Free for plunder
Deregulation merely regulates in the interests of the few. As such, writes Samir Amin, it is destined to fail. But at what cost?
Neo-liberalism demands absolute submission -- across the political and social arena -- to the dictates of deregulated markets. Neo-liberal globalisation advocates the same principles for the management of the world economy.
The neo-liberal project posits a reactionary and unattainable Utopia that will have been reached following the unilateral rule of capital. It is a vision that denies the existence of any other legitimate social interest. It is the ideology of capitalist fundamentalism: as such it necessarily denies that society is anything other than a collection of individuals and, through this reduction, asserts that the equilibrium produced by the so-called market constitutes both the social optimum and, by the same token, guarantees stability and democracy.
The theory of an imaginary market society has thus come to replace any analysis of the contradictions inherent in historical capitalism. The contention that deregulated markets are self-regulatory has never been demonstrated: indeed, it is the opposite that is demonstrable, which is why deregulated markets exist only in the imagination of a fanatical sect of "pure economists". Markets work only because they are regulated: the only pertinent question to be asked about them concerns who does the regulating, and for the benefit of whom. Demands for deregulation are no more than a fig leave to cover a clandestine regulation that in its absence of transparency is inimical to the fundamental rule of democracy. The corridors and backrooms of the WTO is the place where oligopolies conclude their agreements to regulate the economy for their exclusive benefit, while governments are invited to rubber stamp the agreements.
This disastrous system has emerged following the erosion of the social compromises that followed the victory of democracy over fascism and of liberation movements over colonialism in the wake of WWII. Whether these societal projects were good or bad, democratic or not, does not concern me here: what is significant is that they provided patterns of regulation which were successful, i.e. they generated high growth which resulted in the expansion of the middle classes and an upward social mobility that legitimised the various power systems, albeit to varying extents. The period following WWII was also one of regulated and negotiated globalisation.
Deregulation -- i.e. clandestine regulation by oligopolies -- creates, reproduces and deepens the imbalance between social forces. That the implementation of the neo-liberal programme therefore coincides with the development of a structural crisis within capitalism of gigantic proportions is no accident. The imbalance between production capacities, on the one hand, and of consumption on the other -- exacerbated by growing inequalities that are themselves a result of neo-liberal policies -- results in a surplus that cannot be invested in the expansion of productive systems. To prevent the devaluation of capital the system has found it necessary to create alternative means to absorb the surplus: monetarism, floating exchanges, Third World and Eastern debt and the US budget deficit together make up the means by which the crisis is managed. This explains the apparent paradox that in reality is far from paradoxical -- that profits increase and stock markets rise every time economic stagnation, the dismantling of industry, or growth in unemployment is announced. It is a programme comprising policies aimed at managing the crisis, not moving out of it. Its greatest success has been to deepen the social catastrophe, to allow the wealthiest 20 per cent of humanity to increase their share of global income from 60 to 80 per cent over the last two decades.
Neo-liberal fundamentalism cannot last for ever: the growing political instability it generates will ensure that. The continuance of such an irresponsible economic system has demanded increasingly repressive measures, at which point the link between neo-liberal globalisation and US hegemony comes in to play. It is at our current, chaotic conjuncture that the US has taken the offensive to re-establish its global hegemony.
If we measured only the economic dimension of what is called hegemony, callibrated in terms of per capita GDP and the structural tendencies of the balance of trade, we would conclude that US hegemony, seemingly so unassailable in 1945, began to recede as early as the 1960s with Europe and Japan's resurgence. It is something the Europeans endlessly repeat: the EU is the world's leading economic and commercial force, etc. Such statements, however, are at heart hollow: that a single European market does exist, and a single currency has emerged, does not mean that we can speak of a European economy. The economies set up in Europe through the constitutions of historical bourgeois states, and the shape, within this framework, of autocentric national productive systems -- even if these are open, and aggressively so -- have remained more or less the same. There are no European TNCs, only British or German or French TNCs. Capital interpenetration is no denser in inter-European relations than in bilateral relations between European states and the US or Japan. And if Europe's productive systems have been eroded by globalised interdependence to the extent that national policy initiatives are rendered increasingly inefficient, the advantage accrues not to European integration but to globalisation and the forces that dominate it.
US hegemony also rests on a second pillar, that of military power. Built up systematically since 1945, its reach covers the entire planet which has been parcelled out into regions, each under the relevant US military command. Once forced to coexist peacefully along with the USSR the US is now bent on reinforcing its global domination, which Henry Kissinger summed up with memorable arrogance: "Globalisation is only another word for US domination."
