December 18, 2020 at 10:36 am #245118
I’m a newbie to both the forum and CasP. Although I only stumbled across the CasP literature a couple of days ago (and have therefore only read a tiny fraction of it), I find the core arguments intriguing and persuasive. So much so that I am seriously considering using CasP as my main theoretical approach- even at this VERY late stage in my PhD research (I am currently in the early stages of writing up my findings!). Based on ethnographic fieldwork with anti-fracking activists and online (qualitative) data collection , my PhD research seeks to explore, understand and explain the fracking conflict in the UK, its political-economic drivers and the strategies deployed by key actors. I was planning to base my analysis on Marxist political economy and make my contribution to the literature on ecological distribution conflict. However, since discovering the CasP approach, I have been debating whether or not to throw my lot in with CasP (instead of Marxism). I’m not 100 per cent decided, but I think CasP might be a better fit for my case study.
Up to now, my research has been qualitative and theoretical. However, it is my understanding that CasP research usually contains a significant amount of quantitative analysis. At this late stage, I do not have the time to learn advanced econometrics or to do a wide-ranging quantitative analysis. However, I think it might be possible (and useful) to supplement the qualitative data I already have with some new quantitative analysis looking at changes in the differential capitalization of key oil and gas exploration firms (or the entities that own them) over the duration of this conflict. It is worth noting that many of the companies involved are speculative companies, often owned by bigger entities such as private equity firms and investment banks (See for example: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2015/12/16/revealed-cuadrilla-and-leading-fracking-firms-tax-haven-ownership/).
With this in mind, I am posting to get your thoughts on the following questions:
(a) Do you think it would be feasible to undertake this sort of analysis within say the next 2-3 months?;
(b) If you think (a) is feasible, it would be great to get some pointers on where I might find the relevant data and how best to go about analysing it?
(c) If you do not think (a) is feasible, what are your views on qualitative CasP research. Is such a thing possible?
Thanks a lot for your time. Any thoughts/comments would be greatly appreciated.
All the best,
December 18, 2020 at 11:03 am #245119
Just to add. I am not trained in political economy or econometrics. I am an interdiciplinary social researcher with an interest in the political economy of the environment and environmental conflict. I have received some basic training in quantitative social research methods, but I do not consider myself to be an expert. I have an MSc in sustainability and ecologcial economics from Leeds University where I took a couple of political economy classes. My undergraduate degree in in history, politics and international relations (Nottingham Trent University). I am undertaking my PhD at Manchester Met (in the UK). Thus far, I have published one paper (based on my MSc dissertation on a local currency): https://e-space.mmu.ac.uk/619743/1/BP%20Paper%20finalpdf.pdf
December 18, 2020 at 12:04 pm #245120
Here’s my two cents.
First, empirical work is slow going, especially if you’re new to it. You need to find the data, learn how to use it. And if you’re completely new to empirical work, learn the basics of data analysis. These are all things that take time to learn and you do not want to rush. If you had lots of experience, I’d say 2-3 months is lots of time. But since it sounds like you’re new to quantitative work, that’s very little time. You also have to keep in mind that you might not find what you wanted (i.e. the empirical evidence may contradict the arguments you’re making).
For all of these reasons, my gut feeling is that trying to do good-quality empirical work for your PhD thesis will take more time than you have. It may be better to delay this work for when you publish your PhD research. Then you can take the time you need.
I’m curious what other CasP researchers think.
December 18, 2020 at 6:45 pm #245124
Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. What you say makes a lot of sense. I would be interested to hear people’s thoughts on my third question regarding the possibility of using CasP as a theoretical frame to make sense of qualitative research data. I guess this would be difficult given the emphasis on quantifying power in terms of differential capitalization.
For the anti-fracking activists I interviewed during my fieldwork, a key goal of their campaigning was to sap investor confidence in the fracking companies causing their share prices to tumble. Although the activists weren’t so focused on market cap, I think it would be interesting to examine how key firms’ market caps (and share prices) responded to certain protests and other events that challenged pro-fracking narratives (e.g. fracking-induced earthquakes in Lancashire). Like you say though, this research will probably have to wait until after the PhD.
December 19, 2020 at 4:48 pm #245131
Thanks for your posts Adam.
