World Perspectives 2016: Chapter III. The World Economy: Facing the Next (Even Worse) Great Recession

Note of the Editorial Board: The following document is an extensive study of the present state of the world economy and the global class struggle. It contains 55 figures, 9 tables and one diagram. The figures can only be viewed in the pdf version of the document here for technical reasons.




28.          As we have pointed out in previous annual World Perspective documents on the, the present cycle is characterized by a particularly depressed level of capital accumulation and capitalist value production. Marxist economists like Michael Roberts are therefore right in characterizing the state of the economy since 2008 as a Long Depression. [1] This depression is reflected in the low level of the global rate of profit year-over-year (% yoy) which, based on the projection of Figure 24, is about to cross once again into negative percentages as last happened in the second half of 2007.


Figure 24. Global Corporate Profits 1998-2015 [2]


29.          The downturn of the rate of profit leads to a slower process of capital accumulation as well as of production. While this process is uneven (see more on this below), we can clearly identify a global downturn trend which is about to turn into another recession – a process to which we already drew attention in the RCIT’s last World Perspectives document released in January 2015. In that document we wrote “All in all, there are strong indications that 2015 will not “finally” see a recovery but rather another recession. We believe that this recession will be even worse and deeper than the one of 2008/09, which was already the worst recession since 1929.[3] The recent events in stock markets – both in China and in the West – indicate that our prediction was correct. While most imperialist economic institutions still promise that 2016 will be better than 2015, they cannot deny the downturn trend of 2015. Recent statistics from JP Morgan and the IMF demonstrate this trend (see Figure 25 and 26). It’s not without reason that big financial capitalists like George Soros are getting pretty nervous: “When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.[4] The Royal Bank of Scotland has warned investors about a “cataclysmic year ahead” and advises them: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. (…) In a crowded hall, exit doors are small. Risks are high. (…) be cautious in 2016. We have been warning in past weeklies that this all looks similar to 2008. We dust off our old mantra: this is about ‘return of capital, not return on capital’.[5] Similarly Jacques Attali – a former economic adviser to the France’s President François Mitterrand and the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – recently warned that “the world is approaching a great economic catastrophe”. [6]


Figure 25. Global Manufacturing Output 2013–2015 [7]


Figure 26. World Trade, Industrial Production, and Manufacturing PMI (Three-month moving average; annualized percent change, unless noted otherwise) [8]


30.          The IMF cautiously commented in its latest World Economic Outlook: “Global industrial production remained weak through 2014, consistent with the uneven strength in demand across major economies and groups of countries, and slowed markedly over the course of the first half of 2015, reflecting some building of inventories in late 2014 and early 2015 but also lower investment growth. World trade volumes also slowed in the first half of 2015. Weak investment worldwide, particularly in mining, as well as the trade spillovers of China’s growth transition, has likely contributed to this slowing.[9] However, some bourgeois economists think that the capitalist world economy has already entered a new recession. A website related to the Centre for Economic Policy Research recently published an article which calculates, based on the latest data from the International Monetary Fund, that in fact the global economy contracted massively in 2015: “the IMF world economic outlook database reports a reduction of Gross Planet Product (GPP) for the year 2015 by -3,8 trillion dollar (-4.9%). A nominal reduction of GPP of this size has occurred only once since 1980 (the starting year of the IMF database), namely at the start of the Great Recession when GPP contracted by -5.3%[10] (see also Table 6). Likewise the renowned bourgeois economist Robert J. Samuelson recently published an article in the Washington Post titled “Is the next recession on its way?[11]




Table 6. Years with nominal contractions of Gross Planet Product (1980-2015) [12]


Year                                                       Contraction in Percent

1982                                                       -2.0%

1997                                                       -0.2%

1998                                                       -0.6%

2001                                                       -0.5%

2009                                                       -5.3%

2015                                                       -4.9%




31.          A historical comparison with the crisis in the 1930s demonstrates the severity of the current depression. Two bourgeois economists have calculated that global industrial output has now fallen behind the post-1929 crash performance. 90 months after the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, the recovery of world industrial production is actually less than it was at the comparable point in time after the beginning of the 1929 recession (see Figure 27).


