Capitalist world economy essays immanuel wallerstein


World Systems and Capitalism: Immanuel Wallerstein’s Legacy

The period to circa was also the period of full U. But then once the geopolitical quasi-monopoly was breached, the United States entered into a period of hegemonic decline, which has escalated from a slow decline into a precipitate one during the presidency of George W. There were two common elements to these local political uprisings.

The first was the condemnation not only of U. While the actual uprisings of did not last very long, there were two main consequences in the political-ideological sphere. The first was that centrist liberalism ended its long reign as the only legitimate ideological position, and both the radical left and the conservative right resumed their roles as autonomous ideological contestants in the world-system. They rejected definitively the claim of the traditional movements to control their political activities and were successful in their new demand for autonomy.

After , the Old Left movements acceded to their political claim to equal current status for their demands, in place of deferring these demands to a post-revolutionary future. Politically, what happened in the twenty-five years succeeding is that the reinvigorated world right asserted itself more effectively than the more fragmented world left. The world right, led by the Reagan Republicans and the Thatcher Conservatives, transformed world discourse and political priorities.

The prime objectives were to reverse all the gains of the lower strata during the Kondratieff A-period. The world right sought to reduce all the major costs of production, to destroy the welfare state in all its versions, and to slow down the decline of U. To ensure that, in fact, there would be no alternative, the International Monetary Fund, backed by the U.

Davos versus Porto Alegre

Treasury, made as a condition of all financial assistance to countries with budgetary crises adherence to its strict neoliberal conditions. These draconian tactics worked for about twenty years, bringing about the collapse of regimes led by the Old Left or the conversion of Old Left parties to adherence to the doctrine of the primacy of the market.

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But by the mids, there surfaced a significant degree of popular resistance to the Washington Consensus, whose three main moments were the neo-Zapatista uprising in Chiapas on January 1, ; the demonstrations at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, which scuttled the attempt to enact worldwide constraints on intellectual property rights; and the founding of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in The Asian debt crisis in and the collapse of the U.

The primary characteristic of a structural crisis is chaos. Chaos is not a situation of totally random happenings. It is a situation of rapid and constant fluctuations in all the parameters of the historical system. This includes not only the world-economy, the interstate system, and cultural-ideological currents, but also the availability of life resources, climatic conditions, and pandemics.

Immanuel Wallerstein -- The Contemporary Relevance of Marx

The constant and relatively rapid shifts in immediate conditions make even short-term calculations highly problematic—for the states, for enterprises, for social groups, and for households. The uncertainty makes producers very cautious about producing since it is far from certain that there are customers for their products. This is a vicious circle, since reduced production means reduced employment, which means fewer customers for producers.

How Africa shaped Immanuel Wallerstein

The uncertainty is compounded by the rapid shifts in currency exchange rates. Market speculation is the best alternative for those who hold resources. But even speculation requires a level of short-term assurance that reduces risk to manageable proportions.

As the degree of risk increases, speculation becomes more nearly a game of pure chance, in which there are occasional big winners and mainly big losers. At the household level, the degree of uncertainty pushes popular opinion both to make demands for protection and protectionism and to search for scapegoats as well as true profiteers. Popular unrest determines the behavior of the political actors, pushing them into so-called extremist positions. There can be moments of respite for particular states or for the world-system as a whole, but these moments can also be rapidly undone.

This is the end; this is the beginning. RIP, Immanuel Wallerstein – URPE

One of the elements undoing the respites are sharp rises in the costs of all the basic inputs both to production and daily life—energy, food, water, breathable air. In addition, the funds to prevent or at least reduce the damages of climate change and pandemics are insufficient. The development of the so-called emerging economies actually compounds the strain on existing world resources and thereby also compounds the problem for these countries of effective demand, threatening their ability to maintain their economic growth of the last decade or two.


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All in all, it is not a pretty picture, and brings us to the political question, What can we do in this kind of situation? But first, who are the actors in the political battle? In a structural crisis, the only certainty is that the existing system—the capitalist world-economy—cannot survive. What is impossible to know is what the successor system will be. The objective of the two groups is totally opposite.

There is division as well among the proponents of the spirit of Porto Alegre.

There are those who want a strategy and a reconstructed world that is horizontal and decentralized in its organization, and insist on the rights of groups as well as of individuals as a permanent feature of a future world-system. And there are those who are seeking once again to create a new international that is vertical in its structure and homogenizing in its long-term objectives.

World-Economies or World Economy?

This is a confusing political picture, compounded by the fact that large parts of the political establishments and their reflections in the media, the punditry, and academia still insist on talking the language of a passing, momentary difficulty in an essentially equilibrated capitalist system. This creates a fog within which it is difficult to debate the real issues. Yet we must. In the short term, one consideration takes precedence over all others—to minimize the pain. The chaotic fluctuations wreak enormous pain on weaker states, weaker groups, weaker households in all parts of the world-system.

The struggle to guarantee that the cuts in revenue allocation fall least on the weakest and most on the strongest is a constant battle.

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It is a battle that, in the short run, requires left forces always to choose the so-called lesser evil, however distasteful that is. Of course, one can always debate what the lesser evil in a given situation is, but there is never an alternative to that choice in the short term.


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Otherwise, one maximizes rather than minimizes the pain. The medium-term option is the exact opposite. There is no halfway house between the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre. There are no compromises. Either we shall have a significantly better world-system one that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian or we shall have one that is at least as bad and, quite possibly, far worse. The strategy for this choice is to mobilize support everywhere at every moment in every way.

I see a medley of tactics that might move us in the right direction. The first is to place great emphasis on serious intellectual analysis—not in a discussion conducted merely by intellectuals, but throughout the populations of the world. It must be a discussion animated by a large openness of spirit among all those who are inspired, however they define it, by the spirit of Porto Alegre.

This seems anodyne to recommend. But the fact is that we have never really had this in the past, and without it we cannot hope to proceed, much less to prevail. In memory of J. Michael Dash, the Caribbean thinker and literature scholar. Further Reading Culture Jun We are all Haitians Matthew J. Smith In memory of J. Culture May Essays Dec Essays Aug

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capitalist world economy essays immanuel wallerstein Capitalist world economy essays immanuel wallerstein
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