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

From: rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU
Date: Sun Apr 27 2003 - 15:13:08 EDT


Michael,
Brenner does in fact delve into the debate about whether there has 
been a productivity revolution, and has been skeptical of claims of 
a new economy for years--long before the NASDAQ bubble 
crashed and US government agencies began downward revisions 
of productivity growth. 

While your notes on product innovation suggests how difficulties in 
the realization of surplus value are in part overcome--if demand for 
the extant product set is saturated, it may take some time for 
capital to develop new products and to convince consumers 
through psycho-technics to purchase them (OPE-L member Paolo 
Cipolla has worked on this problem)-- the emphasis on the 
expansion of capital's valorization base through the incorporation 
of new workers underlines that capital increases the production of 
surplus value not only through the achievement of a higher rate of 
surplus value on a fixed population. 

You also write:
_____________
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 îprotection 
paymenté,
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?
_____________

But this is not what Arrighi said. He did not claim that the US was 
presently collecting tribute; he claimed that the present inflow of 
capital into the US would  have to be converted into a kind of tribute 
if that inflow was to continue. 

Of course this raises the question of why Asian central banks in 
particular have been willing to support the dollar and the way of the 
debt-happy US. 

It could be that they want to weaken their own currencies relative to 
the dollar to maintain export competitiveness (I tried to emphasize 
this factor months ago on OPE-L); it could be that they are fearful 
that otherwise the US could close off the market through explicit 
protectionist legislation; they could fear that grave US financial 
difficulties would force the US to reduce its military presence in the 
region; they could fear that the US would otherwise use its military 
power to establish more pro US, less multilateral governments in 
Southeast Asia .  The US probably intends to make a statement by 
marginalizing a non-cooperative France in the new Iraq. 

Such fears could also motivate Japan in particular to allow the US 
to dictate IMF policy to which it would otherwise be opposed, e.g., 
capital account liberalization which seems to benefit the US 
financial sector alone. 

Like Susan Strange, I tend to think the US ability to run a current 
account deficit for years with impunity is sign of US power, not US 
decline. Which is not to say that I think the US is a hegemonic 
power. We'll need to get straight the meanings of hegemony. 

Rakesh


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