Yankee-Global Went To Prague
By Gwydion M. Williams
We have a global struggle over ‘globalisation’, brought into focus by events like the protests in Seattle and Prague, but mostly fought out elsewhere.
The dominant elite like to present it as a simple choice between ‘Free Trade / Globalisation’ or else a return to the kind of pre-industrial life presented by William Morris in News From Nowhere. And some of their critics are happy with such a polarisation.
I’d see these as just two out of dozens of viable options, any of which we could have if the world had the will for them. The United Nations system as set up in 1945 certainly could have provided a global framework with peace and local control. The Soviet Union and the United States were equally determined that it would not happen, with each of them trying to impose its own global pattern.
With the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States had the option to reshape the UN system into a global framework equally binding on all nations. They preferred an informal system in which they could use a variable blend of UN authority and their own armed forces to impose on other sovereign nations rules that the United States would not itself be bound by.
‘Free Trade’ does not mean that foreign companies are free to trade in the United States. They are allowed, hampered or forbidden, depending on how the dominant elite in the USA think that their own interests are best served. That’s why I’d call it ‘Yankee-Globalisation’.
From at least the days of King Sargon of Mesopotamia (2334-2279 BC), someone or other has been trying to impose their own rule and way of life on the rest of the planet. West Europeans remember Alexander as the quintessential world-ruler, but he never ruled anything west of the Balkans, nor east of the Indus valley in what is now Pakistan. The Romans ruled lands Alexander never visited, but were unable to defeat the revived Persian Empire. Nor did they even manage to establish regular trading links with the enormous Han Chinese Empire, militarily their equal but far too distant to be any sort of threat. The Romans and Chinese would have sooner traded directly rather than via the Persians, but the world was not yet developed enough.
Genghis Khan was maybe the first successful globaliser. The Mongols did for a time create a militaristic state and open trading zone across Central Asia, a single domain controlling the exchange of luxury goods between Europe, China, India and the Arab world. This and the reports of travellers like Marco Polo gave Europeans like Columbus a burning desire to re-visit the much richer lands of East Asia. So Genghis left an important legacy – though his real name was Chinghis, and we get a distorted view transmitted via people who would have referred to cheese as ‘geese’.
Following the Mongols – and just as devastating to those they conquered – came the Spanish Empire. They and the Portuguese once again linked Europe, China, India and the Arab world, with the addition of Southeast Asia, African and the New World. This Spanish-Portuguese creation was then invaded and hijacked by the French, Dutch and English. The English got the lion’s share, in part because the rest of Europe feared the prospect of direct rule and dominance by Spain or France or Germany or Russia. British power was a much more distant threat.
This British-Globalisation lasted until the 1914-18 war. It was followed by what could best be called Global Chaos, an era when Britain was too weak to dominate but strong enough to make the League of Nations unworkable, and the USA was isolationist.
Fascism was a product of this chaos, not its cause. A serious enforcement of League rules against Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia would have been costly at the time, but almost certainly prevented World War Two. And when Hitler came to power in 1933, Fascism was close to being the European norm. With a dozen years of continuous gambling he had utterly ruined and discredited it, so that it has never again been a serious global force. Hitler gained the appearance of greatness by an astonishing bungle by the British and French, who first helped build him up as an anti-communist force and then noticed – rather late in the day – that he was a German and thus rather likely to assert German interests at the expense of Britain and France.
By ending up having to make Stalin their ally so as to defeat Hitler, the West subverted its own core values (which share little besides the names with their modern Yankee-global equivalents). European Imperialism was largely dismantled in the 1950s, while the USA was forced to tone down and reform its culture of WASP-domination and racial segregation in the 1960s. Meantime the post-Stalin leadership lacked coherence and failed to find a sensible way forward.
In the 1950s and 1960s, and even into the 1970s, the Western system was described as ‘Free Enterprise’ or ‘Social-Market’, and never called capitalist except by its critics. But since this ‘Social-Market’ system actually worked quite well, the way was left open to New Right economists to revive classical capitalism by an academic version of the three-card trick.
For proving the virtues of ‘capitalism’, almost any dynamic and successful system can be called capitalist, regardless of how large a role the state played or how many social and customary constraints existed. But having justified ‘capitalism’ in a broad or impure form, the New Right economists then switch to a narrow or purified definition, in which the role of the state is by definition negative and all social and customary constraints are ‘burdens’.
