory that explains how exploitation takes place in the capitalist system. It is based on the valid assumption that what it is bought and sold in the labour market is not the labour performed but the ability to perform labour (labour-power). This assumption grasps very accurately the fact that what a capitalist buys are hours of labour under his command and not the actual labour performed. The capitalist pays to the labourer a certain amount (value of labour-power). Then, the capitalist implements his managerial prerogative and is able to extract from the labourer’s work more value than what he has initially paid him. This is called surplus-value, it is unpaid labour and it is transformed in the capitalist’s profit.

It is worth noting that no other economic theory (Neoclassical, Keynesian etc.) can offer a different coherent explanation of the capitalist’s profit.

Subsequently, Marxism argues that capitalism is a socio-economic system organized around the extraction of profit (profit motive). This is again a very realistic assumption that no other economic theory can offer a satisfactory alternative.

From the rich and sophisticated Marxist economic analysis two elements are especially important.

The first element is that the capitalist system is riddled with internal contradictions. A consequence of these contradictions is the regular appearance of economic crises. Marxism, as opposed to mainstream Economics, has a very developed and meticulous theory of economic crises. The basis of the Marxist theory of economic crises is the famous Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall (LTPRF). The gist of this argument is that capitalists by competing among themselves for greater profits ultimately lead the system to overaccumulation (that is expansion beyond its realistic dimensions) and thus to a falling rate of profit. This falling profitability tendency, once surpassing certain definite levels, leads to economic crises (that is the collapse of normal functioning of the system and the reduction of the GDP). In a nutshell, this conception argues that the ‘success’ of the system leads to its ‘failure’.

Relentlessly, Marx emphasises this self-destructive force built into the process of capitalist development:

‘And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.’


The second important element of Marxist economic analysis is that as the capitalist system ‘grows old’ (that is it fails to expand the FoP and becomes an obstacle to their further development), then it increases the exploitation of the toiling masses. This takes the form of relative (but also absolute in several cases) immiseration of the popular classes. In stricter terms, this explains the increase of economic inequalities and poverty in contemporary capitalism.



Marxism’s guideline for social praxis and change

Based on his worldview and his socio-economic analysis, Marxism offers his guideline for social praxis. It argues that once a socio-economic system is exhausted it is futile to try to reform it. Thus, it is necessary to remove it and substitute it with a better one. This has happened in the past with the succession from pre-capitalist socio-economic systems to the capitalist socio-economic system. Hence, Marxism pivot for social praxis is the societal change.

This societal change does not take place smoothly and peacefully as vested dominant interests and social classes do not relinquish their grip on society. Thus, societal change comes through class struggle:

‘The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles’


In the case of the capitalist system, class struggle takes place on the basis of the antagonistic relation­ship between its two main classes: labour (the creator of social wealth) and capital (the appropriator of the greater part of social wealth). Marxism argues that labour (the working class) is the instigator of societal change towards a more just and equitable socio-economic system: socialism (and ultimately communism). Class struggle by labour (and the rest of the allied with-it popular classes) should not try to reform the system as this is futile. Instead, it should follow the strategic aim of overthrowing the whole system. This strategic aim is organized at the tactical level with the everyday struggles for ameliorating the working and living conditions of the toiling classes.


The contemporary relevance of Marxism

Marxism’s ‘DNA’ (his worldview, socio-economic analysis and guideline for social praxis) gives him his analytical and practical superiority and explains his contemporary relevance.

The recurrence of economic crises during the recent decades (e.g. 2008, 2020) emphasises Marxism’s superiority against mainstream Economics. His focus on economic crises makes Marxism better equipped to understand bot the existence and the recurrence of this phenomenon; whereas mainstream Economics simply lack a general theory of crisis or hve a very weak one (in the case of Keynesianism).

Similarly, the increase of inequalities and poverty in contemporary capitalism prove the contemporary relevance of Marxism. Again, mainstream Economics fail to offer a convincing alternative perspective.

But also, at a deeper epistemological level, Marxist materialist dialectics and their notion of contradiction prove particularly apposite in understanding the contemporary world that is riddled with conflicts and antagonisms.


