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Paul Sweezy

Paul Sweezy

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Paul Marlor Sweezy was a Marxist economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

, political activist, publisher, and founding editor
The term editor may refer to:As a person who does editing:* Editor in chief, having final responsibility for a publication's operations and policies* Copy editing, making formatting changes and other improvements to text...

 of the long-running magazine Monthly Review
Monthly Review
Monthly Review is an independent Marxist journal published 11 times per year in New York City.-History:The publication was founded by Harvard University economics instructor Paul Sweezy, who became the first editor...

. He is best remembered for his contributions to economic theory as one of the leading Marxist economists of the second half of the 20th Century.

Early years

Paul Sweezy was born on April 10, 1910 in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, the youngest of three sons of Everett B. Sweezy, a vice-president of First National Bank of New York. His mother, Caroline Wilson Sweezy, was a graduate of Goucher College
Goucher College
Goucher College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts college located in the northern Baltimore suburb of Towson in unincorporated Baltimore County, Maryland, on a 287 acre campus. The school has approximately 1,475 undergraduate students studying in 31 majors and six interdisciplinary...

 in Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...


Sweezy attended Phillips Exeter Academy
Phillips Exeter Academy
Phillips Exeter Academy is a private secondary school located in Exeter, New Hampshire, in the United States.Exeter is noted for its application of Harkness education, a system based on a conference format of teacher and student interaction, similar to the Socratic method of learning through asking...

 and went on to Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and was editor of The Harvard Crimson
The Harvard Crimson
The Harvard Crimson, the daily student newspaper of Harvard University, was founded in 1873. It is the only daily newspaper in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is run entirely by Harvard College undergraduates...

, graduating magna cum laude in 1932. Having completed his undergraduate coursework, Sweezy spent the 1931-32 academic year taking courses at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

, traveling to Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 to study on spring break. It was at this time that Sweezy was first exposed to Marxian economic ideas, causing his interests to shift from journalism to economics. He made the acquaintance of Joan Robinson
Joan Robinson
Joan Violet Robinson FBA was a post-Keynesian economist who was well known for her knowledge of monetary economics and wide-ranging contributions to economic theory...

 and other young left-wing British economic thinkers of the day.

Upon his return to the United States, Sweezy again enrolled at Harvard, from which he received his doctorate degree
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in 1937. Sweezy was deeply impacted through his participation in a graduate seminar conducted by the economist Joseph Schumpeter
Joseph Schumpeter
Joseph Alois Schumpeter was an Austrian-Hungarian-American economist and political scientist. He popularized the term "creative destruction" in economics.-Life:...

, becoming fast friends for life with the conservative thinker.

While at Harvard, Sweezy founded the academic journal
Academic journal
An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation for scrutiny of new research, and the critique of existing research...

 The Review of Economic Studies
Review of Economic Studies
The Review of Economic Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal in economics. It was established in 1933 and is published by Wiley-Blackwell. It is the eighth-ranked economics journal in overall impact according to the ranking of Kalaitzidakis et al...

 and published essays on imperfect competition
Imperfect competition
In economic theory, imperfect competition is the competitive situation in any market where the conditions necessary for perfect competition are not satisfied...

, the role of expectations in the determination of supply and demand, and the problem of economic stagnation
Economic stagnation
Economic stagnation or economic immobilism, often called simply stagnation or immobilism, is a prolonged period of slow economic growth , usually accompanied by high unemployment. Under some definitions, "slow" means significantly slower than potential growth as estimated by experts in macroeconomics...


Sweezy became an instructor at Harvard in 1938. It was there that he helped establish a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers
American Federation of Teachers
The American Federation of Teachers is an American labor union founded in 1916 that represents teachers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; local, state and federal employees; higher education faculty and staff, and nurses and other healthcare professionals...

, the Harvard Teachers' Union. In this interval also Sweezy wrote one of his most important works of economics, The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942), a book which summarized the labor theory of value
Labor theory of value
The labor theories of value are heterodox economic theories of value which argue that the value of a commodity is related to the labor needed to produce or obtain that commodity. The concept is most often associated with Marxian economics...

 of Marx and his followers. The book was the first in English to dealt with such questions such as the transformation problem
Transformation problem
In 20th century discussions of Karl Marx's economics the transformation problem is the problem of finding a general rule to transform the "values" of commodities into the "competitive prices" of the marketplace...


