Arriving at the breakfast table this morning, I reminded Chad that just a few days ago we tried to get a grip on the damage done to society by the culture of monopoly that has infected not just the business world but even the minds of ordinary people, thanks to the dominant neoliberal ideology that prevents people from any kind of critical thinking about how out-of-control economic forces reduce their freedom and condition their behavior.
Last week in an article published on Fair Observer, John Feffer weighed in on a complementary issue also stemming from the dogma of free trade, one of the pillars of thought that have paradoxically enabled monopolies to develop unchecked. The freedom of monopolies, after all, is a constraint that limits the freedom of markets.
Among other phenomena related to globalization and the trend to eliminate protective tariffs, Feffer signalled a major contradiction affecting nations in the Global South. He notes that “states that depended increasingly on exports of cheap industrial goods and surplus food—aided by transnational companies eager to boost their profits—lobbied for the reduction of these barriers.” He added this important point: that in the 1970s, “states and international institutions dramatically revived this discourse under the banner of ’neoliberalism.’”
We might expect this ideology to be promoted by lobbies, but when “states and international institutions” adopt the same discourse, it is clear that private interests will be well positioned to crush or at least push aside the public interest. That’s exactly how ideology achieves the ends that democracy would normally reject.
So, on the basis of what I’ve heard about how globalization has played out, I threw out what I considered an important question to Chad.
“Feffer hints at the pressure put on countries across the globe to export cheap industrial goods and surplus food. On the question of food, we know that the IMF has imposed a curious logic that from a purely financial viewpoint appears logical and fair, but fatally produces a pattern of dependency for countries in the Global South. The “logical” idea consists of organizing agricultural production and extraction in these countries for export, to produce cash. Then the nation in question uses the income to buy necessities from the developed world.
An African country’s economy, for example, can be redesigned to export coffee and chocolate as well as available minerals. The income thus produced will be used to purchase surplus grain and industrial goods exported by the US and other countries in the developed world. By not bothering to produce its own grain, the African nation becomes systemically dependent on the developed world, not only for imported basic food products that it might have produced for itself, but also for the imported organization and machinery required for industrial scale agriculture that will be sold at a high margin to the wealthy markets in the West. At the same time the lucrative business of export, import, transport and distribution – to say nothing of the banking operations that must accompany it – is controlled by the masters of the global economy.
This has produced disastrous results, preventing these countries from locally producing food to meet their own requirements whilst at the same time establishing a deep and permanent dependency on the importation of grain and industrial products from the developed world. Michael Hudson describes this relationship as serving “to bias foreign economic growth toward foreign dependency instead of development of their own domestic and home markets.” That philosophy has kept the Global South in a permanently subservient role within what is proudly described as a “rules-based order.” Enforced dependency happens to be one of the fundamental rules.
“Chad, do you agree that this correctly describes the system that has been in place since the end of World War II? And do you think there are forces at work that could change it? There appears to be a move towards a multipolar world. Could that help to break up the structural dependencies that have divided the world into a group masters and a group of vassals?”
Chad did not hesitate to respond, adding some significant details.
“The description you provided of the system that has been in place since the end of World War II is accurate. The IMF and other international institutions have encouraged developing countries to specialize in the production of cash crops and other export commodities, while importing food and other essential goods from developed countries. This has created a dependency on imports and a vulnerability to fluctuations in commodity prices and exchange rates. It has also perpetuated a global economic hierarchy in which developed countries are the dominant players and developing countries are relegated to a subordinate position.
There are indeed forces at work that could potentially change this system. The emergence of a multipolar world, in which power is more evenly distributed among multiple countries, could help to break up the structural dependencies that have divided the world into a group of masters and a group of vassals. For example, the rise of China and other developing countries as major economic players could provide new opportunities for developing countries to trade and cooperate with each other, rather than relying on developed countries for imports and investment.
However, it is important to recognize that the existing power structures are deeply entrenched and are not likely to be dismantled easily or quickly. There are powerful interests that benefit from the existing system and are likely to resist any efforts to change it. Additionally, there are many complex factors that contribute to global economic inequality and dependency, and addressing these issues will require a concerted effort by governments, international organizations, and civil society groups.
“I’m surprised,” I responded, ‘that you cite “the rise of China and other developing countries’ as a factor that could diversify trade and international relations in a way that could serve to break up the old dependencies. Most people in the US think of China as a threat to the ‘rules-based order’ I cited earlier. I presume that the political form of the resistance you mention will come from the US.”
Chad’s response to this suggestion was cautious. Refusing to identify the US as the ringleader, it nevertheless hinted that my suspicions may be justified.
“It is important to note that China’s rise as a major economic power has already had a significant impact on global trade and investment patterns. China has become a major trading partner for many countries, including developing countries, and has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.
Whether China’s rise will ultimately serve to break up old dependencies or reinforce existing power structures remains to be seen. It is possible that China and other developing countries could work together to create a more equitable and inclusive global economic system, but this will require significant changes in the way that international trade and investment are conducted. As for political resistance, it is difficult to predict where this will come from, as there are many different political actors and interests involved in global economic relations.”
Satisfied that we agreed on the essentials and convinced that nobody can predict the future, I decided to end the conversation on that positive note.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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