‘Labour Process Theory: A Critical Reappraisal’ – S.Mavroudeas ICOPEC 2020, Marmara University, Istanbul

I was an invited speaker in ICOPEC 2020 (Marmara University, Istanbul

The subject of my presentation was ‘Labour Process Theory: A Critical Reappraisal’

Below follow (a) the abstract of my talk and (b) my voice powerpoint


11th International Conference of Political Economy

Global Inequalities

June 24-26, 2020, Marmara University, Istanbul


‘Labour Process Theory:

 A critical reappraisal’


Stavros Mavroudeas

Professor (Political Economy)

Dept. of Social Policy

Panteion University






Labour Process Theory was born after H.Braverman’s ground-breaking work ‘Labor and Monopoly Capital’ (1974). Its major contribution was that it reinstated at the foreground the Marxist analysis of Labour Economics as a credible alternative to both the Neoclassical and the Keynesian theories of Labour Economics. Following from this a vibrant discussion was born that led to the creation of the scientific sub-field of Labour Process Theory within the academia. Notwithstanding its crucial contributions and significant advances over the previous forty years, today the Labour Process Theory is in a stalemate. This has been accurately characterized as a state of identity crisis. This paper reviews the evolution of Labour Process Theory and periodizes it in four distinct phases. The first one is marked by Braverman’s seminal contribution and his deskilling thesis. The second one scrutinised several of Braverman’s stylized facts (and especially the deskilling thesis) and expanded analytical and empirical studies to new issues (e.g. labour market segmentation, power and control in the workplace, designing job descriptions, cohersion and consent in the factory). The third phase attempted a generalization of the Labour Process Theory and ventured into macroeconomic projections on the basis of it (e.g. theories about Fordist and psot-Fordist capitalism, Flexible Specialisation). The last phase is characterized by a distancing from the Marxist theory of the social mode of production, the Labour Theory of Value and class struggle and is being lost in interesting but limited empirical issues concerning the workplace and managerial strategies. This paper argues that a return to the foundations of Marxist economic analysis is necessary in order for the Labour Process Theory to regain its identity and explanatory power. This task is particularly pressing in the current era of rapid changes in the workplace and the labour market.


‘Τhe end of the globalization myth and the continuing importance of imperialist rivalries’, S.Mavroudeas – Peking University, School of Marxism

I just returned from Beijing where I participated in the International Symposium ‘Modern China and the modernization of Developing Countries’, organized by the School of Marxism of the Peking University (12-13 October 2019). I presented a paper titled Τhe end of the globalization myth and the continuing importance of imperialist rivalries’. An expanded version of my intervention can be read in my recent IJOPEC e-book chapter ( ). Changes and additions concerned basically certain Chinese policy issues.

This event was an intriguing one for many reasons. First, it gave an idea about the state of Marxism in China and in the Communist Party of China (CPC). Second, it also provided some clues regarding the current politico-economic dilemmas of the chinese policy. Third, there were some very interesting international interventions; to mention among them those of David Kotz and Terry McDonough.


Of course, besides academic events, there was the usual visit to Chairman’s Mao portrait in front of the Forbidden City.

Finally I learned how my name is written in Chinese; although this can change easily as this language follows phonetics.


‘De-globalisation and the Return of the Theory of Imperialism’ – S.Mavroudeas


IJOPEC has published the e-book ‘Globalisation and Public Policy’ edited by Kaoru Natsuda K. et al.

The lin for the e-book is the following:

Click to access 2019_13.pdf

I have contributed the first chapter with a paper titled ‘De-globalisation and the Return of the Theory of Imperialism’.

The links for my chapter are the following:


The paper follows



‘De-globalisation and the Return of the Theory of Imperialism’


Stavros Mavroudeas

Professor (Political Economy)

Dept. of Social Policy

Panteion University






The globalization hypothesis (i.e. the argument that modern capitalism has once and for all discard the nation state and modern capitalism became a truly unified ‘global village’) was overwhelmingly popular since the 1990s. This was coupled with the expansion of a multifaceted theoretical trend that rejected previous analytical tools and purported that it ushered new ones, tailor-made to the new ‘globalisation era’. Especially within Political Economy, the globalization discourse rejected the theory of Imperialism (that emphasized antagonisms and the role of the national economy) for a theory of global interconnectedness (emphasizing co-operation and deterritorialization). However, the course of events of the real world radically diverged from the stylized beliefs of the globalization discourse. Particularly, before and increasingly after the 2008 capitalist crisis, antagonisms along national lines and military conflicts proliferated. These developments signify the necessity for a return to the classical Marxist theory of Imperialism as the appropriate analytical framework to grasp the political economy of the international system.