The degree to which a particular system corresponds to the ideal of ‘purified capitalism’ has very little in common with its general well-being, or even its growth in terms of conventionally-measured GNP. Yet a view of ‘capitalism’ based on this intellectual three-card trick dominates modern thinking, most notably New Labour.
In the USA, it proved possible to treat the working mainstream with utter contempt. Ordinary Americans show a servile admiration for the wealthy, and have quietly accepted economic policies that leave the bulk of them no better off than they were in the 1970s. This is quite different from Britain, where the working mainstream has done about as well as it did under Keynesianism, with just the poor squeezed and the rich getting the lion’s share.
It is not a question of social needs versus growth. Allowing people to compete to the maximum private income has damaged the system, which is why the West has grown more slowly overall than when the Keynesian system of economic and currency regulation broke down in the 1970s. The USA possibly does better, Europe most definitely does worse.
The virtue of what used to be called ‘free enterprise’ comes not from the profit-motive but from the simple fact of private enterprise. If dozens of people do different things, one or two are quite likely to hit on something good. Profit need not come into it. Economists from Adam Smith onwards have made a fundamental error, mistaking incidental greed and inequality for the source of wealth.
Private enterprise without much thought of profit exists in science, and often also in literature and art. That shows you what the real engines of creation. Art can flourish anywhere, and does so unpredictably. But it was the conscious development of science by state-sponsored bodies like the British Royal Society that laid the basis for later industrialisation
Global financiers are obviously more interested in what they can get out a society than how that society prospers. Economists have a doctrine that these two values are somehow the same: I say doctrine rather than belief, because when their own interests would be at stake, they show no belief in what they have proclaimed as unquestionable truth. They resemble the mediaeval Cardinals, who proclaimed that healing was wholly a Gift Of God, but hastened to the learned and skilful Jewish doctors when they themselves were taken ill.
If you’d be ashamed to say what your wishes and desires actually are, you pretend it’s not a choice but some sort of law of nature. And thus with globalisation. It’s a globe we live on, that really is a law of nature. Anything above a certain size will form itself into more or less a sphere just as a result of its own weight or gravitational force. But how we live on it is totally a matter of choice. Britain and America in the 19th century could have left Japan alone, and the Japanese would probably still be living in the peaceful and refined feudalism of the Edo Period. Forcing the Japanese to join the modern world was not entirely a wise move on the part of Britain and America, it didn’t seem to occur to them that Asians with a culture far older than anything English might turn into fierce and dangerous rivals.
God is often cited by Globalisers, Genghis Khan was fond of doing so. As were the Spaniards, who did genuinely believe that their plundering, massacres and rapes had divine approval. And this was always the official Catholic line, even if some genuinely religious Catholics were properly revolted and did speak out boldly against the process.
You can not of course incorporate God into your human political structures; you can merely incorporate one or other human vision of what God is believed to want. Most human communities have functioned with an officially recognised creed or cult, plus a wide or narrow margin for sectional and individual beliefs.
In the USA, the role of state-church has gone unofficially and by default to the lawyers. These serve the Cult of the Holy Constitution, a much stranger enigma than the old ‘mystical body of Christ’.
US Presidents are following a very old tradition, in citing God for policies which seem more suitable for the creed of ‘money and gunpowder’ that Shaw proposed in Major Barbara. If you update it as money and gun-power, it is exactly the creed of the modern USA. It is normally glossed as Puritan Christianity, sometimes as Judaism or Catholicism or Agnostic-Rationalism or even Buddhism or New Age. But under the labels it is all the same ‘money and gun-power’.
I recently got a postcard from New York, it said New York so New York it probably was, but without the label it might have been almost anywhere globally. And yet New York is generally seen as the kooky and interesting bit of the USA. Yankee-Globalisation aspires to make the rest of the world less interesting and less distinct than New York, and has gone a long way towards achieving this ideal.
And ‘free markets’? Markets have historically been ‘free’ only in the sense that the strongest can freely use their superior wealth to grow still richer. Rights of money, set against the Human Welfare. We are also told that ‘Free markets’ are the alternative to European and East Asian ‘social markets’. The main protestors against the process needlessly concede half the battle just by using such terms. All markets are social, relying for their existence not just on people, but also people trained to a very particular set of habits.
