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Personal and Professional
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ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999
Andre Gunder Frank
Mc World vs Jihad Critique: Divide or Impera
McWORLD: DIVIDE OR IMPERA? BOTH !
The July 13, 1992 International Herald Tribune [IHT] features two articles on centripetal and centrifugal opposing forces in the contemporary world. A front page article by the New York Times' Thomas Friedman cites Harvard's Robert Reich among others on simultaneous centripetal globalization and nationalist or ethnic centrifugal self-assertion. In East Asia the future seems to be burying the past, Friedman writes, while in Sarajevo, the West Bank, Nagorno-Karabak, Moldova and Northern Ireland the past seems to be burying the future. The editorial page features the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne on the contradiction between the decline of national economies through globalization and "the decline of big ideas" as well as "the impulse to fragment" into nationalism and xenophobia. These contradictory observations are becoming ever more common and were also reflected in a long article in the March 1992 [Vol. 269, No. 3] Atlantic by Benjamin Barber entitled "Jihad Vs. McWorld." All these observations are very much to the point in the turbulence among today's global villages.
However, most of the analyses of these observations, and particularly Barber's article, miss the essential point: The centripetal "McWorld" globalism and the centrifugal "Jihad" tribalism are not two distinct and opposed tendencies. The furure and the past, as well as East and West Asia, Eastern Europe and Northen Ireland are all inexterably connected if not united in the present McWorld economic and therefore political crisis. The centrifugal national, ethnic, religious and other outbursts are the direct result of globalizing centripetal pressures and the resultant simultaneous crisis in this process. The centrifugal manifestations are -- in the words of Robert Reich -- the "counter-reaction" to the painful centripetal exigencies.
Jihad is the response to the fact that, as Mr. Barber points out, "all national economies are now vulnerable to the inroads of larger, transnational markets." For the market, resource, ecological and information-technological imperatives of globalization themselves generate the fragmentation and Lebanonization of the world. The reason is that, although "each of the four imperatives just cited is transnational, transideological, and transcultural," they do not apply "impartially" and McWorld does not "deliver peace, prosperity and relative unity." On the contrary, globalization itself generates economic polarization into haves and have-nots, both on a global scale and within particular societies. Thereby, globalization also threatens the cultural identity of both. Moreover, during recurrent world economic crises like the present one, the have nots are economically immiserated by absolute as well as relative loss of income. As the Bible correctly observed, "to those that hath shall be given; from those that hath not, shall be taken [what little they hath]." Therefore, "McWorld is [not] in competition with [but itself generates] the forces of global breakdown, national dissolution, and centrifugal corruption," in short Jihad Lebanonization.
As part and parcel of the one McWorld economic crisis, especially since the 1979-82 recession and during the 1980s "recovery," per capita national income declined 25 percent in Africa and nearly 15 percent in Latin America, which were thrust into a depression worse than that of the 1930s. Now the ex "socialist" former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are joining this depression also as a direct result of the decline in the price of oil and the debt crisis since 1981, as well as the Reaganomic arms race to star wars, and the renewed world recession of the 1990s.
Reaganomic deficit spending kept not only the American but the whole Western economy afloat in the 1980s through global military Keynesianism. However, this McWorld policy was at the cost of depression in all of Africa and Latin America, parts of Asia and the Middle East, and most of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which it bankrupted. Reaganomics would also have bankrupted the American economy, were it not for the subsidies through the capital inflow from some of these and Western Europe and Japan, which were not available to the "socialist" economies.
However, the American economy is now also threatened with similar bankruptcy as this inflow of capital disappears in the recession or depression of the 1990s: In Japan, the recession and deflationary crash in stock and real estate prices have obliged its financial institutions now to repatriate more capital to Japan than it exports. In Germany, far from causing the present recession as the populist myth has it, reunification first postponed and still obfuscates the cause of the recession: First, the western carpetbagger conquest of the eastern market through reunification maintained effective demand longer than elsewhere in the West. However, this demand was temporarily maintained for West German [and European] firms through a German version of "Reaganomic" fiscal deficit finance in the East, which obliged the German rate of interest to rise to permit the state to attract private capital. Thus, both the new recession generated Japanese and the German competition for capital also draw capital away from the American economy and its U.S. government. Yet for both of the latter this capital has become a habit forming fix, the withdrawal symptoms from which can only spell political disaster for the United States and the world. No wonder that in the same July 13 IHT like so many others in recent days, Friedman can lament the failure of last week's Munich economic summit -- without however analyzing either the causes nor the probable disasterous consequences of that failure.