I. Introduction

‘Globalisation’ has been a zeitgeist for at least the last thirty years. It dominated the scientific discourses and dictated political decision-making. In its pure version, ‘globalisation’ maintained that around the 1990s the contemporary world underwent an epochal transformation. The nation-state (with its national economy) ceased to be the fundamental nucleus of politico-economic affairs as both the economy and the polity were supposed to transcend – and make almost irrelevant – national borders. To put it simply, the world has become a unified global village.

The ‘globalisation’ zeitgeist affected the whole spectrum of economic and political analyses and practices, from Orthodoxy to Heterodoxy and even Marxism. Theoretical analyses were transformed in order account for this purported epochal change. Revered and long-established concepts and models were discarded as no longer applicable. Even statistical indicators changed radically to conform with the ‘globalisation’ trend (e.g. the distinction between portfolio investment and foreign direct investment [FDI] was practically blurred).

However, at the end of the 20th century – and as the 2008 global capitalist crisis was approaching – cracks began to appear in the ‘globalisation’ narrative. As capitalist profitability started to falter, international politico-economic conflicts increased. In economic relations the ‘accursed’ protectionist policies started to creep in. In geopolitics military conflicts proliferated and unilateral policies by particularly dominant politico-economic powers (the US primarily) were increasingly adopted; thus tearing apart the ‘globalisationist’ narrative about a liberal democratic and free market world order. The eruption of the 2008 crisis was certainly a major turning point. All the aforementioned tendencies increased tremendously and the previously hidden behind ‘globalisationist’ narratives national interests came to the fore bluntly. This affect critically the international politico-economic discourses and the previously relegated to ‘underworlds’ discussion about ‘globalisation’ and its end came to the fore. Rather abruptly, the king was found naked and ‘de-globalisation’ or the end of ‘globalisation’ came to the centre of discussions.

This paper has a twofold aim. Firstly, it seeks to debunk the ‘globalisation’ narrative and show that it is a truthlike myth. Secondly, it argues that the classical Marxist theory of Imperialism offers a superior analytically and empirically framework in order to comprehend the political economy of capitalism’s international system. The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. In Section II the basic empirical and theoretical foundations of ‘globalisation’ are being presented and rejected as lacking a sound foundation. In Section III it is argued that the Marxist theory of Imperialism – through its understanding of the capitalist international system as a ‘battlefield’ with winners and losers – is the more fit one. Finally, Section IV proposes a redefinition of the Marxist theory of Imperialism and concludes.


II. Debunking ‘Globalization’: a truthlike myth

The thrust of the ‘globalisationist’ argument rests not in theoretical analysis but on empirical claims. Theoretical analyses, to a great extent, followed these supposedly indisputable empirical claims.


‘Globalisationist’ empirical claims

Setting aside minor differences, proponents of the ‘Globalisation’ thesis argued that the late 20th century ushered radical socio-economic transformations that produced a change of epochal dimension: economic activities burst out of national borders and organized themselves in worldwide processes and networks. More precisely, it is argued that product, capital and financial markets have become globally unified. This is supposed to be the differentiae specificae of this new era. Many theories assigned it the status of new stage, era or epoch (depending on the periodization theory adopted by them).

Different theories attribute this hypothetical historical rupture to different (seldom combined) factors. The main candidates as ‘globalisation’s’ cause are the three.

The first one, predominating mainly within Orthodox analyses, is technological change. Orthodox economics, within their a-social framework, have a tendency to attribute major epochal changes to technical factors. Thus, they usually attribute ‘globalisation’ to some form of technical revolution centered on information technologies. They argue that the development and expansion of the latter made national economic relations obsolete and facilitated the ‘globalisation’ of economic activities. This is a problematic argument for several reasons. First, the economic impact of the information technologies has been seriously disputed. As Solow (1987) with his famous paradox has pointed out, ‘you can see computers everywhere except for productivity statistics’. Second, the misnamed ‘New Economy’ of the mid-1990s (based on information technology, biotechnology and telecommunications) has long ago collapsed through the burst of its stock-exchange bubble. Last, but not the least, technologies that facilitated international economic activities have existed also in the past (e.g. telegraph, trains) and had possibly a greater impact upon the economy. So, there is nothing significantly new in information technologies.

