Political economy and global capitalism

The  intellectual  impetus  for  this  volume  is  the  abiding  interest  of  its  editors  in promoting in-depth,  cutting-edge analysis of  the current  global political economy in order  to  advance  a  political  economy  of  more  equitable,  humane,  eco-sensitive global  futures.  In  addressing  this  challenge,  the  contributors  to  this  book  have developed  distinctive  and  original  theoretical  frameworks  and  propose  new mediations between theory and history, which is a deeply problematic relationship in the social sciences. We view this project as a sequel to an earlier collection, Phases of Capitalist Development: Booms, Crises, and Globalizations, which was edited by Albritton,  Westra,  and  Zuege  (2001).  Like  that  well-received  volume,  we  have gathered internationally recognized contributors who are based in diverse countries and  write  from  different  conceptual  perspectives. 

The  key difference  between  the earlier  and  current volumes,  however,  is  their  respective  orientations  to  time  and location  in  time.  While  the  previous  work  focused  on  periodizing  capitalism  and theorizing  its  successive  world-historic  phases  to  understand  the  present,  the current  project  focuses  on  the  present  in  order  to  better  inform  reflections  on possible  or  likely  global  futures.  Moreover,  whereas  all  the  essays  in  the  previous volume  were  written  prior  to  or during  the  year  2000,  this  collection  captures  the momentous  transformations  of  the  global  political  economy  and  its  leading economies in the first years of the new millennium. 9/11  is probably the  most  dramatic  (and  subsequently  dramatized) event  to have  happened  in  the  intervening  years  on  the  global  political  stage  and  possibly the most significant in terms of future global politics. It is too soon to judge whether the  recent  publication  (in  February  2007)  of  the  United Nations  report  on  climate change  may  dislodge  the  neo-con  American  concern  with  9/11  and  the  ‘war  on terrorism’ (and its associated  economic and political interests in the energy-military complex)  in  favour  of  more  concerted  global  action  for  a  ‘war  on  climate  change’ (and its associated anthropocentric concerns about global political  ecology and the future of humanity). In the  intervening  five years or so, however, following an  initial wave of widespread popular and governmental sympathy with the people and  wave  of  widespread  popular  and  governmental  sympathy  with  the  people  and political leadership of the United States, the rapid bellicose shift in American foreign policy  in  line  with  neo-conservative  aspirations  turned  world  opinion  dramatically against the  increasingly militarized  and unilateral  character of  attempts  to maintain and  reinforce  American  global  hegemony.  And  while  the  United  States’  brazen violation  of  international  law  and  human  rights  and  environmental  disdain  has deeply angered people everywhere, global neo-liberal economic policies are coming under  attack  as  their  nakedly  exploitative  and  predatory  substance  is  increasingly revealed.  For  example,  instead  of the  much  heralded  world  of  newly industrialized countries  (NICs)  and  newly  created  democracies  (NCDs),  neo-liberalism  has bequeathed  a  world  of  nonviable  national  economies  (NNEs)  and  ungovernable chaotic entities (UCEs).

1 A recent study cited in the conservative weekly magazine, The  Economist,  names  46  such  potentially  “failed  states”.

2  Instead  of  realizing  a middle class dream for humanity, neo-liberalism is leading to a nightmare scenario where it is estimated that half of the world’s urban population will be living in slums and  shanty-towns  by  2020.

3  Neo-liberalism  also  holds  a  bleak  future  for  today’s youth  with  50  percent  of  the  one billion  young  people  between  15  and  24  already living in poverty.

4 Nor is  all  well on  the home  front  in the  USA,  with deepening  economic  and political  divisions  throughout  the  country,  the  heralded  capitalist  “model”  of  neo-liberal success. For example, the US has the highest rate of juvenile incarceration in the world with 163,200 teenagers under 18 in custody in 1997.

The US is one of the few countries in the world that executes teenagers under 18 and it is the only one to have actually done  so  since 1997.5 It also  manifests shocking increases  in poverty with 25% of  children born into  poverty6 and 100,000  children living on  the streets,7 while the projected Pentagon budget for  2007 is over $450 billion.8 In the  28 years between  1972  and  2000,  in  which  the US  squandered  $5.5  trillion  since 1972    on building and maintaining its nuclear arsenal,9 wages for men in the 25-34 age group (the age when families are often formed) fell 26% in real terms.10 Statistics gathered in 1995 show that 49.7  percent  of Hispanic households had annual  incomes below $25,000  as  did  54.3  percent  of  African-American  households.11  And  this  occurred (and  continues to  do  so)  as  the  cost  of  living  increased  every year.  In  sum,  when President  Bush  the  First  responded  to  the  Rio  Earth  Summit  call  for  global environmental  responsibility  that  “our  way  of  life  is  non-negotiable”,  it  might  have been  the  trinity  of  rampant  militarization,  massive  and  growing  world  economic inequality, and the accelerating damage to world eco-systems that he had in mind.12  Continuing  reductions  in  the  quality  of  life  for  the  majority  of  his  country’s  citizens and  denizens  have  also  been  non-negotiable  –  but  to  their  detriment,  not  their benefit  as  the  costs  of  tax  cuts  and  corporate  welfare  have  advantaged  a  tiny minority  of  the  wealthiest  and  most  powerful  families  and  the  top  corporate  and financial enterprises. 

The capitalist triumphalism at the end of the Cold War that so energised neo-liberal  economic  policies  and  neo-conservative  global  crusades  has  now  been deservedly  put  on  the  defensive  as  it  fails  to  deal  with  looming  human  and ecological  problems  of  great  scope  and  seriousness  and  has  found  the  task  of democracy-building  far  harder  than  anticipated.  Has  neo-liberal  self-confidence begun  to  unravel?  Does  the  rather  belated  recantation  of  neo-conservatism  by Francis  Fukuyama  presage  the  shift  from  an  offensive  to  defensive  step  in  neo-liberal  and  neo-conservative  domination?  Has  a newly  resurgent  American global hegemony  begun  to  fall?  Were  the  uprisings  of  the  youth  in  the  Paris  suburbs  in 2006 harbingers of more general resistance in a world where neo-liberal economics are depriving  youth  of  a future? How  should  we evaluate  the  signs  that indicate a potentially  hard  and  rocky  road  for  neo-liberal  capitalism  in  the  immediate future? What  new  modes  of  political  economic  thought  and  action  are  required  to  deal effectively  with  problems  that  neo-liberalism  far  from  solving  only  makes  worse? These are some  of the pressing  questions that  contributors to this book attempt to address. 

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