Re: Giovanni Arrighi "Tracking Global Turbulence" NLR Mar-Apr/03

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Mon Apr 21 2003 - 07:23:31 EDT

Cologne 21-Apr-2003

Like all empirical-historical accounts, Arrighi's assessment of Brenner's
downbeat account of turbulence in the world capitalist economy throws up
lots of questions. (Empirical material is endless.)

Capitalism's turbulent success in accumulation is its very problem --
overaccumulation (in the guises of over-capacity/over-production and
'financialization') is the main underlying economic explanatory factor in
these accounts of capitalist downturn (and upturn).

In this connection, the advent of digital technology since the 70s and the
enormous leaps in productivity it engendered and continues to engender
throughout production and circulation is not mentioned. Increases in
productivity are a way for capitalist enterprises to keep ahead in the
competitive game, but they by no means solve the problem of
overaccumulation. Such increases in productivity and falling unit costs for
manufactured goods lead to different ways of life for mass consumers
throughout the world. Everyone can afford to buy more stuff, even the
relatively poor. New markets open up.

If Arrighi and Brenner do not discuss the enormous, ongoing effects of
digital technology, they certainly also do not mention another aspect of
these innovations -- not only new kinds of products produced more and more
cheaply, but also products becoming services. I.e. there is a shifting
conception of what a capitalist commodity _is_ and this is related to the
'disclosure' of ever new use-values which can be sold as capitalist
service-products. And this is a way out of over-accumulation. Capital can be
diverted to completely new employments with good returns, thus mobilizing
also new workforces. (As Marx says, the limit which capitalist accumulation
comes up against which turns it into overaccumulation, is the finiteness of
the workforce -- but this world workforce has by no means yet been
mobilized. Nor is it likely to become 'exhausted' in the foreseeable future.
The capitalist world-game still has some room to expand.)

In other words, more and more stuff can be manufactured more and more
cheaply and sold on more and more mass markets throughout the world
(including the Third World). The world's manufacturing base is shifting more
and more to China. So what do the rich capitalist countries do? First of all
they take advantage of cheap wages in other parts of the world where workers
have a strong incentive to (and do) get ahead. And second, Western and
Japanese capitalist enterprises have to invent new products, which
increasingly take the form of services. (E.g. for some time Ford has been
shifting its conception from the manufactured product 'automobile' to the
service 'mobility'; Otis and other elevator manufacturers are increasingly
generating their earnings from servicing rather than manufacturing elevators
and escalators; new medical services for a longer-living world population
are being invented by the day. An older example is 'convenience foods' in
which the 'service' of food preparation is included in the product. There
are countless other examples, large and small, of this shift in conception.)
There is no end of inventing use-values (what Adam Smith calls the
"conveniencies of life") which enable other possibilities for human living.
The capitalist way of thinking is extremely inventive in finding new
possibilities of making money through providing new kinds of use-value
"conveniencies" to both rich and poor.

Another point -- Arrighi writes:
"It is hard to see how this situation can be reproduced for any length of
time without transforming into an outright tribute, or ‘protection payment’,
the $1 billion (and counting) that the United States needs daily to balance
its current accounts with the rest of the world. But it is even harder to
envision the kind of system-wide social and political convulsions that are
necessary to make the extraction of such a tribute the foundation of a new,
and for the first time in history, truly universal world empire."

What is called a "tribute" here is no tribute, and the US is not an
"empire". The flow of capital into the US is attracted by possibilities of
return on capital, whether it be direct investment, the stock market, the
bond market or something else. The markets continue to act as attractors
(that could change); it is not a movement coerced by superior force, but a
further aspect of capitalist competition among economies. Perhaps the US
state has been clever in manoeuvring and arm-twisting to keep the dollar
attractive, but what accounts for the continuing underlying attractiveness
of the US economy for the rest of the world?

The US-centric accounts provided by Arrighi and Brenner say nothing at all
about the failure of rich economies such as Japan and Germany to keep their
economies flourishing. (German per capita income continues to slip further
and further behind US per capita income.) It's too easy to say they have
simply been outmanoeuvred politically by an almighty so-called 'imperialist
US'. Perhaps it is that US capitalism best "corresponds to the concept"
(Hegel) of capital, whereas a country like Germany is intent rather on
setting up a bureaucratic "staehlernes Gehaeuse" (Max Weber) Sozialstaat
which gradually strangles capitalist profitability, for small and large
firms alike. The complacent Germans generally like order, especially that
enforced by state bureaucratic regulation, and fear nothing more than change
(probably similar to the Japanese in this regard). But capitalism is
turbulent and demands continual adaptation and change on pain of demise on
the markets. Turbulent capitalism moves both down and up, just like human
beings do.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU schrieb Thu, 17 Apr 2003 11:50:42 -0700:

> This hasn't arrived at our local bookstores yet, but I have been told
> that this is a rich and outstanding analysis.
> rb
> New Left Review March-April 2003
> Giovanni Arrighi: Tracking Global Turbulence
> In a landmark engagement with Robert Brenner’s account of the long
> downturn of the world economy since the 70s, Giovanni Arrighi lays out a
> social and political economy of the roles of labour unrest, national
> liberation and corporate financialization in the crisis of the post-war
> order, and the prospects for a militarized US hegemony today.

Betreff:            Giovanni Arrighi's paper
      Datum:            Fri, 18 Apr 2003 05:06:54 -0400
        Von:            gerald_a_levy <gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM>
 Rückantwort:            OPE-L <OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU>
         An:            OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU

Attached is Giovanni Arrighi's  article, "Tracking Global
Turbulence"  ( _New Left Review_, March/April, 2003),
that Rakesh referred to yesterday.   The article represents
a response to Robert Brenner's  "The Economics of Global
Turbulence" and _The Boom and the Bubble_.  The
attachment, which was provided by an archives reader, is
the html  version saved as RTF.

In solidarity, Jerry


                  Winword Datei (application/rtf)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Apr 29 2003 - 00:00:00 EDT