The second candidate as cause of the ‘globalisation’ is political. It is argued that the collapse of the Eastern bloc created a ‘vacuum’ that facilitated the spread of free (capitalist) economic activities to areas governed previously by planned economy systems. This argument holds also limited water. First, it is true that the Cold War era limited economic relations between the two main blocs. However, within these blocs there were strong international activities and co-operation. Second, ‘globalisation’ spread not only to the previous Eastern bloc economies but to other areas of the world as well. Third, if there is some truth in the political cause of ‘globalisation’ this is that it was vigorously promoted by the West (and particularly the US) to the rest of the world as a means for increasing Western domination. The imposition of the Washington Consensus and its post-Washington Consensus successor upon less developed and developing economies is a typical evidence of this.

The third candidate is the argument that there is an inherent tendency of capitalist accumulation towards surpassing national borders. This argument can be found mainly in Heterodox and Marxist ‘globalisationist’ theories. Immanuel Wallerstein’s (1979) World Systems theory is both a pioneer and a typical example of this perspective. There are well-known and devastating critiques of this argument. Among others, one of its main deficiencies is that it cannot account convincingly about the long non-‘globalised’ periods of the capitalist system. If the capitalist system is prone to such a tendency then why it passes through long periods during which national economies – and blocs formed around them – predominate? Furthermore, it is well-known that the capitalist system has been born through the creation of national economies (that is national centres of accumulation). Moreover, during its period of gestation capitalist economic activities resorted to strong protectionist policies as means to protect themselves particularly their periods of infancy. The era of Mercantilism is a typical example of this.

As already mentioned, the ‘globalisation’ thesis has two interrelated economic corollaries. The first one is that national economies no longer matter. The second one is that state ability to implement economic policies has been critically curtailed if not totally annuled. Both arguments are highly debatable. Even at the high point of ‘globalisation’ at least several dominant Western economies exhibited remarkable ability in pursuing national economic policies. The US is the more prominent case in point. But even less developed and influential economies exhibited similar abilities. Such an example is the introduction by Malaysia of capital controls in the 1990s.

These economic arguments were supplemented with several political claims. The most prominent among them were the following.

It was argued that ‘globalisation’ would lead to the spread of global democracy. As Held & McGrew (1998: 242) typically argue ‘through a process of progressive, incremental change geo-political forces will come to be socialized into democratic agencies and practices’.

Moreover, it was argued that in ‘globalisation’ the ‘make business not war’ motto would predominate as global entrepreneurship abhors nationalism and militarist conflicts. In fact, this is a renovated version of classical Liberalism’s belief that was utterly disproved by the 1st WW.

Unsurprisingly, both these political claims are also highly disputable. During the ‘globalisation’ era there was actually a proliferation of nation-states (not only because of the disintegration of the Eastern bloc’s states) which were seldom accompanied by bloody military conflicts. Furthermore, international agencies never ceased to be dominated by national interests and their workings remained field of power struggles rather than of democratic practices.

On the basis of the aforementioned arguments, ‘globalisationist’ theory made two bold empirical claims. First, that ‘globalisation’ is totally new phenomenon. And, second, that it is irreversible. Both claims are equally unfounded.

The initial versions considered ‘globalisation’ as a totally new phenomenon. However, critics pointed out that all its main features (rates of international trade, capital mobility, financial interconnectedness, transnational politico-economic institutions) have existed in a previous period (the so-called ‘first globalisation’ (1860-1914)). See, for example, the analysis of Baldwin & Martin (1999) for one of the first Orthodox disputes of the originality in the period 1950-2000. From a more radical point of view, the study by Hirst & Thompson (1999) is indicative.

Subsequently, ‘globalisationists’ modified their position by arguing that this time is different. Various explanations were proposed. The more prominent between them were that the second ‘globalisation’ is characterized by different technology, that FDI is more important and that financial ‘globalisation’ is stronger.

None of the ‘globalisationist’ counter-arguments is very convincing. For example, international trade to GDP and international capital flows to GDP ratios were similarly high during the era of the so-called ‘first globalisation’. This is accepted even by proponents of the ‘globalisation’ thesis as the following graph by Chandy & Seidel (2016) shows[1].