Economists believe that a truly asocial market would be harmonious and perfect. Why?
Most people living much as they wish is defined as a monstrous interference with the right of neurotic characters to become obscenely rich. Again, why?
The social values of today’s dominant elites are hailed as Darwinian and as Unchanging Human Nature. As were yesterday’s values – white-male and secularised-Puritan dominance. It tomorrow the world were to be dominated by, say, a lesbian-vegetarian elite, this too could be easily shown to be Unchanging Human Nature.
Economists from Adam Smith onwards floated theories of ‘Asocialism’, whereby a carefully conceived social order imposed on the British with savagery by rulers like Henry the 8th and Oliver Cromwell is deemed ‘spontaneous rationality’, fit to be imposed by the British on the rest of the world.
Capitalism and democratic liberty grew together in the late-18th and early-19th century, thanks to the benevolent neglect of the British state, we are told. Like hell they did! The key decades of Britain’s Industrial Revolution were the 1760s to 1820s, in which an unreformed parliament elected by a minority made sure that industrialisation and agricultural reform favoured just that minority and squeezed out the voteless peasantry and workshop-artisans. And in which free speech on political issues was harassed with treason laws, which led to odd phenomena like radicals supporting the rights of George IV’s unwanted unlovely German wife as a form of protest that even English law could not call treasonable.
Economic theorists posit an infinitely large world full of identical units known as The Individual. Or sometimes The Household, it’s all much of a muchness, since the human element is not there despite the reassuring names. Ties from one unit of The Individual to another are assumed to be abstract, based on coldly rational greed. Social networks based on developing mutual trust or antagonism are not allowed into the equations, they are merely the reality of business life. Such facts are not allowed to corrupt the purity of Analytical Economics, economics with the reality carefully removed in favour of pompous falsehoods.
That is the theory, and it is never allowed to interfere with the practice and policies of those who used their financial ‘muscle’ to create the ‘Nobel Prize For Economics’, which is quite different from the five Nobel Prizes created according to the will and legacy of Alfred Nobel. Economic laurels are always false laurels, though mainstream publications dependant on advertising and on business-oriented owners no longer dare to say this very often.
Capitalism as an historic phenomenon has gone hand in hand with the growth of a large police force, navy, army and a large state apparatus. The idea of trade as peace is contradicted by the warlike histories of Athens, Venice, Genoa, Holland and Britain and America. ‘Free Trade’ allows you to fight a ‘defensive’ war thousands of miles from where you yourself live.
The model of detached households freely trading just has nothing in common with the reality. In as far as it ever existed, it was found in the protected traditional world that industrial capitalism replaced. In the former USSR, and in the rest of Eastern Europe, ‘Asocialism’ as preached by the New Right was applied with great seriousness, in a way that Western politicians would never allow no matter how much they applaud Asocialism in the abstract. Suddenly no one was responsible, the wonders of Asocialism would give the ex-Socialists a Western standard of living.
The ‘Miracle of the Market’ was supposed to fix Russia and Eastern Europe, and the actual sharp decline in wealth and welfare came as a shock. It’s as if Jesus had botched the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, and instead of multiplying them had reduced them to three crumbs and half a fishbone.
Russia is suffering from the mysterious absence of miraculous results after the ‘miracle of the market’ was sought with great earnestness. There was an attempt at real Asocialism in the rebound from Brezhnev’s corrupt socialist dictatorship. And the ex-Breshnevites, the people with existing power and connections, grabbed what they could make money out of, while the rest was neglected. The gap between rich and poor widened, indeed, but the poor and middling also got very much worse off even as the new class of rich people emerged.
When the Russian Nomenklatura saw that imposing their own global rule was not feasible, they preferred to sell out to US rules at the expense of ordinary Russians. The Chinese if they were still Maoist might have called them Running Dogs of Yankee-Globalism – or perhaps ‘Running Rottweilers’. But the USA, believing in Asocialism whenever its own political experience does not guide it, has bungled its chance to attach these ‘Running Rottweilers’ solidly to the defence of Yankee-Globalism.
No one in 1986 was saying that the Soviet system only had another five years to go.
[The system is still around as at May 2015, but very much weaker than it seemed to be back in 2000. It managed to shift blame for the 2008 financial crisis, at least within the Anglosphere. But it has wholly alienated Russia, which was not the case in 2000. And China‘s rise has continued smoothly.]