As usual, the last issue of American Affairs (winter 2022) is excellent – a must read. Published quarterly, by Julius Krein as editor and Gladden Pappin as deputy editor, the review is dedicated to develop ideas about politics and economics in a very consistent and sometimes innovative, or provocative, way. And it tries, and succeeds, to avoid the US trap – except for some of them, papers are of easy access for the european reader, even not so close with Washington DC intimate rumors.
But there is more at stake in this winter issue. The opening words of the first paper, untitled » How do we make an entrepreneurial state ? » ( Caleb Watney) summerized it up ; « Gone are the debates about weak versus big government ». Such an assessment is enough to provoke attention, and disturb the French reader from its entrenched convictions about these bloody ultraliberal Americans ! For sure, something new is happening on the other side of the Atlantic, but what is it ?
The summary of the current volume gives some clear answers. To quote only two of them, David Singh Grewal dares publish ; » the failure of neoliberal globalization », when Oks and Williams recognize ; » the slow death of global development ». Add to these well documented and sound papers the abrasive research of Jacques Sapir about the failure of current economic statistics to measure and compare the real power of Nations ( except for a French Minister of economy, who is so stupid to equal Italy to Russia, the world first or second producer of so many critical materials and energy resources ? ), a provocative analysis about » Web 3 and the lack of useful innovation » and any doubt is over ; something is happpening in the academical and political field of conservative America – something between the Clinton’s swamp and the Trump’s gang. And it deserves attention from any European leader, if they dont want to be left behind – as the recent « Inflation reduction Act » ( IRA) exemplifies the threat.
To begin with, three facts.
1 – For some disputable economic results, and for the obvious accumulation of wealth by the very few, neoliberal globalization is a political failure. Its dire consequences destroy democracy, not only in Asia or Africa, but in Europe and America as well. What is at stake is far more than macroeconomic statistics and growth rate ; the link between economic growth, wealth creation on the one hand, and social or human progress, on the other hand, is completely distorted, if not entirely broken. « Death by despair » from Angus Deaton was the manifesto of this painful truth ; even in the more powerful and successful country in the world, neoliberalism produces abject misery, despair and death. Just read about the homeless in Los Angeles, or the millions of american families living on food stamps. And this has little to do with Chinese performances or Russian agression ; this has anything to do with a broken social consensus, with a stupid economic faith about the shared benefits of « competitivite destruction », about » free trade and open markets », and also « good government means less governement ». Market doesnt stand alone, and the more you want a strong market economy in a vibrant and inclusive society, the more you need an effective government. Just have a look at the way Europe rebuild itself in the 50s’.
2 – There was a one way system for world economies ; development. At different rates, following different paths, but on the same direction ; more is good, and much more is better. This is a dead end – much more of what, for what purpose ? On its current way, economic growth means not only ecological disasters, but an effective and general destruction of good life – safe and clean environment, resilient social structures, moral safety, respect for traditions and institutions, etc. The « woke culture » has something to do with the rise of individual and collective uncertainty and this moral poverty that leads to violence or decay. But the main culprit is the neoliberalism itself, with its destruction of political freedom and government authority. Is there any choice left for societies, is there anything left of what we called political freedom, the freedom of any human community to vote its laws, to enforce its decisions and to pursue its own destiny ? For the sake of corporate and financial interests, the new kings and masters of the universe, globalised neoliberalism has put an end to politics as autonomy. Revolution of the enlightenment is yet to come. And there is more about it. For more and more countries, underdevelopment is on the way, especially for those experiencing ; » premature deindustrialization » ( Rodrick). Not only are they not on the good path, but they engage on the other way – losing revenues, activities and jobs. And there is an uncomfortable truth for us ; underdevelopment is on its way in a European Union itself, facing deindustrialization, external dependencies on critical resources, and a massive destruction of well paid, high level jobs, for « petits boulots » of services, unable to financially sustain demanding public social safety nets. The evil of public and private debt has open doors in Europe !
