ADAM SMITH IN BEIJING: LINEAGES OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, Century (Arrighi ), holds that the Western capitalist development is predicated. On Tuesday 4 December, – GMT, we’ll be making some site updates. You’ll still be able to search, browse and read our articles, but. The late Giovanni Arrighi argues convincingly (in ‘Adam Smith In Beijing’) that we are seeing the end of the most rapacious social and economic system the.
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Giovanni Arrighi argues convincingly in Adam Smith In Beijlng that we are seeing the end of the most rapacious social and economic system the world has ever known. It had its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution, and is characterised by seemingly endless over-accumulation, commodity fetishism, expansion and collapse cycles, empire-building and the exploitation of empire, and the destruction of peoples and the natural environment. It is a depressing thought that we in Europe have been responsible for the greatest plundering of mankind and its home that has ever taken place on earth.
The good news for Homo Sapiens, however, beijinng that our time is coming to an end.
There have always been two forms of economic expansion. Ours is the one we believe to be the sole possessor, but in the East, particularly in East Asia, a second way has existed for a great deal longer. In this systemunlike the Western one, food is the foundation of social wealth and accumulation does not involve dispossession.
It sounds like an idyll, and of course no such argument is made by Arrighi. However China has rather a long history to study. In the sixteenth century it was by far the richest economy in the world, and had been so for many hundreds of years. China has been a state for four thousand years, and its borders have been more or less fixed in their present form for the past two thousand, and except for a short period in its history, roughly the years to the present, has been by far the richest country in Asia, and one of the richest in the world.
What destroyed those riches was the British intervention in the form of the Opium Trade, which at first was conducted illegally, but which was officially sponsored by the British government through the Honourable East India Companyand which was eventually enforced on the Chinese by gunboat and warship.
Adam Smith in Beijing by Giovanni Arrighi
Foisting opium on China was an essential leg of the revenue triangle that laundered the plunder of India and made Britain great. Beijkng country that had never bought into the arms race, had never invaded another country, had no overseas empire, was facing the British Imperial Navy.
This was sea-power indeed. Employed in the interests of the capitalists of the East India Company, arrihgi symbolised western capitalism at its most destructive.
It brought an end to a system of governance that had stood China and many of its neighbours in good stead for thousands of years. The Chinese system could be best described as a centrally controlled market economy. Unlike the western model, it was not individualist but social in its outlook. It understood that social harmony was a prerequisite of beijign.
Adam Smith in Beijing by Giovanni Arrighi
It frowned on exploitation and over-accumulation. But most brijing all, it differed from the western system in that the state was never subjugated to the interests of capital. Capitalists existed in China from long before they did in the West, but the state was essentially hostile to their activities and insisted on limiting them.
For example, for many hundreds of years private mercantile voyages outside Chinese waters were forbidden by law. A side effect of this was that Chinese advances in navigation and shipbuilding, remarkable in their time they invented the compass, for example did not lead to an expansionist phase and the beijibg of an overseas empire.
To counter-balance the activities of capitalists and traders the state operated a universal granary system which stockpiled grain in times of plenty and sold back to the peasantry in times of shortage, thus neatly managing to stabilise the price of grain and keep the people fed. In addition, Chinese industry has always been heavy on manpower and light adrighi energy.
The Western Industrial Revolution was a rapacious consumer of energy and, consequently, of natural resources smtih that is what has led us to the present arrigi of Global Warming and peak oil. Of course, the Western system has led to many valuable innovations, but Arrighi points out that such innovations would have been impossible in a country the size of China anyway. One example will suffice: Britain tripled its consumption of cotton by the invention of the Spinning Jenny: Under Mao further huge strides were made.
Education and healthcare, employment and social security, the empowerment of workers — these were all massive achievements generally scorned asam the West. But Mao did not lose sight of Chinese history, and Maoism is a form of Marxist-Lenininism that takes into account several thousand years of Chinese thought.
In particular, Mao was influenced by the practices and writings of Chen Hongmou, an eighteenth century civil servant. The Maoist revolution, unlike the Bolshevik one, was based on the rural population, and Maoism made food a priority. InIrish people did not have full employment, access to basic healthcare and family planning services.
Bythe USA had already been humiliated in Smmith. The Vietnam War showed that the continued wealth-generation of the USA was not sufficient to establish global hegemony.
Arrighi analyses this decline at considerable length and the arguments are much too complex to go into here. So where is China going? Arrighi is frank about the possibilities. It is possible that the Chinese Communist Party is succumbing to the lure of rapacious capitalism. Nevertheless, it is impossible at this point to predict how the latest reforms will go. Even now, however, the administration is responding to social unrest in the countryside by a re-alignment of policies.
It is also possible to say that the days when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank could dictate terms to the South are numbered if not actually over. The Friedmanite shock therapy reforms forced on hapless Third World countries by those institutions which led to fascism and dictatorship all over the the South have also backfired. It is essential also for an understanding of what is actually going on in China. They might as well offer to clean the whips in a barracoon in the Bight of Benin — the system is no less brutal and only slightly less dead.
William Wall is an Irish novelist and poet. This review originally appeared on his blog here. Mail will not be published required.
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