Accumulation by dispossession

From Academic Kids

Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the marxist academic David Harvey, which define the neoliberal changes in many western nations from the 1970s and to the present day, as being guided by mainly four practices. These are privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.




Privatization and commodification of public assets has been one of the most criticised and disputed topics with neoliberalism. Summed up it is characterized by the process of transferring property, from public ownership to private ownership. According to Marxist Theory, this serve the capitalist class, or Bourgeoisie, interests, as it brings power from the nations governments to private parties. At the same time privatization is generating a means for profit for the capitalist class, because after a transaction, they can then sell or rent to the public, what used to be commons.


The wave of financialization which set in the 1980s is allowed by governmental derulation which has made the financial system one of the main centers of redistributive activity. Stock promotions, Ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, dispossession of assets (raiding of pension funds and their decimation by stock and corporate collapses) by credit and stock manipulations, are, according to Harvey, central features of the post-1970s capitalist financial system.

The Management and Manipulation of Crises

By creating and manipulating crisis through e.g. suddenly raising of interests rates, poor nations can be forced into bankruptcy, and into agreeing to structural adjustment programs. According to Harvey, this is administered by parties such as the U.S. Treasury, Wall Street and the IMF. Debt Crisis like these where uncommon in the 1960s, but became very frequent in the 1980s and 1990s.

State Redistributions

The neoliberal nation state is according to Harvey one of the prime agents of such redistributive policies. Even when privatization appears as beneficial to the lower classes, the long-term effects can be negative. The state seeks redistributions through a variety of means, like revisions in the tax code to benefit returns on investment rather than incomes and wages, promotion of regressive elements in the tax code, displacement of state expenditures and free access to all by user fees and the provision of a vast array of subsidies and tax breaks to corporations.


Margaret Thatcher's program for the privatization of social housing in Britain appeared in the first blush as a gift to the lower classes which could now convert from rental ownership at a relatively low cost, gain control over a valuable asset and augment their wealth. But once the transfer was accomplished, housing speculation took over (particularly in the prime central locations), eventually bribing of forcing low income populations out to the periphery.

Privatization is the process of transferring productive public assets from the state to the private companies. Productive assets include natural resources, such as earth, forest, water, air. These are assets that states have used to hold in trust for the people it represents. To privatize these away and sell them as stock to private companies is what Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession. This is done in many countries all over the world, including Bolivia and South Africa.


Harvey link these practices to what Karl Marx called private or primitive accumulation, and ties these to examples from the real world. The neoliberal modernity is thus, according to Harvey, a modernity in which dispossession plays a large role, and where the capital class is gaining power on behalf of the labour class.


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