Figure 27. Comparison of the Post-2008 and the Post-1929 Depression (The y-axis represents the numbers of months that have elapsed since the beginning of each curve.) [13]


32.          Given the limited amount of publicly-available data, it is currently difficult for us to say if the next Great Recession has already begun or, if not, when exactly it will start. However, we think the coming recession is likely to be even more severe than that of 2008/09. This is our opinion for three main reasons. First, the coming recession – in contrast to the previous one – seems to be spreading to and assuming a severe character in all major regions of the capitalist world economy. Secondly, financial speculation – a central trigger for the Great Recession in 2008/09 – has not decreased since then. In fact, today the financial bubble is bigger than it was in 2007. And third, corporate and public debt has risen in nearly all imperialist countries, which is why the bourgeoisie will not be able to use massive state-capitalist interventions yet another time to help their corporations escape the worst consequences of the recession simply by raising the national debt.


33.          The 2008/09 recession was characterized by a sharp slump of the economy in the old imperialist countries, while the new imperialist powers, China and Russia, as well as some important semi-colonial countries experienced a more moderate or short recession or even none at all (e.g., China). The situation is very different today. Nearly all important sectors of the capitalist world economy – most Western Great Powers, the two Eastern Great Powers as well as the advanced semi-colonial economies are already in recession or heading towards it (see Figures 28 and 29).


Figure 28. Industrial Production (Three-month moving average; annualized percent change) [14]


Figure 29. Global Industrial Production, 2008–2015 [15]


34.          First, let us briefly deal with the major economies. The US economy seems to be heading towards a slump. Corporate profits there for 2015 were down -5.1% compared with one year before [16] (see also Figure 30). According to statistics from the US Federal Reserve Bank, industrial production on a monthly basis declined between January and November 2015 (the latest available figures) in every month except two. [17] Figure 31 shows a similar trend. As a bourgeois economist commented, such a decline in industrial production has not been witnessed before outside of a recession. [18]


Figure 30. US Corporate Profits 2002–2015 [19]


Figure 31. US Manufacturing Production, March 2012 – November 2015 [20]


35.          The Eurozone is currently in a somewhat different stage of the business cycle. It has already experienced a kind of stagnation or even recession during in the past few years. Its industrial volume of production declined in 2012 by -2.3%, shrinking again in 2013 by -0.7%, and grew in 2014 but only by +0.9%. However it too faced a slowdown in the past few months after a small recovery. [21] Its economy is certainly not strong enough to prevent the world economy from entering another Great Recession.


36.          Japan has already been in recession for some time. JP Morgan expects that its industrial production will have declined in 2015 by -0.8%. [22] While the state – via the Bank of Japan – adopted supplementary “quantitative and qualitative monetary easing measures,” i.e., pumping public money into the market in order to save the financial system and to revive the economy, clear signs of recovery can not be detected.


37.          China, as the world’s biggest industrial producer and the second largest economy globally, is of particular importance for the fate of the capitalist world economy. The country is currently experiencing its most serious downturn in the production of value since the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s, with industrial production having slowed down dramatically (see Figure 32). This downturn has already sent shock waves which reverberated in its domestic foreign stock market as well as those around the world. China’s stock market has already slumped twice – in June-August 2015 and again in January 2016. As in other capitalist countries (e.g., 1929, 2008), China’s stock market was (and still is) characterized by a huge speculative bubble. As a result, stocks of Chinese and Western capitalists listed on the Shanghai exchange were devalued by 4 trillion US-Dollars in the summer of 2015. Western financial capitalists were impacted by the panic: Following China’s Black Monday and Black Tuesday (on 24 and 25 August 2015, when the Chinese stock market plunged by 8.5% and 7% respectively), the next day the US Dow Jones dropped by 1,000 points at the opening of trading, the largest drop ever recorded. In January 2016, the Chinese stock market crashed again despite massive government intervention, increasing nervousness in Western stock markets.