There are additional credible counter-arguments to the modified ‘globalisationist’ argument. International flows of trade and capital instead of creating unified global circuits they have formed regional blocs. And even the expansion of FDIs (from the 1980s and onwards) have not created a globalized system of production or a borderless global economy in any meaningful sense. Many studies have shown that multinational corporations of all the big capitalist economies exhibit strong ‘home country bias’ linking them to their home economy (e.g. Hirst & Thompson (1996), Tyson (1991)). Moreover, regarding financial ‘globalisation’, even Zevin (1988) – a prominent ‘globalisationist’ – accepts that during the 1850-1914 period the consolidation of the financial markets was equally significant.

The refutation of the first ‘globalisationist’ empirical claim injured critically their second empirical claim as well. If the ‘first globalisation’ was reversed and if the arguments about the distinctiveness of the ‘second globalisation’ are unfounded then there is nothing guaranteeing that the latter cannot also be reversed. Indeed, even proponents of ‘globalization’ recognized that there is nothing inevitable about it: ‘(T)here is a tendency to see globalization as irreversible. But the political forces that fragmented the world for 30 years (1914–1944) were evidently far more powerful than the accretion of technological progress in transport that went on during that period. (Frankel (2000): 6–7)).



‘Globalisationist’ analysis

Indisputably, the dominant theory behind the ‘globalisation’ thesis is the Orthodox Neoclassical analysis of international economics. This dominated the public discourse as well as the commanding heights of the world economy. Heterodoxy (traditional Keynesian, post-Keynesian, Radical Institutionalism approaches etc.) followed behind. Despite their partial analytical differences, they basically succumbed to the main Orthodox arguments. Even Marxist ‘globalisation’ theories implicitly accepted much of the Orthodox discourse. For reasons of brevity, other versions of the ‘globalisation’ theories will be left aside and the focus of this section will be on the Orthodox one.

The foundations of the Orthodox Neoclassical version rest upon its theory of international economic relations. Historically, but also analytically, the theory of international economics has been constructed and inaugurated on the basis of the theory of international trade. The founding block of Orthodox international trade theory is its dogma of the beneficial role of free international trade. This is based on the beleaguered Ricardian theory of comparative advantage. The gist of this thesis is that free trade between developed and less developed economies is beneficial to both as each one will specialise to the production of the commodity in which it is more productive even if one of them is more productive on all commodities. The comparative advantage thesis has been criticized convincingly both on analytical and empirical terms. Its main, and more realistic, alternative is the theory of absolute advantage advanced by A.Smith and K.Marx. The theory of absolute advantage argues that an economy that is more productive in internationally traded commodities will produce all of them; thus, leaving the less developed (and less productive) without production and, thus, in a trade imbalance.

Neoclassicals extended the theory of comparative advantage from international trade to international capital flows as well and argued for the beneficial impact of the combination of free trade and free capital flows. However, Ricardo was fully aware that the theory of comparative advantage will not hold if capital is mobile, because in that case specialization will be determined by absolute and not by relative costs.

Despite its ‘heroic’ assumptions and blatant problems, the Neoclassical approach dominated the area of international economics. As it will be shown in the next section, this dominance is not without problems. Particularly as historical reality systematically fails to vindicate the Neoclassical arguments and conclusions. However, the advent of ‘globalisation’ offered a golden opportunity to Neoclassical Orthodoxy. Within the ‘globalisation’ narrative, even Heterodoxy succumbed to its charm. This surrender is typically expressed by Higgot (1999: 26) when he argues that the ‘argument for liberalization and open markets as generators of wealth has been won at both intellectual and evidentiary levels’.

Based on this theory, it was pronounced that globalisation (a) enhances aggregate welfare overall and (b) leads to the convergence between more and less developed economies. Empirically, both arguments have been rejected. Globalization has not reduced inequality of income and wealth. Since the early 1980s the world economy has been characterized by rising inequality and slow growth. Despite the rise of the new emerging economies (BRICS etc.) increasing inequality characterises the world economy. On top of this and to a great extent as a result of ‘globalisationist’ policies (with the disarming of national economic policies and the deregulation of labour markets), inequality has risen especially within developed economies. The US is a typical example of this trend.