US global strategy has five aims: to neutralise and subjugate the other partners in the Triad (Europe and Japan) while minimising their ability to act outside the US's orbit; to establish military control over NATO while "Latin-Americanising" the fragments of the former Soviet world; to exert uncontested influence in the Middle East and central Asia, especially over its petroleum resources; to dismantle China, ensure the subordination of the other great nations (India, Brazil), and prevent the constitution of regional blocs capable of negotiating the terms of globalisation; to marginalise those regions of the South with no strategic importance.
The favoured instrument of US hegemony is therefore military, as Washington's highest- ranking representatives never tire of repeating. US hegemony, which in turn guarantees the Triad dominance over the world system, makes demands on America's allies: they must accept to follow in America's wake. And by reducing any difference between Europe and the US to the realm of mercantile squabbles Europe, which has no political project of its own, lost the race before it began. Washington knows this well, and knows that all the talk of European leaders about the EU's economic power is intended solely to dilute domestic opposition.
NATO, which survived the collapse of the adversary that constituted the organisation's raison d'être -- has become Washington's major strategic tool. NATO still speaks today in the name of "the international community", thereby expressing its contempt for the democratic principle that governs this said community via the UN. Yet NATO acts only to serve Washington's aims -- no more and no less -- as the history of the past decade underlines.
Why, though, does Europe accept Washington's hegemonic role in the management of the system? The fact is that Europe -- i.e. a European supranational political power -- does not exist. European acceptance reveals the frailty of the European project itself, a project that remains a secondary priority within dominant political visions. Great Britain's fundamental option since 1945 has been to console itself for the loss of its imperial role by reliving it vicariously through the US. Germany may be tempted to limit its ambitions by reconstituting its traditional zone of influence in eastern and south-eastern Europe, tailgating Washington's global hegemonic strategy. For somewhat similar reasons Japan -- confronted with China and even Korea -- has also inscribed its strictly regional expansionism to fit with America's own global perspective.
The apparently unassailable US hegemony is, then, in many ways a product of Europe's own failure to consolidate a European project: the more the US project succeeds, the more the European project itself is "withering away" through a double dilution, at the economic level by the dilution of the European common market into the globalised market and at the political level, by diluting Europe's political autonomy into NATO and Atlanticism.
US hegemonic ambitions, though, remain fragile. British and European hegemony in the 19th century was based on a structural surplus in trade, the counterpart of the export of capital and through it the financing of the development of the peripheries, albeit a dependent-biased development. The US is not in a similar position. It suffers from a structural trade deficit, and relies on a massive import of capital from the rest of the world -- Japan, Europe and the Third World. US prosperity leaves the global capital market drained. US prosperity demands the pauperisation of others.
The goal of US global strategy is not to create a global open market, as is claimed by the World Bank, but to establish a system of plunder through military control. Its aim is to turn the flow of capital, currently vulnerable, into a form of tribute. Its project based on brute military domination without hegemony, at least as understood in the Gramscian sense. The project negates the conventional discourse of American "liberals" as well as Negri's views on the so-called Empire.
That US strategic orientation should have become so brutish simply underlines the obsolescent stage capitalism has reached. Such obsolescence means levels of barbarity are likely to increase.
The US's militarised globalisation, though, poses a serious threat to the interests of Europe and Japan. Washington's determination to control all the important resources of the planet (oil in particular) is geared towards relegating its European and Japanese partners to the status of vassals. America's oil wars are "anti-European" wars. Europe (and Japan) can partially react to this strategy by drawing closer to Russia, which is capable of supplying some oil and a few other essential raw materials.
European governments remain bent on defending the interests of capital, which is why they accept their subordination to North America. People throughout Europe, though, have a different vision of the European project, which they want to assume social dimensions. They have a different vision of their relations with the rest of the world, which they want to be governed by justice. Should the humanist and democratic culture of the old Europe prevail -- which is possible -- then an authentic cohesion between Europe, Russia, China, the whole of Asia and Africa, could come to constitute the foundation on which a multi-centrist, democratic and peaceful world can be built.
The major contradiction between Europe and the US is not located in any contrasting interests of the dominant capital of either, but in the type of their political cultures.
The South must, and can, be liberated from the liberal delusion and embark on renewed forms of self-centred development. But will this move away from liberalism, and from globalisation, happen? There are indications that things will happen, in the South, along the lines suggested here. How, then, would the Triad react?
A counter offensive from the South could aggravate the contradictions within the Triad, which might push Europe in a new direction. But there is also the opposite possibility: that of the Triad moving together in a more aggressive way against the South.
US hegemony and the neo-liberal dream will collapse: one cannot collapse without the other. They were, and are, linked in their momentary success and they will disappear together. But to the benefit of what? That raises another set of questions.