Figure 32. China’s Industrial Production (left) and Retail Sales (right), 2005-2015 [23]


38.          This stock market crash only highlights the monstrous stupidity of the Stalinists and various “Trotskyists” who still consider China a “socialist country” or a “deformed workers state.” The capitalists in China, as well as in the Western countries, have known for a long time that China is a profit-driven economy. China’s three big stock markets (the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange) were ranked in June 2015, according to CNN, among the six biggest stock markets in the world. [24] Given the recent stock market crashes, their exact ranking may have subsequently changed, but the fundamental weight of the Chinese stock markets remains intact.


39.          It is because China has become (a) a capitalist country and (b) an imperialist Great Power that bourgeois economists are worried that China’s decline might have devastating effects for the world economy. “That leaves the other major world economy: China. Already it has slowed dramatically. After averaging almost 10 percent growth between 2006 and 2014, it grew by 6.8 percent in 2015 and is forecast to grow by 6.3 percent in 2016. To put that in context, a one-third drop in the growth rate is comparable to the experience of the United States in the 1970s, and the result in the U.S. case was a decade of stagflation and a collapse of trust in government. But the real worry is that China’s slowdown could easily beget a further slowdown. This is why China is the most obvious source of upset for the world economy next year.[25] Such fears are hardly surprising given the fact that China has contributed about 40% to global GDP growth over the past five years (see Figure 33). It is currently unclear whether the Chinese regime can avoid a full recession by state-capitalist intervention which would involve pumping trillions into the economy and the stock market. However, a full-blown recession in China in 2016 is a realistic possibility. It would be the first cyclical recession since the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s which opened a period of spectacular growth driven by the super-exploitation of the Chinese working class and the dynamics of primitive accumulation in a huge and growing internal market. [26]


Figure 33. China’s Contribution to Global Real GDP Growth, 1990-2014 [27]


40.          Russia has been in recession since 2014, something also attributable to the Western sanctions following its involvement in the Ukraine. Russia’s GDP for 2015 is expected to decline by -3.8% and this negative trend should continue at least for some time into 2016. [28] Latin America’s economy as a whole is also already in recession with a decline of industrial production of -0.5% in 2014 and a further declines in 2015 (on a quarterly basis) of -0.8% (Q1), -0.6% (Q2), and -0.6% (Q3). [29] Brazil, the continent’s biggest economy, is expected to face a slump in GDP of -3.8% in 2015 and a further -3.7% in 2016 (see also Figure 34). The second biggest country, Argentina, is expected to enter recession at the beginning of 2016 – a process accelerated by the devaluation of the peso by more than 30% against the US-Dollar by the new right-wing Macri government. [30]


Figure 34. Brazil: Industrial Production (left) and Capacity Utilization (right), 2007-2015 [31]


41.          India – which is expected to become the most populous nation by 2022 [32] – has experienced a different development. Its economy has grown relatively faster in the last few years and is expected to continue so: its GDP grew by +7.3% (2014), +7.4 (2015) and +7.2% (2016). However, according to JP Morgan, India’s GDP is alleged to have declined in Q4 in 2015 by -2.0%. South Africa is vacillating around a recession with GDP growth of only +1.5% (2014), +1.4 (2015) and an anticipated +1.2% (2016).


42.          Secondly, the capitalists have completely failed to liquidate the financial bubble which triggered the Great Recession in 2008/09. In fact, this bubble is bigger today than it was in 2007. The total stock of financial assets worldwide is estimated to have been $256 trillion at the end of 2014, increasing from $184 trillion at the end of 2008. Total financial assets in the world — measured in terms of all debt securities outstanding, equities and the stock of bank credit — exceeded the pre-crisis level as early as 2010 (see Figure 35).


Figure 35. The Stock of Financial Assets, 2002–2013 [33]


43.          Let us deal now with the third reason why we expect the coming recession to be more severe than the last one. As we have stated in previous documents, the bourgeoisie was able to avoid a complete breakdown of its financial system by means of a wide-range of state-capitalist measures in order to save the banks and corporations. As a result, debt – in particular public debt – rose dramatically during the recession. However, nearly all capitalist countries have failed to reduce their indebtedness in the (moderate) recovery phase since 2010. As a result, global debt (as a ratio to global GDP) has risen from 269% (in 2007) to 286% (in mid-2014; see Figure 36 and also Figure 37 for a more long-term view since 1951.)


