RRPE Annual Best Paper Award

Each year, the RRPE editorial board selects the best paper from the among those papers published in the previous volume year. The winner receives a check from Sage. Free access to the full version of the current award-winning paper is available for 60 days on the SAGE website.

Current Recipient

2015: “Unproductive Activity and Endogenous Technological Change in a Marxian Model of Economic Reproduction and Growth” by Erik K. Olsen, 47(1): 34-55. This paper integrates unproductive activity into a Marxist growth model based on Marx’s reproduction schemes. Labor extraction and technological change are related to the production and distribution of surplus and thus are endogenous. Unproductive labor is shown to have potentially contradictory effects. It can squeeze profits and reduce growth or increase work intensity and develop productivity enhancing technological change, which increase profitability and growth. Empirical evidence indicates that both effects occurred in the postwar United States. Marx’s reproduction schemes are also shown to rely on a classical growth dynamic in which the profit and savings rates determine the rate of growth.

Previous Recipients

2014: “Does the State Benefit Labor? A Cross-Country Comparison of the Net Social Wage” by Thanasis Maniatis, 46(1): 15-34. This article discusses the empirical literature on the net transfer between labor and the state. It also provides international comparisons of the net social wage in the United States and other advanced capitalist economies on a consistent basis. The results indicate that the welfare state in the United States differs significantly in its impact on the income of labor from other advanced capitalist countries. This claim is based on the fact that the net social wage ratio in the United States is much smaller than that of other countries when all are estimated by the same empirical method.

2013: “Capitalist Class Agency and the New Deal Order: Against the Notion of a Limited Capital-Labor Accord” by Richard McIntyre and Michael Hillard, 45(2): 129-148. In the United States the apparent crisis of neoliberalism has called forth nostalgia for the regulated capitalism of the post World War II era. In particular, radical economists’ thinking continues to be influenced by the notion of a “limited postwar capital-labor accord.” But a careful accounting of historial scholarship since the 1980s shows the stylized thinking found in social structures of accumulation (SSA) literature and radical political economy generally to be inaccurate and misleading: inaccurate because it creates an image of a golden age that never was, and misleading in that it suggests a politics of social cooperation rather than worker militancy. In this paper we show that capitalists as a class never accepted anything resembling such an accord.

2012: “The Growth of Unproductive Activities, the Rate of Profit, and the Phase-Change of the U.S. Economy” by Dimitris Paitaridis and Lefteris Tsoulfidis, 44(2): 213-233. This paper by using the categories of productive and unproductive labor and by extending and further elaborating the data series utilized in Shaikh and Tonak (1994) reveals a sharp expansion of the unproductive activities in the U.S. economy during the period 1964-2007. The combination of growing productivity and the stagnant or even falling real wages of productive workers increased the rate of surplus value in the recent decades to unprecedented highs. As a consequence, the general rate of profit from the early 1980s onwards was also rising until the last years of our analysis; meanwhile the net rate of profit remained at levels much lower than those of the 1960s and the slightly rising trend during the post-1980s has been already reversed. The patterns of these crucial variables reveal startling similarities with the onset of the slowdown that started in the mid-to-late 1960s.

2011: “Value Theory in an Incomplete Capitalist System: Reprioritizing the Centrality of Social Labor in Marxist Political Economy” by Bill Dunn, 43(4), 488-505. The centrality of social labor to Marxist epistemology and the need to understand relations between capitalist production, strictly defined, and incompletely marketized forms of work require a relatively broad concept of value. Not simply a theory of price, the utility of the concept of value lies precisely in its ability to mediate between understanding the abstract truths of labor’s centrality to social life and the complex concreteness of the real world economy. The logical necessity and practical utility of the proposed interpretation is illustrated in relation to state and domestic labor.

2010: “Water, Health, and the Commodification Debate” by Patrick Bond, 42(4): 445-464. Conflicts in the water sector are now well-known, and also increasingly researched by economists, particularly in relation to major ideological differences over state-run versus privatized municipal systems. A major dividing line is over how to access and sustain the financing required to expand and maintain municipal grids. In the context especially of third world urban processes, a crucial determinant is whether market-based pricing of water can generate health benefits to justify new capital investments. Such benefits have typically required strong public systems that offer adequate water supply (with sufficient proximity to source) at an affordable price. A variety of financial and fiscal pressures emerged since the 1980s, leaving full cost recovery as the core practice required by international aid agencies, multilateral financiers, and multinational corporations. Those firms were attracted by high potential profits which, ultimately, could not be realized (in part because of currency deterioration and profit repatriation problems), and hence systems were not maintained or expanded, and health benefits not realized. As commodification of water spread during the era of globalization, so too did an international civil society network demanding—and often winning— decommodification of water and deglobalization of water-capital, returning service delivery to local public institutions, often on grounds of improved public health.

2009: “Financialization and Changes in the Social Relations along Commodity Chains: The Case of Coffee” by Susan A. Newman, 41(4): 539-59. Abstract: This article examines distributional implications of the restructuring of international coffee markets that has occurred since the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 and market liberalization in coffee producing countries under structural adjustment programs. It is argued that increased financial investment on international commodity exchanges, together with market liberalization, have given rise to opportunities and challenges for actors in the coffee industry. Given the heterogeneity of market actors, these tend to exacerbate inequalities already present in the structure of production and marketing of coffee.

2008: “Globalization? No Question! Foreign Direct Investment and Labor Commanded” by Massimo De Angelis (University of East London, Dockland Campus) and David Harvie (University of Leicester), 40(4): 429-44. Abstract: Skeptics of the globalization thesis argue that most Third World countries are “virtually written off the map” (Hirst and Thompson 1999) in terms of foreign direct investment and trade. The authors reexamine the empirical evidence on international investment, drawing on the concept of labor commanded. Recalculating foreign direct investment flows in terms of labor-commanded hours instead of U.S. dollars, the authors find developing countries to be highly integrated into the global economy.

2007: “Saving, Spending, and Self-Control: Cognition versus Consumer Culture” by Martha Starr (American University), 39(2): 214-229. Abstract: Recent economic literature puts forth “behavioral” perspectives on self-control as a means of understanding oddities of consumer behavior: spending too much, saving too little, borrowing too much on costly credit cards. This article argues that the behavioral emphasis on cognition overlooks the extent to which issues of self-control are framed, elaborated, and sustained as problematics of contemporary consumer culture. As such, they are rooted as much in the social, cultural, and economic dynamics of capitalism as they are in the human mind.