3 – There is an inherent contradiction between economic freedom and political freedom, and this contradiction is exploding. What mean extraterritorial US laws, arbitration courts for international litigations, and the so called » rules based order » is clear and proved ; for the sake of capital safety and investors insurance, any country open to foreign investment de facto resigns its sovereignty. No matter the people want, capital interests prevail. Vulture funds are the true figure of financial globalization. No way for any Nation to protect its environment, to preserve traditions or social patterns, or to keep its strategic autonomy. Arbitration courts, ESG, WTO, NGOs, etc. are here to put an end to the free will of the people when financial capital is concerned. The law of ROE replaced the law of the people. The law of the land retreat against the law of best return on invested capital. ROE won the battle against sovereignty. Examples abund to demonstrate the collapse of democracy, if it means the will of the people, against foreign investor’a interests, from Bolivia to Pakistan ( Barrick Gold reclaims billions for a stop to its operations ) and from Equator to Canada. And the truth slowly appears ; free trade, free flows of capital, when sustained by legal actions to condition them, when they imposed normalization and alignment, leads to war. Free flows of capital are at odds with diversity of laws, cultures and civilizations – the treasure of humanity. Political freedom confronts private interests, and we know who wins.
So, what’s new ? The « American Affairs » authors called for entrepreneurial State, they provide useful views on new trade rules, new approach of development, new incentives for research and innovation. They stay on the established path ; development is good, economic growth is the condition of social and human progress, and economy is the key of good life in a good society. They share the common american view ; problems are to be solved, anything has to be changed, past doesnt matter. It s amazing to see how these affirmations survive their obvious failures. Gridlocks, for sure. And we found useful to object on two major issues ;
1 – Is there freedom not to develop ? There is a shared basic assumption between all the quoted papers ; development is good, the problem is how to make it. Call US Aid, and you get the proper answer ! We have to question this too obvious certitude. Is it legitimate to question the development itself, or is it an article of faith ? What if development is the problem, not the solution ? And, what is more, what if some people, some Nations, or some civilizations, just doesnt want to develop ? There is an obvious bias in the question ; » how to develop ? » The real question is ; » why to develop ? » and the answer is far to be easy. Localism ask the question – and we have no answer, except that development must be the free choice of those who have to develop. To quote Pierre Clastres, a lot of societies didn’t develop in the past decades not because they dont know how, because they dont want to.
About development, « Why » matters far more than » How ». History gives plenty of examples of what happens when people didnt want to be developed – from commodore Peary to Japan and the english army in Beijing or Transvaal, they were killed and destroyed. Merchants and crooks prevailed against the free will of the people. And the administrators of Prince Leopold from Belgium chopped hands, arms and legs of the Congolese to learn to these brutes ( as Conrad wrote in « the heart of darkness ») the magic of development ( what has changed with some missions, NGO’s or state agencies is still an issue of discussion ; so many crimes are committed under the white flag of development ! ) Is there anything else in Davos, the G-something – or the Shanghai Organization as well ? Development is not a choice, it is an obligation. And it is the new face of colonialism. Who think developers as benefactors, who ignore that the roads financed by Chinese agencies in Africa are mainly to capture natural resources for the sake of Chinese companies ? Merchants, crooks and robbers call for development as the indulgence they deserve for the crimes they committed – anything is possible under the banner of development ! Who asks local communities is they want to develop ? Who asks people about the target of development they want ? Ot is interesting to see many authors in American Affairs unable to challenge the very idea of devlopment itself. And the future will see, in the coming decades or next century, development practices of many institutions, privates companies, investment funds and foreign agencies as another field of crime against humanity.
2 – Social and moral capital is far more than financial capital. This is what « good life » is about. This is why citizens in their Nations, members of their community, are proud of, and why they stand for their ground – what « Localism », the new political move in Europe, is about (Renaud Beauchard, in an essay published by Matt Taîbbi, jan. 2023 ). « What has no price has no value » is perhaps the most absurd sentence of the millenium. Not only because you love your mother no matterthe price ; because a full moon on the river, a sunset on the beach have both no price and infinite value. The main assets of developed countries have no value we can easily measure ; it is freedom, free will of the people, and the commitment to succeed or to fail together. We are at the moment when things that matters the more are the less valuable – things that have no price in any place of the world. How much for life expectancy, which declines for many years now in the US, in Great Britain, and now in continental Europe, for the first time since WW2 ?
When loneliness is the first social problem in the developed world, when children commits en masse suicide ( South Korea, Japan, and also China) because of uncertainty for their future, when the bounty of nature is destroyed and the common good it provided for free disappear, poverty is no more about money, it s about far more – or less ; humanity.
The European Localists