Figure 36. Growth of Global Debt in $ Trillion and as % of GDP , 2000–2014 [34]


Figure 37 Evolution of Global Debt to GDP [35]


44.          This process has taken place both in the old imperialist countries (Northern America, Europe and Japan), in imperialist China as well as in many semi-colonial countries (see Figure 38). The McKinsey Global Institute comments: “However, rather than declining, global debt has continued to increase. Total global debt rose by $57 trillion from the end of 2007 to the second quarter of 2014, reaching $199 trillion, or 286 percent of global GDP. Rising government debt in advanced economies explains one-third of the overall growth, as falling tax revenue and the costs of financial sector bailouts raised public sector borrowing. Growing debt of developing economies accounts for half of the growth. China’s total debt has quadrupled since 2007, reaching $28 trillion, accounting for 37 percent of growth in global debt.[36] In Figure 39 we see a detailed list of the level of debt in numerous capitalist countries and by respective sectors.


Figure 38. Growth of Global Debt of Old Imperialist Countries (DM) as well as of China, Russia and the Advanced Semi-Colonial Countries (EM), 1970-2015 [37]


Figure 39. The Debt-to-GDP Ratio in Advanced as well as in Developing Capitalist Economies, 2014 [38]


45.          Because of the massive state-capitalist intervention, public debt has grown hugely in nearly all Western imperialist countries (see Figure 40). The same figure also shows the growing share of foreign investors holding loans, thereby potentially increasing dependency between them, to say nothing of raising tensions. Figure 41 shows not only the growth of government debt in the Western imperialist countries, but also that corporate defaults and debt downgrades have increased. Finally we show in Figure 42 that the old imperialist countries have also failed to reduce the debt of their corporate sector and in the Eurozone it has even increased.


Figure 40. Government Debt in Western Imperialist Countries and Changes in Holdings of Government Debt as a Share of GDP (1985-2011) [39]


Figure 41. Credit Rating of Advanced Economy Government Bonds (2008-2015) [40]


Figure 42. Gross Debt for Non-Financial Corporations in the US, Euro Area and Japan 2005-2015 [41]


46.          As has already been mentioned, the level of national debt has increased with particular strength in China and advanced semi-colonial countries. Debt service ratios for the private non-financial sector of the BRICS economies (BRICS is the synonym for Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa) rose between 2010 and 2014 from nearly 0% to 3.5%. [42] Figure 43 shows how both household as well as corporate debt in China, as well as various advanced semi-colonial countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, Eastern Europe etc., is substantially higher today than before the last recession.


Figure 43. Growth of Debt in China and Advanced Semi-Colonial Countries [43]

47.          The case of China is naturally particularly significant because it is one of the biggest capitalist economies in the world. Not only does China have substantial public debt but that of its private sector is also growing rapidly. In fact, China’s corporate sector is more in debt than the its counterpart in any other major imperialist country (see Figure 43, above). Today China’s private sector debt relative to GDP stands at 196%. Credit Suisse writes that “China has had the third biggest credit bubble over a 5-year period of any country in our database.” Figure 44 depicts the exponentially increased growth of China’s private sector debt since the start of the last recession in 2008.


Figure 44. China’s Private Sector Debt to GDP, 1986–2015 [44]

48.          Given the massive levels of debt of both the government and the corporate sector in nearly all imperialist countries, it is highly unlikely that the state will be able to intervene to save the banks and corporations after the outbreak of the next recession to the same degree as it did in 2008/09. Consequently, the brutal consequences of the recession will be less moderated by the capitalist state and will result in more bankruptcies and countries declaring default. Not only does this mean that the recession will be more severe than last time, but also makes it likely that popular protests will become more political than in the past. The workers and poor will question the passivity of the capitalist state faced with the crisis. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, a huge number of hunger strikes were already witnessed in 2008, with more moderated ones in 2010. These food strikes are likely to occur yet again with the next recession, and may become even more severe and have increasingly greater political ramifications. Consequently, the workers and oppressed of these areas may become an important factor in the global class struggle. Under such circumstances, revolutionaries will have to fight for a transitional program focused on the nationalization and centralization of all financial institutions without compensation and under workers’ control, for the expropriation of the super-rich, and for a public works program in order to abolish unemployment.