From 1942 to 1945, Sweezy worked for the research and analysis division of the Office of Strategic Services
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

. Sweezy was sent to London, where he worked as an analyst of British economic policy for the US government. Sweezy was the recipient of the Social Science Research Council Demobilization Award at war's end.

Sweezy wrote extensively for the liberal press during the post-war period, including such publications as The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

 and The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

, among others. He also wrote a book, Socialism, published in 1949, as well as a number of shorter pieces which were collected in book form as The Present as History in 1953.

Magazine founder

In 1949, Sweezy and Leo Huberman
Leo Huberman
Leo Huberman was an American socialist writer. In 1949 he founded and co-edited Monthly Review with Paul Sweezy.-Works:* Cuba: A revolution revisited* Vietnam: The Endless War* Socialism in Cuba...

 founded a new magazine called Monthly Review
Monthly Review
Monthly Review is an independent Marxist journal published 11 times per year in New York City.-History:The publication was founded by Harvard University economics instructor Paul Sweezy, who became the first editor...

, using money from historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 and literary critic F. O. Matthiessen
F. O. Matthiessen
Francis Otto Matthiessen was an educator, scholar and literary critic influential in the fields of American literature and American studies.-Scholarly work:...

. The first issue appeared in May of that year. The magazine, established in the midst of the American Red Scare, a self-described "independent socialist magazine" which closely resembled the Communist Party's theoretical monthly, Political Affairs
Political Affairs Magazine
Political Affairs Magazine is a monthly, online Marxist publication. It aims to provide an analysis of events from a working class point of view. Political Affairs Magazine is a publication of the Communist Party USA. It was founded in 1944 upon the closure of its predecessor, The Communist, which...

, in form and content while moving away from a rigid communist political line.

Monthly Review rapidly expanded into the production of books and pamphlets through its publishing arm, Monthly Review Press.

Over the years Monthly Review published articles by a diverse array of voices, including material by Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

, Che Guevara
Che Guevara
Ernesto "Che" Guevara , commonly known as el Che or simply Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist...

, and Joan Robinson.

In 1954 New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

 Attorney General Louis C. Wyman
Louis C. Wyman
Louis Crosby Wyman was a U.S. Representative and, for four days, a Senator from New Hampshire.-Early career:...

 subpoenaed Sweezy and made inquiries into his political beliefs and associations, demanding to know the names of his political associates. Sweezy refused to comply, citing his First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 right of freedom of expression. He was cited for contempt of court
Contempt of court
Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority...

, but the US Supreme Court overturned that citation in 1957.


Sweezy was active in a wide range of progressive causes, including the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, the National Lawyers Guild
National Lawyers Guild
The National Lawyers Guild is an advocacy group in the United States "dedicated to the need for basic and progressive change in the structure of our political and economic system . ....

, the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee
Fair Play for Cuba Committee
The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was an activist group set up in New York in April 1960. The FPCC's purpose was to provide grassroots support for the Cuban Revolution against attacks by the United States government, once Fidel Castro began openly admitting his commitment to Marxism and began the...

. He was the chairman of the Committee in Defense of Carl Marzani
Carl Marzani
Carl Aldo Marzani was an American leftwing political activist and publisher. He was successively a Communist Party organizer, volunteer soldier in the Spanish Civil War, United States federal intelligence official, documentary filmmaker, author, and publisher...

 and was particularly active fighting against the prosecution of members of the Communist Party under the Smith Act
Smith Act
The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 is a United States federal statute that set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S...


An outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, Sweezy was a prominent supporter of Bertrand Russell's
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 International War Crimes Tribunal.

Contributions to economics

Sweezy's first formally published paper on economics was a 1934 article entitled "Professor Pigou’s Theory of Unemployment," published in the Journal of Political Economy
Journal of Political Economy
The Journal of Political Economy is an academic journal run by economists at the University of Chicago and published every two months by the University of Chicago Press. The journal publishes articles in both theoretical economics and empirical economics...

 in 1934. Over the rest of the decade Sweezy writing prolifically on economics-related topics, publishing some 25 articles and reviews. Sweezy did pioneering work in the fields of expectations and oligopoly
An oligopoly is a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers . The word is derived, by analogy with "monopoly", from the Greek ὀλίγοι "few" + πόλειν "to sell". Because there are few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others...

 in these years, introducing for the first time the concept of the kinked demand curve" in the determination of oligopoly pricing.

