(OPE-L) Re: Giovanni Arrighi "Tracking Global Turbulence" NLR Mar-Apr/03

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Mon Apr 28 2003 - 07:33:03 EDT

Michael E wrote on  Monday, April 21:

> 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.

The diffusion of information technologies has, though, by no means meant
that "everyone can buy more stuff"   and the prices of those manufactured
goods has not dropped nearly as greatly as was generally forecast.  Indeed,
in many parts of the world personal computers are beyond the financial
reach of most working class families.  Other popular consumer goods like
cell phones are also very expensive and, if purchased, represent a
significant increase in telephone costs (not so much because of the price
of the cell phones but because the price of the 'connection':  this is a
subject where rent enters the picture to inflate the total real cost of
operating the technology).  And  (money) wages in most parts of the world
in the same time period have been relatively flat or falling (also, let's
not forget the many millions of poor non-waged in the informal sector).

Another related question is whether the *needs* of workers globally have
changed significantly since the advent of the "information technology
revolution".  This is a very interesting and important issue, I think.  With
the spread of communication services internationally (most especially the
TV), the advertising and images for these new commodities enter most homes
in just about all parts of the world.  It can then be the case that "needs"
are created before many millions of workers have the financial means to
afford those new "needs."   This has potentially important political (and,
down the road, environmental) consequences.  (Note:  TV and radio
corporate advertising had an important political role in changing attitudes
in the GRD prior to re-unification.  That advertising helped to create new
'needs.'  But,  after reunification, that doesn't mean that those
working-class families now have the income needed to purchase those
commodities that they have come to believe they need.).

> 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.

Brenner used to emphasize the shift to the production of services and, at
least re the US, the relative importance of the service industry.

> The capitalist world-game still has some room to expand.)

Yes, there are areas of the world where capital can expand.  But, the
capitalist 'world-game' (an interesting expression, btw) will end not when
it runs out of markets or when it breaks-down, but when the working
class puts an end to that 'game'.   Economic collapse is by no means a
precondition for that change.

> 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.

Are Arrighi and Brenner US-centric?   Well, I guess that depends on how you
view the role of the US in the world capitalist economy.  If the US is
hegemonic, then a focus on the US (along with resistance to that hegemony)
would be appropriate.  If the US has lost its hegemony (as Cyrus -- for
instance --  argues) then one should focus more on other advanced capitalist
economies (rather than the US alone) and how the various imperialist powers
are attempting to expand both within advanced capitalist nations and less
developed nations and resistance to that process internationally.  Someone
might perhaps claim that even the latter focus is 'advanced
capitalist-centric'  but if the focus is on global capitalism (rather than
e.g. peoples' needs globally) then there is good reason for this -- for the
same reason, if one wants to explain the _historical_ birthing of capitalism
one must look to Europe first since that's  where it began and it was only
later 'exported' by colonial and imperialist powers to other parts of the
world  (for that reason, I do not think that such a view is Euro-centric).

In solidarity, Jerry

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