Capitalism is not in its terminal phase, is it?

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

China and the United States, main models that can suggest the course of capitalism in the world

Capitalism is not in its terminal phase, but it is unrecognizable. This is the thesis defended by journalist Ricardo Dudda, in an article in the magazine New Society, in the November-December issue of last year. For him, whatever happens, capitalism is at its climax. In its hyper-commercialized version, “based on the gig economy and in the commercialization of private life, it managed to expand its action to spheres of existence that had never before been commodified”. And he assures: “there is no alternative to capitalism, and the sooner we assume this, the sooner we will fix it”.

It is noted that this is a journalist for whom “capitalism” is defined, in its “classical” form, “as Marx and Weber did”. As if there were a common definition of capitalism between two authors who approach the subject in very different ways. But Dudda is not concerned with such niceties. columnist for El País and The Objective, Dudda analyzes the subject from the viewpoint of the Serbian economist Branko Milanović, for whom “Western capitalism is losing its liberal characteristics”.

Among the new characteristics of this capitalism is the fact that “between 1978 and 2012, the percentage of global wealth in the hands of the richest 0,1% increased from 7% to 22%”. If nothing changes, by 2030 it is estimated that the richest 1% will own two-thirds of global wealth”. It provides data on the extreme concentration of land in the United States and England. “Between 2007 and 2017, the proportion of land (property) owned by the 100 richest homeowners in the United States increased by nearly 50%. In the UK, just 1% of the population (around 25 homeowners) own half of the country's properties”.

Following Milanović, he makes a series of considerations about what he calls Chinese “political capitalism” – the effective empire of the bureaucracy and the one-party political system –, for which Milanović “does not hide a slight preference”. A system whose success, for Dudda, is based on the “lack of democracy and contempt for civil rights”. In any case, in his opinion, it is unlikely that liberal capitalism resembles this “political capitalism”. It is much more likely, he says, “that global capitalism will continue to dominate the world, in each region in its own way”.

where our destiny plays

In the same magazine, follows another article, which addresses a similar topic. “What future is being written in China?” asks Simone Pieranni, correspondent and China specialist for the Italian newspaper The poster and creator of the press agency ChinaFiles. A first piece of information is spending on scientific research, on which the United States spent, on the eve of World War II, only 0,075% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

At the end of the war, in 1944, this percentage increased sevenfold, reaching almost 0,5% of GDP, investments that were used to develop things like radar systems, penicillin and… the atomic bomb… In the following two decades, says Pieranni , federal funding for research and development increased twenty-fold. However, he adds, “in the early 1980s, a slow decline began: public spending on research and development rose to 1,2% of GDP; in 2017, it had fallen to 0,6%”.

He then contrasts this information with data from China where, between 1990 and 2010, “enrollment in higher education increased eightfold and the number of graduates rose from 300 to almost three million per year”. “In 1990, the number of doctorates in the United States was twenty times greater than in China”. Two decades later, China had overtaken the United States, with 29 new doctors in 2010, compared to 25 in the United States”. “The level of investment and planned innovation by Chinese companies and their political sponsors in areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G, big data, facial recognition technologies or the vertiginous potential of quantum computing has dimensions of science fiction”, assures the Italian journalist.

It refers to the features of the WeChat application. “Let's imagine that we turn on the phone, tap on Messenger and, instead of the screen we know now, we find a kind of home page from which we access messages, social networks, Instagram, bank accounts, purchases, reservations, etc.”. That's what WeChat does, something similar to what Marc Zuckerberg dreams of transforming Facebook.

Pieranni introduces the idea of ​​“smart cities”, an approaching future in which some people are already living in China. “It's not just about new urban planning systems, but about new models of citizenship”, assures Pieranni.

It is not a topic without controversy. “The power of Chinese apps dedicated to the strict control of population movements, often accused of being no more than a security device and the anchor point of future hyper-surveilled smart cities, has been touted by the Chinese government and private operators as an indispensable public service in an emergency situation”. “This use has been seen with the coronavirus crisis. Despite the – severe – delay with which China started to deal with Covid-19 and its spread, the Chinese population seemed willing to support the decisions coming from above”.

Each city has done its part, he adds: “in some places, supermarkets or shopping centers have reduced working hours to avoid the risk of contagion, in others – especially in rural areas – everyone has tried to help the medical staff in charge of going from house to house to check the fever and report possible cases of contamination”.

carbon neutral

Finally, a reference to the problem of global warming and China's role in carbon emissions. President Xi Jinping announced at the last UN General Assembly, on September 22, that China wants to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2060. But there are some contradictions, says Pieranni. Today, “China consumes half of the world's coal. It also continues to build new coal-fired power stations and burns a lot of coal in its steel and cement plants,” of which it remains the world's leading producer. “Mission impossible then? No, according to experts, because the Chinese economy has many aspects and facets. Along with its reliance on coal, it is also a world leader in clean technologies that could enable Xi's – by the way, very ambitious – plans.”

In smart city projects, in many Chinese metropolises, “98% of public transport is already electric, as well as 99% of motorcycles and scooters”. Certainly, far from the political capitalism of Milanović or Dudda, and closer to the real world that is already emerging.