Irrespective of your theoretical approach and whether you will be able to incorporate it in your PhD dissertation, empirical analysis is important. In many cases it’s essential. Without it, you often end up wandering in the dark, getting your cues from other blindfolded writers who in turn get theirs from other blindfolded experts. From my own experience, empirical analysis is important for the answers it gives, but more so for the questions it raises. It will likely change your research trajectory many times over, and in ways that cannot be achieved without it.
One of my former graduate students was once advised by a Marxist professor to not engaged in empirical work. Empirical work, the professor observed, can get you entangled (in other words, prove your Marxist theory wrong).
But what dogmatic adherents cannot risk, scientists must.
I think that DT Cochrane has done some work on the triangle of differential accumulation, risk and activism. Perhaps he can contribute something to this exchange.
- This reply was modified 1 month ago by Jonathan Nitzan.
December 19, 2020 at 8:34 pm #245133
Thank you for your reply. I fully agree with your comments on the importance of empirical research. I also think the Marxist professor’s advice was ridiculous. Perhaps I didn’t make this clear, but My PhD project is based on empirical research. I spent around a year in the field conducting participant observation with anti-fracking campaigners, conducting interviews, attending industry conferences, collecting company documents, newspaper articles, social media posts etc. These sorts of (qualitative) methods produce very different types of data than quantitative methods, but they are equally empirical. Both types of methods have their place. For example, quantitative methods could tell you that Foxconn have a huge problem with workers committing suicide in their factories. Qualitative methods could help you explain what is driving this situation.
I’m not sure what your thoughts are on this, but I am of the view that data rarely speaks for itself. It always has to be interpreted using theory – whether our own or someone else’s. Depending on the results of the empirical work, we can confirm, refine or discard our working theory (or produce a new one like you did with CasP!).
DT Cochrane’s work sounds really interesting. Thanks for recommending it. I’ll be sure to check it out.
p.s. apologies if I have misinterpreted your point about empirical research 🙂
December 19, 2020 at 11:52 pm #245134
You haven’t misinterpreted anything, Adam: qualitative research is as important as quantitative research, and facts always require theoretical interpretations — just as theory can rarely stand without empirical work.
December 21, 2020 at 11:17 am #245137
I couldn’t agree more Jonathan!
Like I said earlier, I am very new to the CasP approach and am still trying to decide where I stand on it. Reading the CasP literature has been an unnerving experience. This is because it has caused me to question many ideas and concepts which have been central to my thinking on political economy for a few years now (e.g. financialiation, fractions of capital, rent, capital as value in motion based on expanded production, circulation and distribution). To come to an informed conclusion, I am trying to read arguments both for and against CasP. With this in mind, I would be really grateful to get your thoughts on a particular critique of CasP made in a paper by Mazzen Labban (see link below):
Labban, M., 2010. Oil in parallax: Scarcity, markets, and the financialization of accumulation. Geoforum, 41(4), pp.541-552.
Labban’s paper, which is based on a Marxian understanding of financialization (a concept I know you find problematic), focuses on the role of financialization and production in accumulation in oil markets. While CasP is not the paper’s main focus, Labban dedicates a few paragraphs to explaining and critiquing CasP’s argument that ‘capital is only finance’ (p.549-50). I have copied and pasted the relevant paragraphs below. I have a feeling he may have misrepresented your position on the role of production in accumulation. With this in mind, I’d be really grateful to get your thoughts on Labban’s depiction of your work and the specific arguments he makes viz a viz accumulation in the oil industry. Thank you in advance:
To what extent has capital accumulation in the oil sector superseded the production and realization of value in the production and exchange of oil? Has capital accumulation been completely liberated from production? This seems to be the conclusion drawn from reading Nitzan and Bichler, whose rich work deserves a much closer and extended critique than the space of this article duly allows. For Nitzan and Bichler (2006, p. 18; see also Nitzan and Bichler, 2009), there is no ‘real’ value lurking behind fictitious capital. Fictitious capital is real capital; real value is market value. The value of a corporation on the stock market, its market capitalization, derives from perceptions about its ‘ability to generate profit’ rather than the value of its material assets, which is practically impossible to determine. Accumulation, on this view, is not amassment of material stock for productive purposes, but accumulation of paper assets whose value derives from the stock market. Wealth takes the form of ‘financial claims on expected future earnings’ (Bichler and Nitzan, 2004, p.256). Modern ownership is ‘only financial’—‘capital is finance, and only finance’ (Nitzan and Bichler, 2002, p. 36).