49.          Finally, we highlight the fact that, in light of the stagnation of economies during the last few years, the process of monopolization has advanced significantly. The year 2015 set a new annual record for mergers and acquisitions, with companies around the world spending $5.04 trillion, thereby exceeding the previous record set in 2007. Naturally, it is no coincidence that such waves of mergers and acquisitions peak in the last stage of the business cycle before the economy enters a recession. [45]


[1] See e.g. Michael Roberts: Recessions, depressions and recoveries, December 2015, Paper for URPE session at ASSA 2016, San 4 Francisco, 4 January 2016, p. 2. However we think that Roberts underestimates the obstacles for the bourgeoisie to escape from this period of Long Depression. He writes in the same paper: “The Long Depression will be ended by a conjunction of economic outcomes (slump, technological revolution, and a change of economic cycle) or by political action to end or replace the capitalist mode of production.” Such a view mistakenly assumes that the ruling class could overcome the historic crisis of the capitalist mode of production by purely economic means. In fact such a theoretical possibility – a new economic long boom under capitalist conditions – is excluded without a prior combination of events – resulting from gigantic confrontations between the classes – like massive capital destruction, major wars, historic defeats for the working class, and the enforcement of one Great Power as the absolute hegemon amongst the capitalist countries. The only other long depressions in capitalism’s history – the one in 1873–1894 and the other in 1929–39 – could only be overcome by the onset of the imperialist epoch which resulted in World War I (in the first case) respectively by World War II, the smashing of a number of workers and popular revolutions with the help of the Stalinist bureaucracy etc. (in the second case). Since the epoch of imperialism is the final epoch of capitalism a way out of the depression like in the 1890s is excluded. (For a discussion of this issue see e.g. our book The Great Robbery of the South, pp. 375–382)

[2] Michael Roberts: A poisonous concoction, 08.12.2015,

[3] RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening. Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation and Perspectives Ahead (January 2015) 11 January 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 32, p. 8,

[4] Anusha Ondaatjie, Adam Haigh: George Soros Sees Crisis in Global Markets That Echoes 2008, Bloomberg, January 7, 2016,

[5] Royal Bank of Scotland: European Rates Weekly, 8 January 2016, p. 2, p. 10 and p. 11

[6] Jacques Attali: La crise, Acte 2, 17 August 2015,

[7] JP Morgan: Global Data Watch, Economic Research, July 10, 2015, p. 2

[8] IMF: World Economic Outlook October 2015. Adjusting to Lower Commodity Prices, p. 4

[9] IMF: World Economic Outlook October 2015. Adjusting to Lower Commodity Prices, p. 4

[10] Peter A.G. van Bergeijk: We are shrinking! The neglected drop in Gross Planet Product, 07 December 2015,

[11] Robert J. Samuelson: Is the next recession on its way? January 10 2016, Washington Post,

[12] Peter A.G. van Bergeijk: We are shrinking! The neglected drop in Gross Planet Product, 07 December 2015,

[13] Kevin O’Rourke: It has finally happened, 29.11.2015,

[14] IMF: World Economic Outlook October 2015. Adjusting to Lower Commodity Prices, p. 4

[15] Gavyn Davies: Global growth shows clear signs of slowdown, Financial Times, Oct 04 2015,

[16] Bureau of Economic Analysis: Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2015 (Third Estimate). Corporate Profits: Third Quarter 2015 (Revised Estimate), 22.12.2015, p. 15