On the other side of the world

China's growing weight on the international stage is seen as the biggest challenge for US policy. “We have to face the reality that the distribution of power in the world is changing, creating new threats,” says a document in which the Biden administration establishes new interim guidelines for the national security strategy, released by the White House this month.

In his speech last February 4 at the State Department, Biden referred to his two great rivals: Russia and China. The United States must confront what the president sees as a "new wave of authoritarianism", including "China's growing ambition to rival the United States and Russia's determination to undermine our democracy". “We will not hesitate to raise the costs of these actions for Russia,” he added, “and we will also address the challenges that our most serious competitor – China – poses to our prosperity, security and democratic values.”

These are the same lines that are now included in the National Security Strategic Guide that the White House has just published. In both documents, Biden argues that the traditional distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy makes less sense than ever and has vowed to reorganize US government agencies and departments, including the White House organization, to reflect this reality.

As the Asia-Pacific region was the most direct scenario for the confrontation with China, the United States redirected part of its fleet to that region, while Biden announced his decision to rebuild ties with Europe and NATO, weakened by the policy of his predecessor, an indispensable alliance, above all, to try to isolate Russia. The only reference to Latin America in the document is related to the close ties that unite the “vital interests” of the United States with its “close neighbors in the Americas”. "We will expand our engagements and alliances throughout the Western Hemisphere – especially with Canada and Mexico – based on the principles of economic prosperity, security, human rights, and dignity." This includes, the document added, "working with Congress to provide assistance to Central America worth $4 billion over four years."

China demands an end to intervention

But, in a way, thinking about international politics in the same way as national politics will raise new questions: “our work in defense of democracy does not end at our borders”, observes the document. Biden announced his intention to promote his proposals for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang province and Tibet, as well as more general concerns, such as freedom of navigation, the most sensitive point that puts the two powers face to face in the South China Sea.

The difficulties become evident when one reads that the United States "will support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a key partner in economic and security matters." This is perhaps the most sensitive point in relations between Beijing and Washington, which China considers interference in its sovereign affairs. After the re-incorporation of former territories such as Macau and Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, the last pending case – and the most important – is that of the island of Taiwan. A miscalculation in handling this situation would have catastrophic consequences for humanity.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that there will be no world peace until the United States ceases to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, "a clear provision of the UN Charter and a fundamental principle of all international relations." At a press conference held during the annual session of the Chinese National People's Congress, Wang Yi said, "For a long time, the United States has arbitrarily interfered in the internal affairs of other countries under the banner of democracy and human rights, causing many problems in the world. ”. “The United States must realize this as soon as possible; otherwise the world will not know peace.”

Referring to Washington's possible criticism of electoral reform in Hong Kong, under discussion in the National People's Assembly, he said that this reform is "absolutely necessary to guarantee stability in Hong Kong", and rejected accusations of "genocide" against the minority. Uighurs in western China's Xinjiang region, which he says "make no sense and are based on maliciously propagated rumors". On Taiwan, he expressed the need “for the Biden administration to clearly move away from the dangerous practices of its predecessor”, warning that “there will be no concessions” on this issue. “Everything related to Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan is China's internal affairs and only the Chinese people can decide whether the Chinese government is doing good or bad,” said Wang Yi.

Both at home and abroad

With all eyes turned to the political orientations of the new administration, the Boston Globe published an article last week in which it observed that "Biden promises diplomacy but offers more militarism", noting that those who expected the administration to distance itself from conflicts in the Middle East were disappointed. Especially after the bombings in Syria.

Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, Stephen M. Walt, noted that the effects of this interventionist international policy ended up having repercussions at home as well, in an article published in the journal Foreign Policy, on the last 3rd of March. “Is there any connection between what the United States has been doing abroad and the various threats to freedom at home?” he asked. “I think so,” was his reply.

During what he called the “unipolar moment” after the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States seemed convinced that trying to remake the world in its own image could promote generations of peace and democracy. But instead, these actions “ended up causing enormous suffering in other countries – through sanctions, covert actions, support for rogue dictators and a remarkable ability to turn a blind eye to the brutal behavior of allies – not to mention the military activities themselves. of the United States in other regions”.

"What I'm suggesting," says Walt, "is that American actions abroad helped create the dangers we now face at home." Walt laments that the United States still spends more on national security than the next six or seven countries put together. Indeed, he says, “it has provided an impressive amount of military power. But the United States doesn't have the best elementary and secondary schools in the world, or the best health care system, or the best Wireless, or the best trains, roads, or bridges”.

To restore the credibility of the United States, as the new US administration intends, it is necessary to restore its relations with the International Criminal Court, in the opinion of Sari Bashi, human rights lawyer and director of research at the organization Democracy for the Arab World Now. Bashi is referring to the reaction of the Biden administration, the day after the President's speech, on February 4, when the Court decided to open an investigation into the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, including the conduct of the Israeli military during the war of 2014 in Gaza, and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the Rome Statute qualifies as “war crimes”. As soon as it was announced that the Court intended to investigate the case, the State Department expressed its “great concern” about the matter, while the Israeli government pressed the United States to help protect its officials and avoid any investigation.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

 

 

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