Thus the legacy of global Reaganomics is now aggravated again by the renewed present world wide recession or perhaps depression. The political events in the East since 1989 were the direct result of [McWorld economic crisis generated] economic decline in these regions. Now economic depression is hitting them too. In 1990, production declined by 20 per cent in Eastern Europe and by nearly 10 percent in the Soviet Union. In 1991, that decline was by some 20 percent again in both, and in 1992 it threatens to do so once again. Among and within all the above named, the hardest hit are the weakest and poorest population segments and regions, such as those in declining industrial regions and in the former Soviet Central Asia, where unemployment rose to over 20 percent before recent events to which it contributed. In the former Jugoslavia, today's terrible civil war is the direct consequence of the economic and debt crisis of the 1980s. An alternative Western policy could have lessened the debt's sociopolitical ravages and avoided Jugoslavia's dismemberment and civil war.
Of course, this world wide economic polarizing and immiserating process was not confined to the above mentioned regions. The same economic polarization and immiserization and resulting communal "identity" crises also visited the rust belt and inner city slums in the United States [as illustrated by the burning of South Central Los Angeles]; the north of the United Kingdom, including Scotland [renewed independence fever] and Northern Ireland [increased communal strife]; and even the Ruhr and north as well as other parts of Germany and the south of France ["foreigners out"], among many other parts of the "rich" industrial parts of the world.
The same July 13, 1992 IHT front page also carry two articles on Japan and East Asia. One by the IHT's Michel Richardson relies heavily on Francis Fukuyama of "the end of history" fame. The other by the Washington Post's Paul Blustein recounts how the Japanese have fallen on hard times. Unfortunately of course, the real McWorld connection between the two headlines and reports is not made by the IHT but is left for us to make: At the top of the page, now "East Asia Spurns West's Cultural Model" and supposedly reverts to Confuscianism. However, Blustein and Fukuyama fail to tell us that this counter-reaction now occurs precisely because "Japan's Lean Times Hit Home" due to its present economic recession, as is reported at the bottom of the page. However more than the revival of Confuscianism or Fukuyama's liberalism, war and radical right populist politics and dicatorships, not to mention anti-feminist and women backlashes and rabid racism and ethnocide, around the world is what is now threatening "the end of history" as we knew it since World War II.
It is little wonder then that Mr. Barber can also observe fragmentation tendencies among regions and peoples -- and "good riddance" tendencies among those who regard themselves as burdened by state "welfare" transfer payments from relatively rich to absolutely poor. In each of these, people seek to [re?]establish their own "identity" and to use it to monopolize ever scarcer economic resources for "us" and/or to deny access to the same to "them" within the same global, regional and local economy of McWorld. In this process of course, both globalization and the fragmentation it generates undermine and threaten democracy, as Mr. Barber righlty observes. Moreover, the inroads of transnational markets and McWorld economic crisis render not only national markets but also national democracy vulnerable, if not altogether ineffective, as an arbiter of national welfare. For these same reasons however, the confederations Mr. Barber proposes can offer little remedy or solace to those who seek to dispute over the scarce resources and income of a depressed and shrinking, instead of uniting to share a healthy and growing, McWorld economic pie. The American Articles of Confederation, evoked by Mr. Barber, foundered on the world and American economic crisis of the 1770s and 1780s and led to the Constitution, which benefitted from economic recovery thereafter. That is unfortunately not yet in sight this time.
Therefore, Mr. Barber's second option of bottom up grass roots "strong" democracy in civil society - or "civil democracy" as Marta Fuentes and I have termed it - offers many alternative ways of participatory organization and mobilization simultaneously to pursue economic and identity ends. Unfortunately in today's world, economic, political, social, cultural, and ideological crisis, grass roots social movements and their populist leaders also opt for less than civil democratic appeals, positions, and actions and Jihads. They range from the Metrarie, Louisiana home district of David Duke in the America First of Pat Buchanan to the former Common European Home of the former head of the former Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev. The socio-political manifestations also include the threat to the Maastricht process of West European unification, which are posed by the present world economic recession before its resultant political institutional manifestations in the Danish NO vote and other second thoughts elsewhere. That is not to mention the other balkanization process in Europe, which includes the Lebanonization already of Yugoslavia and the Caucasus as previews of what may spread to other parts of Europe and Asia, as well as to other regions in our single but polarizing and fragmentizing McWorld.
Barber's "guess is that globalization will eventually vanquish retribalization." However, it has already and repeatedly failed to do so during the last 50 years of the "American century" or the last 500 years since Columbus "globalized" us all. Moreover, Gorbachev recently observed that the market is far older than capitalism. This market unifies but does not homogenize and instead simultaneously polarizes and thereby fragmentizes. Therefore, this "McWorld" market has failed to vanquish retribalization also during the last 5,000 years since "national economies" in Egypt, Levant, Anatolia, the Transcaucasus, Mesopotamia, Persia, India and Central Asia all became "vulnerable to the inroads of larger, transnational markets," which joined them all in a single world system.
Today, we all still live and struggle in this same system, and as per the lemma of the peoples of the former Portugese colonies: "A Luta Continua!" - the struggle continues.
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