Capital to Nitzan and Bichler is power, not simply an economic process. Dominant capital is the coalition of capitalists that succeeds in achieving differential accumulation, i.e. ensures that its profits and assets (market capitalization) not simply grow in absolute terms, but grow faster than the average. Dominant capital achieves differential accumulation through two primary methods: breadth, increasing the size of the corporation (measured by number of employees); and depth, the measure of dollar earnings (profit and/or interest) relative to the size of the corporation. The first has been carried increasingly through merger and acquisition rather than greenfield investment, while the latter through ‘differential inflation’, or stagflation, raising prices faster than the average rather than increasing production or cost cutting.
There are two contradictions in this argument that prevent it from making the salto mortale out of material production. First, although ownership and wealth are located entirely in the stock market, where the value of a corporation derives entirely from the market perception of its ability to generate profit in the future, this very ability is associated with the corporation’s power over material production and exchange, exercised through corporate amalgamation. Indeed, this is where dominant capital appears as political power and not just an economic process, in its ability to break ‘ownership envelopes’ and expand its control over productive capacity and employment, as well as its ability to induce differential inflation while cutting production (see Nitzan and Bichler, 2009, pp. 327–333). Second, although production is written out from the process of accumulation, oil companies are still construed as buyers of crude oil (traders, to be accurate, according to the analysis above) though not producers (Nitzan and Bichler, 2006, p. 70). This implies that oil has to be produced somewhere at some time and that investment in the production of crude oil and refined products has to take place (mostly by major oil companies in the latter case). Production however is only the first act in the generation of profit, which is only complete in the second act of realization in exchange—the critical moment at which the commodity is sold. Hence, oil companies must also be sellers of oil and refined products. This act is necessary for Nitzan and Bichler’s argument regarding inflation as a strategy of accumulation, for this must imply the sale of the commodity at some time, no matter how much the profits of oil companies have come to depend on high prices rather than volume of sale.
Oil companies continuously invest in upstream and downstream production and reserve expansion, mobilizing placements as finance along with purely financial investments. The relation between finance and investment has changed over time, but so far the one has not replaced the other. To take one example, ExxonMobil’s investments (expenditures on capital and exploration) grew in absolute terms with the surge in oil price in recent years, but have changed only slightly relative to income (Table 1).34 Most remarkably, stock buyback grew in relation to income and to investment in both absolute and relative terms. The greatest increase is in the growth of stock buyback relative to stock sales: less funds are raised from sale of stock relative to borrowing on financial markets (debt in 2008 remained the same as in 2003, around $9.5 billion) at the same time that more income goes to buy back stock and to shareholders as dividends in comparison with investment.35 The general trend towards finance is reflected in the increase in the ratio of financing (debt, dividends and buybacks) to investment expenditures (greenfield and equity), keeping in mind that the boundaries between the two have become increasingly blurred.
December 21, 2020 at 9:55 pm #245138
Labban asks: “Has capital accumulation been completely liberated from production? This seems to be the conclusion drawn from reading Nitzan and Bichler.”
I have no idea where Labban concocts this claim from. It certainly doesn’t come from us, or from any CasP work I know of.
Our research reiterates, again and again, that capital is not about production, but about the control of production. But that doesn’t delink capital from production. Indeed, the very purpose of CasP research – our own as well as that of others — is to understand the ways in which capital creorders – or creates the order of – society, including its productive activity.
Now, given that capital is partly about the control of production, it is rather obvious – although not to Labban — that it cannot be ‘liberated’ from it.
But, then, maybe I misunderstand Labban’s misunderstanding….
December 22, 2020 at 7:22 pm #245142
Thanks Jonathan. I thought it was a misrepresentation of your position, but it’s really useful to have you confirm that.
December 22, 2020 at 9:47 pm #245143
We just posted a new WPCASP, titled ‘The Limits of Capitalized Power: A 2020 Update’ http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/663/. The paper shows the significance of strategic sabotage for the distribution of income between capital and labour and between large and small firms. The purpose of strategic sabotage is to control production (among other things), so as to redistribute income and assets. If capitalists ‘liberated’ themselves from this process, how could they control it?