Convergence, the other ‘globalisationist’ postulate, is equally unfounded. The convergence argument is a product of the Neoclassical Growth Model. As it is well known, it is actually an assumption rather than a result of this model. To put it simply, it is an ‘article of faith’ rather than a scientific result. This Neoclassical ‘article of faith’ has an infamous empirical record. Empirical results for several historical eras and periods simply reject this argument. The same holds for the ‘globalisation’ era. Again, despite the spectacular rise of the emerging markets, divergence in relative productivity levels and living standards is the principal feature of the contemporary world economy. Some ‘sunny spells’ for the Neoclassical argument (that is periods of some convergence at least within some groups of countries) were very soon reversed or stalled. In front of this blatant failure the Neoclassical approach offered – both in general and regarding the ‘globalisation’ era – a last ditch defense. It argued that although overall convergence might not materialize, partial convergence within ‘clubs of economies’ do takes place. However, historical reality has not been kind even to this. Convergence within clubs and/or between clubs has not been verified; quite the contrary. A typical example is the European Union (EU) which was the more prominent case where the convergence hypothesis attempted to vindicate itself. After a limited period of convergence, it is divergence that characterises EU’s state of affairs. To sum up, contrary to both these two arguments, divergence rather than convergence epitomises the ‘globalization’ era.



III. The theory of Imperialism: international economy as a battlefield

The debacle of ‘globalisation’ exposes serious lacunae in the theory of international economics. The main problem is the dominance of the belief that international economic relations are a win-win game for all participants. This dogma that permeates the economic Orthodoxy serves to present the capitalist system as a benevolent and just one. As it has been shown in the case of ‘globalisation’ this is a blatantly unrealistic conception. A realistic analysis of international economic relations should be based on the exactly opposite principle: the international economy is a battlefield with winners and losers. The gains of the former are the losses of the latter. There is no win-win situation in such a battlefield. This alternative perspective is offered by the theory of Imperialism.

Interestingly, the theory of Imperialism was formed in a similar to the current historical period. It was constructed after the first global capitalist crisis of 1873-5 and while the ‘first globalization’ was disintegrating. The structural crisis was followed by a protracted period of economic malaise. The latter ignited capitalist antagonisms and led to a return of trade and currency wars seldom accompanied with military wars. During that turbulent period all the empirical beliefs of Classical Liberalism were demolished; and particularly the dogma that ‘capitalism abhors wars’. It was painfully proved that capitalism works – and seldom prospers – through wars. Additionally, it was equally painfully shown that the internationalization of capital can easily revert to protectionism and a return to the national bases.

In this politico-economic landscape the theory of Imperialism was born especially through the pioneering work of Hobson (1902). Various other bourgeois theories of imperialism followed (e.g. Schumpeter (1919)). The main feature of these theories was that they considered imperialism as a deformation of the proper functioning of capitalism that could be rectified and thus return to the mutually beneficial free operation of international markets. Hobson regarded imperialism as the product of underconsumption crisis in developed economies that could be rectified with social reforms (representative parliamentarism, trade unionism) ensuring wage growth that would provide the necessary demand. Once these reforms have been established then international economic relations would again conform to the Classical Liberal model. Schumpeter went even further by considering imperialism not as product of capitalism but as an atavism. If the pre-capitalist remnants that caused it are removed then the Classical Liberal model would operate without problems. In this sense, these theories were a true Heterodoxy; that is a heresy that shared much common ground with the Orthodoxy but disagreed in some crucial ‘articles of faith’.

However, the theory of Imperialism was spectacularly developed and shot to fame after its adoption by the Marxist tradition (R.Hilferding (1912), R.Luxemburg (1913) and especially V.I.Lenin (1917)). The Marxist theory of Imperialism departed from the previous bourgeois versions by arguing that imperialism is not a deformation but a normal part of the capitalist modus operandi. This refoundation of the theory of Imperialism produced an analysis of the international economy that is not a Heterodox appendage of the Orthodoxy but a truly alternative tradition.

