New Issue–Costs of Empire

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Our March/April issue has been sent to e-subscribers and should be hitting print subscribers’ mailboxes soon.  (Not a subscriber? You can subscribe online here.)

This is our special “Costs of Empire” issue (though we are covering the theme throughout 2017).

Here is the editors’ note from page 2:

Costs of Empire

At one time or another, almost the entire world has been colonized by one European power or another. By the early 20th century, the British empire alone ruled nearly one fourth of the world’s people. The map of the world, however, is no longer a mosaic of European colonial possessions. Most of the Americas became formally independent in the late 18th or early 19th centuries; most of Asia and Africa, in the mid to late 20th century. Formal colonial empires—characterized by the direct political and military control of the colonial powers—gave way to informal empire over much of the world. Britain became the dominant power in South America in the 19th century without recolonizing the entire region. The United States supplanted Britain and Spain as the dominant power in Central America and the Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with only some former colonies of European powers becoming formal colonies of the United States. By mid 20th century, the United States had eclipsed Britain as the dominant power in the capitalist world.

The United States ruled its informal empire through a combination of military, political, and economic power. It plied local elites with promises of a cut of the riches extracted from the “open veins,” to use the words of Uruguayan essayist Eduardo Galeano, of the dominated lands and peoples. It maintained a system of client governments reliable in their suppression of revolutionary political movements and maintenance of profitable conditions for U.S. companies. And it asserted the right to intervene militarily in other countries—first within its “sphere of influence” (or, even more demeaningly, “backyard”) of Latin America, and then across the world.

In her article “Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy,” economist Jayati Ghosh argues that imperialism has not disappeared, but changed shape. The direct military conquest and control of economic territory by the great powers has given way (at least some of the time) to control through multilateral agreements and international institutions. Economic territory may still mean the seizure of land, mines, or oil fields—but it also may mean privatization of public assets and services, or the extension of intellectual property rights to new realms. Where the “labor aristocracy” of the imperialist countries once shared in the bounty of empire, the new incarnation of empire as “globalization” has helped grind away the incomes and status they once enjoyed.

Lest anyone think that the old hallmarks of dollar-gunboat diplomacy are now ancient history, Arthur MacEwan revisits a perennial question of U.S. foreign policy—“Is It Oil?” MacEwan earlier addressed the question in the May/June 2003 issue of Dollars & Sense, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (beginning the Second Iraq War). Today, he looks at the outcomes of the war in terms of control of Iraq’s oil reserves (especially timely given Trump’s statement, when speaking to the CIA in late January, that the U.S. should have kept Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance”). MacEwan emphasizes—contrary to “conventional wisdom,” even among progressive critics of U.S. foreign policy—that the primary concern is not securing oil resources essential to American’s energy-hungry lifestyles, but rather securing control of those resources and profit for giant U.S.-based oil interests.

Speaking of profits for giant companies, James M. Cypher trains his sights on the corporations that profit directly from the United States’ gargantuan military spending. What Cypher calls the “Industrial-Military-Congressional Juggernaut” doles out defense dollars to a vast complex of arms contractors and subcontractors—one nestled inside the next, like matryoshka dolls. Profits multiply as the markup on the inputs produced by a subcontractor become part of the costs of the contractor at the next level up—and to which it applies its own mark-up. One arms system, meanwhile, may beget additional supporting systems—and additional profits. The profiteering only stands to get more brazen, Cypher argues, under a Trump administration that seems to be aiming for “more bucks for more and bigger bangs.”

Immanuel Ness shows us the opposite side of the equation. As capitalism penetrates every corner of the world, it not only extracts profit but also expands the realm of capitalist relations of production—and with it the growth of the working class. While “first world” workers have suffered mightily under conditions of deindustrialization, and are still struggling to rebuild their capacity for struggle, “third world” workers are suffering under conditions of subordinate industrialization and are, in various places, rising up with new strength—as the formation of industrial unions and eruption of strike waves testifies.

An empire may have an impressive head of gold—but mind what its feet are made of.

Climate March Links: Industrial Policy!

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A few items in advance of this weekend’s Climate March in NYC:

(1) Ron Baiman of the Chicago Political Economy Group sent us this:

I’m sometimes asked: What is industrial policy?

This article (“Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind”) by Justin Gillis of the New York Times shows what industrial policy is. If Germany, a country with little sun, and little wind-swept land mass can do it, we all can! In fact as the article notes, German (and Chinese) industrial policies are bringing prices down and making these planetary saving technologies economically viable for all of us.

Instead of fighting for a mythological and nonsensical “free market” we should be doing the same. Industrial policy is necessary to move the massive “collective action” transformations necessary forward. Even Elan Moss’ battery factory in Nevada is going to be funded with a substantial share of (extorted) state subsidies. It’s unfortunate that this kind of “shake down” (or defense appropriations) is how its done in the U.S.–not a good method that often results in unwarranted subsidies to private business. I have not analyzed the battery deal, but it does appear to at least have the potential to create some good jobs and high tech manufacturing in the U.S. after decades of outsourcing. See CPEG long-time advocacy for “green technology” industrial policy here, here, and here.

(2)  Burlington, VT:  Via SolidarityEconomy.net, originally from DailyKos:  Vermont’s Largest City Now Using 100% Renewable Energy Sources. Reported also in Business Insiderthe Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. The DailyKos piece also talks about Germany’s achievements for energy independence, as does…

(3) Christian Parenti on Behind the News.  The second hour of the most recent (posted) episode of Doug Henwood’s excellent radio show Behind the News (click here, click play, and scroll to the second hour, or listen to the whole thing!) has an interview with Christian Parenti about his article on the Jacobin website, Reading Hamilton from the Left. The discussion of Jefferson and Hamilton (Parenti is arguing that Hamilton was far more progressive) is good, but the (later) part on Hamilton as kind of the father of develomentalism–government intervention in the capitalist economy–and Parenti’s point that Hamilton-esque policies are needed to address climate change–are really great, and relates to Ron’s piece (above) about industrial policy. (Reminded me of Jim Cypher’s piece in our March/April 2013 issue about Brazil’s “neodevelopmentalism”–though there the industrial policy isn’t being marshalled to combat climate change, quite the contrary.)

One of the most interesting bits is his point that one key way the gov’t could spur alternative energy is as a major consumer–if in compliance with the Clean Air Act the government started running all those fleets of government vehicles and all those government buildings on alternative energy, that would create a market for such energy and spur development of clean-energy technology–which is what Germany (and Spain, and Portugal) are doing. (Add to this that the U.S. government, and the U.S. military, is the world’s biggest polluter, as we documented in Bob Feldman’s great piece War on the Earth more than ten years ago, and there is plenty the government could do.)

(4) National Jobs for All Coalition flyers again:  In my last post I gave a link to the NJfAC great Green Jobs for All flyer. which also proposes government intervention to address climate–via government-created green jobs (addressing the jobs crisis at the same time). Here’s more encouragement for people to print these up and distribute them at the march.

Ok, that’s it for now. Enjoy the march, for those of you who are going!

–Chris Sturr