In 1966, Sweezy published Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order with Paul Baran
Paul A. Baran
Paul Alexander Baran was an American economist known for his Marxist views. In 1951 Baran was promoted to full professor at Stanford University and Baran was the only tenured Marxist economist in the United States until his death in 1964...

. The book set forth the idea of stagnation theory, also called secular stagnation. The main dilemma modern capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 would face, they argued, would be how to sell the economic surpluses created by capital accumulation
Capital accumulation
The accumulation of capital refers to the gathering or amassing of objects of value; the increase in wealth through concentration; or the creation of wealth. Capital is money or a financial asset invested for the purpose of making more money...

. Increases in marketing
Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments...

, defense spending and various forms of debt
A debt is an obligation owed by one party to a second party, the creditor; usually this refers to assets granted by the creditor to the debtor, but the term can also be used metaphorically to cover moral obligations and other interactions not based on economic value.A debt is created when a...

 would tend to alleviate the falling rate of profit foreseen by Marx. However, they believed that these remedies to capital's difficulties were inherently limited and that monopoly capital
State monopoly capitalism
The theory of state monopoly capitalism was initially a Marxist doctrine popularised after World War II. Lenin had claimed in 1916 that World War I had transformed laissez-faire capitalism into monopoly capitalism, but he did not publish any extensive theory about the topic...

 would tend toward economic stagnation.

This book is regarded as the cornerstone of Sweezy's contribution to Marxian economics
Marxian economics
Marxian economics refers to economic theories on the functioning of capitalism based on the works of Karl Marx. Adherents of Marxian economics, particularly in academia, distinguish it from Marxism as a political ideology and sociological theory, arguing that Marx's approach to understanding the...


Death and legacy

Paul Sweezy died February 27, 2004. He was 93 years old at the time of his death.

Sweezy was lauded by economist and public intellectual John Kenneth Galbraith
John Kenneth Galbraith
John Kenneth "Ken" Galbraith , OC was a Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian and an institutionalist, a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism...

 as "the most noted American Marxist scholar" of the late 20th Century. He was also called "the best that Exeter and Harvard can produce" and regarded as "among the most promising economists of his generation" by Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

-winning economist Paul Samuelson
Paul Samuelson
Paul Anthony Samuelson was an American economist, and the first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Swedish Royal Academies stated, when awarding the prize, that he "has done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in...


Further reading


  • Monopoly and Competition in the English Coal Trade, 1550-1850. [1938] Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.
  • The Theory of Capitalist Development. London: D. Dobson, 1946.
  • Socialism. New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1949.
  • The Present as History: Reviews on Capitalism and Socialism. (1953, 1962).
  • Modern Capitalism and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
  • The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. London: New Left Books, 1976.
  • Post-Revolutionary Society: Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980.
  • Four lectures on Marxism. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981).
  • "The Limits of Imperialism." In Chilcote, Ronald H. (ed.) Imperialism: Theoretical Directions. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.

With Leo Huberman

  • F.O. Matthiessen, 1902-1950. New York: S.N., 1950.
  • Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1960.
  • Regis Debray and Latin American Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968.
  • Socialism in Cuba. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.
  • The Communist Manifesto after 100 Years: New translation by Paul M. Sweezy of Karl Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" and Friedrich Engels' "Principles of Communism." New York: Modern Reader, 1964.
  • Vietnam: The Endless War: From Monthly Review, 1954-1970. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.

With Harry Magdoff

  • The Dynamics of US Capitalism: Corporate Structure, Inflation, Credit, Gold, and the Dollar. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
  • Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Chile. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
  • The End of Prosperity. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
  • The Deepening Crisis of US Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981.
  • Stagnation and the Financial Explosion. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987.
  • The Irreversible Crisis: Five Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988.

With others

  • Monopoly Capital
    Monopoly Capital
    Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order is an essay from 1966 by Paul Sweezy and Paul A. Baran. It made a major contribution to Marxist theory by shifting attention from the assumption of a competitive economy to monopolistic aspects of giant corporations that dominate...

    : An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order. With Paul A. Baran. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966.
  • On the Transition to Socialism. With Charles Bettelheim. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

External links