Contrary to both Orthodox and Heterodox thought, Marxism has a different conception of capitalism’s international system. The latter mirrors its national system in being also a system of exploitation: a systemic ‘battlefield’ with winners at the expense of losers. This stems from capitalism’s DNA and it is not a transient feature. Exploitation at the international level is also based on classes but it acquires additional dimensions as a capitalist economy can be exploited by another one. The latter mirrors its national system in being also a system of exploitation. Exploitation on the international level is also based on classes but it acquires additional dimensions. For example, a national bourgeoisie exploits its workers but at the same time it can be exploited by another national bourgeoisie. For Marxism this is a structural – and not a conjunctural – characteristic of the capitalist system. Therefore, capitalist international political-economic relations are antagonistic by nature and operate through war-like competition. Consequently, Marxism disagrees with the Orthodox thesis that international political-economic relations (and particularly free ones) are mutually beneficial for all their participants. It also disagrees with the Heterodoxy because it considers these relations as antagonistic by their very nature and not as specific products of special political choices.

The cornerstone of the Marxist theory of Imperialism is that capitalism’s international system is not a harmonious set but a field characterized by competition, conflicts and exploitation of groups of countries by other groups. Consequently, it does not result in mutually beneficial for all participants outcomes but instead it has winners and losers – where the gains of the former are the losses of the latter. This function is considered as a structural characteristic of capitalism and not as a conjunctural product of short-term policy choices.

It is beyond the scope of this section to review the long and winding course of the Marxist theory of imperialism. For reasons of brevity it will delineate the main pillars of a contemporary redefinition of it along the lines of the Classical Marxist Debate on Imperialism. The latter took place at the beginning of the 20th century and was the vehicle through which imperialism was adopted and re-founded by Marxism. The major currents of this debate were represented by R.Hilferding, R.Luxemburg and V.I.Lenin. Despite differences one of the main common founding blocks of this debate is that imperialism is primarily an economic mechanism and not a political mechanism. This implies that its aim is not political dominance but economic exploitation. The former is a means to achieve the latter and not a cause. This thesis is derived from capitalism’s fundamental difference from pre-capitalist exploitative systems: capitalist exploitation is not primarily based on direct (political) coercion but on indirect (economic) coercion. This economic mechanism organizes the exploitation at the international level (that is between economies). It is based on transfers of value from the exploited to the exploiting economies. This understanding does not ignore political relations – which are especially important particularly at the international level – but considers them as a corollary of economic relations.


IV. In place of conclusions: A redefinition of the Marxist theory of imperialism

A modern re-formulation of Marxist theory of imperialism is necessary after the misconceptions that prevailed after the Classical Debate and during the reign of ‘globalisationism’. As already argued, imperialism is first and foremost an economic process from which political-military processes derive. Put it simply, imperialism is primarily a mechanism of economic exploitation of one capitalist economy by another. This economic mechanism operates through the export of capital. The latter takes place in all its generic forms; that is as export of commodities, financial capital and productive investment. This export of capital is at the same time an indication of strength and weakness. An imperialist economy tends to export its economic activities both because these have developed more that its national basis can sustain and also because its capital overaccumulation threatens its viability. This economic exodus abroad leads to conflict with capitals from other countries that pursue the same course and which aim to secure wider areas of economic domination and exploitation. Sooner or later (or sometimes even preceding), the states that are the political supports of these capitals are brought in and the conflict acquires also apolitical and seldom military dimensions. As part of this process, more or less stable and permanent blocs of capitals and states are often formed.

Imperialism is not a particular stage of capitalism (although it flourishes in some of them) but the mode through which capitalism organizes its international system from its very birth. Thus, imperialism should not be associated with some form of capitalist competition (e.g. monopolies) – although some of them enhance imperialist relations more than others – but it is a general attribute of the system. Thus, its economic exploitation mechanism – i.e. international value transfers from one economy to another – works via normal capitalist competition and not only in cases of monopolist competition. In other words, imperialist surplus extraction exists irrespectively of the existence of monopolist super-profits. Marxism, contrary to the other main economic theories, has an elaborate dialectical theory of competition. Free competition, oligopoly and monopoly are not distinct cases but expressions of the same mechanism. Competition is the mechanism from which oligopoly and monopoly arise but also in which they subsequently collapse. This dialectical understanding can realistically grasp the tides and ebbs of mergers and acquisitions waves of modern capitalism.

The global system of imperialism is a complex structure comprised not by two groups (imperialist and not imperialist economies) but by more. Particularly since the middle 20th century we have witnessed the emergence of several economies that can be at the same time victims of imperialist exploitation by some economies and agents of imperialist exploitation for others. Thus, the global imperialist system is a pyramid-like structure comprising of several levels. Those middle-level economies fall in the category of sub-imperialism.