- If you need the Full Monty, the place to start is our 2009 book: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/259/
- A shorter up-to-date summary is offered in this botched interview: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/640/
- A 2018 summary of CasP research — including the research of others — is given here: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/536/
December 23, 2020 at 7:16 pm #245151
Thanks for the suggested readings Jonathan. They should keep me busy over the Christmas break! I hope you don’t mind, but I have a few more questions about CasP:
1. Do you know of any papers/books that analyse the crisis of 2007-08 through the lens of CasP? Like many of my generation, my interest in political economy was sparked during this period. However, I’ve only really read Marxist, post-Keynesian and classical analyses of the financial crisis so would be interested to see how different a CasP analysis might be.
2. If I understand correctly, a lot of CasP research focuses on large publicly listed corporations, using their market capitalizations as a proxy for power. How would you go about assessing the power of organisations for which market cap data doesn’t exist (e.g. privately owned corporations, hedge funds, private equity firms etc.). If you have answered this question elsewhere, please could you direct me to the relevant paper/chapter?
3. During the course of my research on the UK fracking conflict, I learned that it is very common for large private equity firms to invest in small oil/gas exploration companies that have yet to make money or be listed on a stock exchange. Sometimes they take equity in a firm that is small/medium-sized and already listed on a stock exchange. I’m thinking aloud here (so aren’t necessarily expecting a solid answer), but I’m just wondering how easy it is to do a CasP analysis when the powerful/controlling interest is a private entity (i.e. a private equity firm) who own a public company that is weak on paper with a low market cap?
Apologies if that last question is a bit rambling. Like I said, I’m thinking aloud and not expecting a definitive answer.
private equity firm has lots of money and political connections
December 23, 2020 at 8:50 pm #245153
1. Do you know of any papers/books that analyse the crisis of 2007-08 through the lens of CasP?
‘Systemic Fear, Modern Finance, and the Future of Capitalism’ (2010) http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/289/. This paper elicited a critique and reply here: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/314/ and eventually led to our ‘CasP Model of the Stock Market’ below.
‘The Asymptotes of Power’ (2012) http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/336/
‘Can Capitalists Afford Recovery? Three Views on Economic Policy in Times of Crisis’ (2014) http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/414/
‘A CasP Model of the Stock Market’ (2016) http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/494/. Additional work on the subject by Hager and Baines: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/599/ and McMahon: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/643/
2. How would you go about assessing the power of organisations for which market cap data doesn’t exist
Unlisted assets, although having no observed market value, can be examined through estimates of sales, markups and profits. I’m not aware of CasP research on this subject.
3. [H]ow easy it is to do a CasP analysis when the powerful/controlling interest is a private entity (i.e. a private equity firm) who own a public company that is weak on paper with a low market cap?
When small assets are part of larger firms or conglomerates, they are hard to analyze independently – not only for CasP researchers, but for anyone. James McMahon grappled with this question in his 2015 PhD on the large entertainment conglomerates and their movie subsidiaries http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/463/.
January 1, 2021 at 6:26 pm #245178
Apologies for the late reply. It’s been a hectic week! Thank you for answering my questions and sharing the relevant readings. I look forward to working my way through them.
December 23, 2020 at 2:45 pm #245149
Hi all, I’m a newbie to both the forum and CasP. Although I only stumbled across the CasP literature a couple of days ago (and have therefore only read a tiny fraction of it), I find the core arguments intriguing and persuasive. So much so that I am seriously considering using CasP as my main theoretical approach- even at this VERY late stage in my PhD research (I am currently in the early stages of writing up my findings!).
Welcome to the site. Always nice to see new people show curiosity about CasP research.
I could talk about my empirical research experiences for days. I also do think your thinking about the back-and-forth relationship between abstract theory and empirical data is meaningful.
To keep my thoughts focused I’ll try to give some practical advice to your questions:
(a) Do you think it would be feasible to undertake this sort of analysis within say the next 2-3 months?
Like Blair said, it depends. One way it depends is from the way this empirical work will integrate with your project. Let’s take a worse case scenario, where you find a bunch of interesting things and they contradict a lot of your working theories. When we work in pure theory, this scenario can’t occur because nobody intentionally makes a broken theoretical model. Additionally, my long experience with political theory is that academia eschews theoretical vacuums. We are often pressured to have a theory explain everything, or as much as possible. With what Marxism has become in the last 150 years, this pressure is high.