[17] Federal Reserve statistical release: Industrial Production And Capacity Utilization, December 16, 2015, p. 13; See also e.g. Reuters: US industrial output falls as manufacturing stays flat, 16 Dec 2015,; Mike Shedlock: Industrial Production Declines Again, Down Eighth Time in Nine Months, October 16, 2015,

[18] Tyler Durden: US Industrial Production Growth Slumps To Weakest Since January 2010, 11/17/2015,

[19] Michael Roberts: The US rate of profit revisited, 20.12.2015,

[20] Michael Roberts: The Fed “on the path of sustainable improvement”, 17.12.2015,

[21] CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis: CPB World Trade Monitor October 2015, 23 December 2015, p. 5

[22] JP Morgan: Global Data Watch, Economic Research, December 18, 2015, p. 5

[23] Claudia Broyer, Gregor Eder, Dr. Rolf Schneider, Katharina Utermöhl: Konjunktur- und Finanzmarktausblick 2016, Allianz Working Paper 196, 17.12.2015, p. 5

[24] Sophia Yan: China's stock market is now worth over $10 trillion, CNN, June 15, 2015,

[25] Sebastian Mallaby: The World Economy in 2016: Watch China, Council on Foreign Relations, December 23, 2015,

[26] On the restoration of capitalism in China and its rise as an imperialist power see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4,; Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Summary of the RCIT’s Analysis, 28 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22,; More on Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Reply to Chris Slee (Socialist Alliance, Australia) and Walter Daum (LRP, USA), 11 April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22,; The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism. Again on China as an imperialist Power. Reply to a Polemic from CSR (Venezuela) and PCO (Argentina), December 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 32,; Michael Pröbsting: No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! Chinese and Japanese workers: Your main enemy is at home! Stop the conflict on the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea! 23.9.2012,in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6,

[27] Credit Suisse: Global Equity Strategy, 15 July 2015, p.14

[28] JP Morgan: Global Data Watch, Economic Research, December 18, 2015, p. 4

[29] CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis: CPB World Trade Monitor October 2015, 23 December 2015, p. 5

[30] JP Morgan: Global Data Watch, Economic Research, December 18, 2015, p. 4

[31] Claudia Broyer, Gregor Eder, Thomas Hofmann, Dr. Rolf Schneider: Economic forecast 2016: Global economy more stable, German domestic economy robust, Allianz Working Paper 192, 28.10.2015, p. 3

[32] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division): World Population Prospects. The 2015 Revision, New York 2015, p. 4

[33] United Nations: World Economic Situation and Prospects 2016, New York, 2016, p. 24

[34] McKinsey Global Institute: Debt and (not much) deleveraging (2015), p. 15

[35] Claudio Grass: 6 Signs That 2016 Will Be Much Worse Than 2015, 22.12.2015,

[36] McKinsey Global Institute: Debt and (not much) deleveraging (2015), p. 15

[37] Fidelity Perspectives: Prospects for the financial sector, December 2015, p. 3

[38] McKinsey Global Institute: Debt and (not much) deleveraging (2015), p. 22

[39] Lukasz Rachel and Thomas D Smith: Secular drivers of the global real interest rate, Bank of England, Staff Working Paper No. 571, December 2015, p.9

[40] Lukasz Rachel and Thomas D Smith: Secular drivers of the global real interest rate, Bank of England, Staff Working Paper No. 571, December 2015, p.9

[41] OECD: Economic Outlook, Vol. 98 (2015/2), p.37

[42] Bank for International Settlements: BIS Quarterly Review. International banking and financial market developments, December 2015, p. 11

[43] World Bank: Global Economic Prospects, June 2015: The Global Economy in Transition, p. 39

[44] Credit Suisse: China in Pictures: Under Pressure, September 9, 2015, p. 19

[45] See e.g. Wall Street Journal: Year in Review: Mergers Set a Record as Firms Bulk Up Subdued after the financial crisis, mergers and acquisitions came roaring back as companies seek to boost revenue, Dec. 21, 2015,; Associated Press: How to spend $5 trillion: a record-breaking year in deals, 30 December 2015,; AFP: Global mergers and acquisitions volume hits record in 2015, 30.12.2015,