Great interview. Is Wallerstein right? Or has the man of the 20th century missed a few things, the way that Karl Marx, the man of the 19th century, did?
This interview came up on another OAC thread a year ago, "The second American revolution". I made a response then here.
Wallerstein thinks that capitalism is a world system that is 500 years old, that major changes like the French and Russian revolutions were not significant and that capitalism has been unwinding since 1968. He talks about a great bifurcation now taking place. It's very hard to argue against in a short blog post.
It's curious that, just as capitalism went global in the sense of a number of non-western powers becoming capitalist, we are told that capitalism is over, just as it began with western expansion into the world. W says we have more chance to make a difference at this time. I think I would agree, but I feel his model oversimplifies the world we face now.
I agree that Wallerstein's arguement is a bit deterministic but this is common trap that people can fall when Marx is taken from a purely structual point of view. I think a better question might be is the capitalist system ending or is the centres of power simply shifting?
D. Harvey (anthropologist/geographer), Richard Wolf (economist) suggest that the current accumulation of wealth is based on a suffling of the dept from on hand to the other (governments creating deficits and then barrowing to pay their debts from the same creditors but in a slightly different form). But in the past it was always western banks who had the upper hand reaping the profits from lending. It is no longer clear that this is the case and that Asian institutions are becoming the play makers.
Greece is the perfect example of how Globalisation and global capitalism is failing. If I may be so bold, in Greece it is not a mere problem of cash flow but a demogratic problem, issues of production, and issues of power politics on local as well as a supernational levels. Greece's crisis is symtomatic of how capitalism is now done in the west. So is it the end or a major shift?
Thanks, Simeon. I agree that the question can usefully be made more specific. My problem is that "capitalism", when applied to whole countries, oversimplifies a number of economic and political principles which take on a distinctive character in national terms. This is why we hear of "varieties of capitalism". I would be reluctant to admit that Greece's example is symptomatic of the West as a whole. What about Germany? The economy is made up of markets, state bureaucracy, corporations, plural associations, a whole complex of internal and external factors. One issue that is supposed to be characteristic of Greece was that tax collection and accountancy were poor. I don't know, but what have tax and national accounting got to do with capitalism? Yet evasion of the law is endemic everywhere at this stage of economic development: hence the concern with shadow banking and tax havens.
Brazil is supposed to be a successful capitalist economy, but the city of Salvador is now shut down by bandits on the rampage in a police strike. Capitalism is an ideal type which always co-exists with others and it is lazy to extrapolate from cases we are familiar with to "the end of Western capitalism". We live in the American empire. The Pentagon is the largest socialist collective in world history. Contracts are awarded by gift, not tender. They are capable of bringing down world war on us all and who knows what the sides will be, never mind who will win?
There is a demand at this time for simple general messages of analysis and prophecy and I must confess I sometimes try to meet that demand. But as anthopologists, we surely require our analysies to be more concrete than those on offer from Wallerstein and Harvey?
As with many things, it can be examine-d from a micro and macro level. Europe suffers from many similar problems and states have attempted to deal with these problems in different ways.For example dwindeling tax reveniews and low birth rates. Obviously Sweden and Greece have attacked the problem differently. I think it might be good to envisage these issues from a strutuational perspective. The cultural constraints and global capitalist structures which states have to consider limit the choices that can be made.
I saw interesting lecture by M.Herzfeld a while back.He suggested that Greece being patron/client based society was being manipulated by'patrons' (multi-nationals and powerful countries) in the same way patrons cultivate clients in a Greek village. this might not be the way business is done elsewhere but the goals of powerful others are the same and thus the result appears to be the same. So capitalism is not run the same in Greece as elsewhere but results such as increased market share, consumerism, increased debt and the dis-investment in local production are the result. the process of those differences is what I find interesting :)
Thanks, Simeon. That seems very reasonable. We can't agree about everything. I came across another place here where I commented on Wallerstein. John McCreery posted a discussion in the Human Economy Group, Immanuel Wallerstein and the crisis of capitalism, to which I replied and not much happened after that. Maybe a sense of deja vu contributed to the tone of my contribution to your thread.
We have a major problem at the OAC. Because we allowed members to start their own Group from the beginning, We now have a huge number of them, many moribund or completely inactive because their owners didn't take responsibility for keeping the conversation going or participants just got fed up. John has been persistent in claiming that we should cull the inactive Groups and put them in an archive somewhere. Certainly new members often point out to me that there is so much to look at here, it takes a while to find their way around. You probably didn't know about these other threads when posting yours. I have come round to John's perspective, but it will take a major effort to reorganize our site and energies seem to be a bit low in the Admins group right now. I find that just contributing to the discussions that interest me and greeting new members is a job by itself. Abraham not long ago tried to galvanize some activity through the Action Group 4 OAC and several people showed an interest in helping to renovate our site. But without consistent collective leadership, this just becomes just more talk for the archive and nothing gets done.
Of course we all have our personal preoccupations too. I have been spening much of the last week working on a paper that deals at greater length with some of the issues touched on here concerning how we should think about "capitalism".
This is the edited transcript of an improvised talk for a seminar, “Social movements and the solidarity economy”, organized by Jean-Louis Laville and Geoffrey Pleyers, EHESS, Paris, 2 February 2012.
I have opened up a discussion of it at The Human Economy Group, taking my chances in the labyrinth of OAC discussions. My main aim is the reflect on an ongoing anthropological and political conversation with David Graeber. This hinges on the (sterile?) contrast between revolutionary and reformist approaches to economic change and the stories we attach to them.