The empirical work can be a release valve, whereby you use the empirical work test hypotheses. These results can be unexpected or even hard to understand, but the trick is to adopt a different temperament to new research. Publication of negative or partially-negative results are everywhere in the sciences, but almost nowhere in the social sciences. Thus, could the empirical work be a way for you to gauge your confidence in what you are claiming? Are there arguments that require qualification? Is there evidence that existing theories of your project don’t easily overlap the facts?
(b) If you think (a) is feasible, it would be great to get some pointers on where I might find the relevant data and how best to go about analysing it?
If there is specific data that needs to be downloaded, you can always inquire on this forum. Some of us have access to financial databases (also check your university subscriptions) and some data gathering would take less than an hour of anyone’s time. Also don’t be shy about the smallest or simplest of questions. When I first started, I was amazed to learn how to create moving averages in Excel–this was taught to me in Jonathan’s course.
Have specific questions you want to answer. This is very important if your time is limited. Free-form quantitative research is very fun–you can gather and play with data–but it eats up a lot of time and often it does not reveal anything straight forward. Before I worked on my research on Hollywood cinema I tried to get some data on coffee bean prices from around the world. I found some but I had no theory or hypothesis I wanted to test. Therefore, I was sitting at home making time series (moving averages, rates of change) that looked like they said something (lines went up, lines went down), but I didn’t even know why I needed data on coffee bean prices in the first place.
December 23, 2020 at 8:22 pm #245152
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it!
You have given me lots tof food for thought, so I think I might need some time to reflect before I respond in full.
One thing I am certain of is that I would love to get my hands on market capitalization data for an Australian mining/infrastructure firm called AJ Lucas (going back 10 years or so):
I suspect this data is available from Compustat Global, but I do not have access via my institution. If anyone can help me gain access I’d be very grateful 🙂
January 1, 2021 at 8:00 pm #245179
Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions last week. You made some really important points, which I will certainly take on board. Having pondered my options, I have decided that I will try to incorporate some quantitative analysis into my project. However, given time constraints, this analysis will have to constitute a small portion of my project.
I mentioned previously that, during my fieldwork, I spent several months with activists who were campaigning against a company whose major shareholder (AJ Lucas) is listed on the Australian stock exchange. A key aim of the campaign was to drive down the company’s stock price by delaying construction on the site and driving up costs.
I recently came across a really interesting CasP paper by DT Cochrane that examined the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on BP’s differential accumulation:
I would like to attempt something similar. In my case, to examine how specific events (activist blockades, fracking-induced earthquakes and eventually a moratorium) impacted the parent company’s differential market capitalization over 2-3 year period (relative to the Australian oil and gas industry and the S&P 500).
As far as I can gather, this data is available from the following places:
If anyone has a subscription to any of these databases and would be willing to help me gain access to the relevant market cap data, I’d be really grateful. Thanks in advance.
January 1, 2021 at 9:46 pm #245181
A long history of non-US market-cap data will be trickier. I might be able to help, but I would need to check what my remote access can get me.
In the meantime, I found stock price data going back to 2000. Available here and also attached: https://www.marketindex.com.au/asx/ajl
A measure of differential price is possible, but it does come with the caveat that you don’t know what is happening with Common Shares Outstanding (CSHO).
A quick route to S&P 500 historical data is from Schiller, which is also used in BN’s papers on systemic fear: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/494/
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January 2, 2021 at 7:23 pm #245187
Thank’s a lot JMC! That’s really helpful. If you can get hold of the Australian market cap data, that would be great. Ideally, I’d like to have it going back ten years. However, really, I’m most interested in the last three-five years. Don’t go to too much trouble though. If the data is too difficult to come by, what are your thoughts on using the stock price as a next-best indicator?
Thanks also for linking me to Shiller’s S&P500 historical data. I’ve had a look at it, but I cannot seem to locate the market cap data in this file. Perhaps it’s staring me in the face, and I just don’t know what I’m looking for! That said, I’ve also had a look at BN’s data file for the systemic fear paper. I can see that they have market cap data (for non-financial corporations). However, this only goes as far as 2015, and I’m most interested in 2016 onwards. One thing I noticed is that, in the paper, BN say that they got their market cap data from Global Insight (rather than Shiller). Perhaps that explains why I couldn’t find the data in the Shiller file?
Thanks again for all your help (and apologies for all the questions!).
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