My research interests are primarily concerned with the theoretically informed measurement, description and explanation of trends in aggregate profitability in developed capitalist economies. This work is situated within the classical surplus-based tradition in economics that culminated in the writings of Karl Marx. One of the striking features of this tradition has been its difficulty in addressing actual trends of contemporary capitalist development. A common approach has been either to abandon empirical investigation in favour of high theory, or to engage with the empirical world in a theoretically cavalier manner. This context of a divorce between theory and empirical evidence has formed the background to my research.
Focusing on the macroeconomic history of developed capitalist countries from a surplus-based perspective has necessitated coming to terms with rival attempts at surplus-based empirical accounts of capitalism, and confronting notions of productive and unproductive labour. The latter in particular has been controversial. The distinction between productive and unproductive labour is largely meaningless within the neoclassical tradition. But the distinction is also questioned by many who otherwise work in the classical surplus-based tradition, and even among those who accept the distinction, there is not a secure and stable common understanding of how the boundary should be drawn between the two concepts. Finally, data problems in applying the categories empirically are considerable. Using the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, I have spent some effort in showing why, for the US economy, this distinction can in fact be abandoned in favour of a concentration on class.
One feature of contemporary capitalism, especially in the US and the UK, has been the extraordinary growth in inequality in income distribution via an increase in top incomes, and much of my current work is concerned with how to understand this. This has entailed both exploring the quantitative dimension of class relations (in terms of income share and percentile position in the personal income distribution of the US economy from 1918 to 2012) and considering precisely how this shift of incomes towards the top of the distribution had a causal influence on the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007.