Imperialism is not identical with the notion of finance capital (i.e. Hilefrding’s influential thesis about the merge between banking and productive capital under the dominance of the former). It has been adequately proved that this fusion was not dominant neither during the early 1900s nor today (Bond 2010). On the contrary other forms of money capital (e.g. those in capital markets) can play a more influential role.

Finally, contrary to ‘globalisationism’, the basic unit of the global system of imperialism remains the national economy. Bukharin (1917) had accurately pointed out that capitalism is characterized by a permanent contradiction between nationalization and internationalization. Nationalisation denotes capitalism’s foundational unit. Internationalisation expresses capital’s inherent tendency to expand its accumulation. This permanent and unresolvable contradiction is expressed in tidal waves of internationalization and re-nationalisation (i.e. return to the foundational basis). On the basis of this contradiction antagonistic blocs of capitalist economies are being formed.

Following from the above-mentioned considerations, the primary task for a modern redefinition of the Marxist theory of imperialism is to designate the economic mechanism of imperialist exploitation. More specifically, it must specify how more developed capitalist economies can obtain transfers of value form less developed economies in all three main forms of international economic activities: (a) trade, (b) direct investments and (c) portfolio investments.


a) International Transfers of Value due to Trade

The fundamental mechanism of value transfers in international trade is this described by the absolute advantage theory as presented by A.Smith and K.Marx. According to this, any individual country that holds advantages in production costs at the beginning of the trade transactions will seek to maintain them in the same way as an individual capital struggles to prevail over its competitors in the domestic market (Shaikh 1980a, 1980b, 2016). This is a realistic conception of international economic relations that grasps accurately the existence of persistent disequilibria in international trade, uneven development and geopolitical antagonisms in stark contrast to the fictional world of free trade liberalism.

For Marxism, the absolute advantage thesis implies the existence of a mechanism of unequal exchange that results in value transfers from some countries to others. Needless to say, this hemorrhage impedes the formers’ economic development. Beginning with Emmanuel’s (1972) seminal contribution there is a heated debate within Marxist Political Economy on the form of this unequal exchange mechanism. Setting aside Emmanuel’s problematic ‘strict unequal exchange’ (i.e. unequal exchange due to differences in wage rates and consequently to rates of surplus-value) we will argue that the proper mechanism is that of ‘broad unequal exchange’ (i.e. unequal exchange due to different organic compositions of capital, that is levels of development).

The gist of the ‘broad unequal exchange’ argument lays in a basic tenet of Marx’s transformation process of labour values to prices: the equalization of the rates of profit transfers surplus value produced from capitalists with lower organic composition of capital (OCC) to those with higher OCC. This holds both within a national economy and within a multi-national common market like the EU). The conclusion is that when developed economies compete with less developed economies a transfer of value would occur from the latter to the former; thus, constituting a mechanism of international economic exploitation.


b) International Transfers of Value due to Foreign Direct Investments

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a different case. Although existing from the very beginning of capitalism, it increased significantly from the middle 20th century and onwards. Contrary to Dependency Theory’s empirical flawed empirical belief, FDI does not flow only from developed to less developed economies but also within these two broad categories. FDI means that a national capital makes a productive investment in another economy in order to extract surplus value. The predominant form of such investment is through multinational corporations (MNCs) which however has distinct national bases (metropole). The profits from an FDI can either be re-invested in the recipient economy or repatriated to the metropole. Only in the latter case they do constitute an international transfer of value. Both practices are common although there are characterized by significant historical variations. As Mandel (1978) accurately points out, there are various ways and accounting devices through which MNCs realise such international value transfers (e.g. transfer pricing).


c) International Transfers of Value due to Portfolio Investment

International Portfolio Investment involves financial transactions through banks (international loans) and capital markets (playing in foreign stock exchanges). In the case of international loans, the international value transfer from the debtor to the lender is obvious: loans are repaid plus interest. In the case of stock exchange gains the case is less obvious (as they can be ‘played’ again in the same capital market), but a usual practice – particularly since global financial deregulation – is to move them around the world.




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[1] Various indices have been proposed in order to measure globalization. Setting aside multi-measures (encompassing economic, social and political factors), the predominant economic measures focus on the proportions of foreign investment, international trade to GDP and the proportion of migration to population. This graph shows these trends.