Krugman’s “great illusion”

Pratyush Chandra

Economist Paul Krugman in his latest column in NY Times (Aug 15, 2008) entitled “The Great Illusion” expresses his concern at the possibility that “the second great age of globalization may share the fate of the first”. And it is the recent Russia-Georgia conflict that makes him say so. To be more explicit he goes on to explain that “our grandfathers lived in a world of largely self-sufficient, inward-looking national economies — but our great-great grandfathers lived, as we do, in a world of large-scale international trade and investment, a world destroyed by nationalism.”

Krugman’s above statement clearly shows his lack of any historical sense. When was that “world of large-scale international trade and investment” free of (militarist) nationalism – a mechanism to protect that “large-scaleness”? And much of the “nationalism” which destroyed that world was in fact a revolt against that “large-scale” militarism. Yes, it destroyed the Pax Britannica – it was a war against the war monopoly.

On the one hand, Krugman seems to tell that national self-sufficiency at least with regard to “the current food crisis” is at last clearly shown to be not “an outmoded concept”. But he is in fact accusing nationalism of “many governments” for “leaving food-importing countries in dire straits”. He further finds that there is a rise of “militarism and imperialism” as “it does mark the end of the Pax Americana — the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force. And that raises some real questions about the future of globalization”. Obviously, for him, “Russian energy” and Chinese big economy are the real threats as they have the capacity to manipulate world polities and economies to submission.

Then what is the Pax Americana? Is it not militarism, imperialism and manipulation, that we witnessed throughout the 1990s and afterwards? When did war-mongering and militarist build-up end during the “Pax Americana”? Increasing manipulative capacities of other countries and their political economy at the most demonstrate a globalization of “militarism and imperialism”.

Krugman rightly questions those analysts who “tell us not to worry: global economic integration itself protects us against war, they argue, because successful trading economies won’t risk their prosperity by engaging in military adventurism”. He thinks “the foundations of the second global economy” are solid than those of the first only “in some ways”, “[f]or example, war among the nations of Western Europe really does seem inconceivable now, not so much because of economic ties as because of shared democratic values”. So euro-centric Krugman, like Stiglitz, ultimately thinks the West not to be adventurist because of its democracy, but ah! “much of the world, however, including nations that play a key role in the global economy, doesn’t share those values”. So does he think the Pax Americana to which the West has submitted is about peace and democracy, which is now being threatened by the despotic Orient?

Krugman rightly concludes that “the belief that economic rationality always prevents war is an equally great illusion”. But like any other ordinary bourgeois he thinks economic rationality can prevent war when coupled with “democratic” values of the West. Obviously he can’t see the fact that economic rationality is about competition, representative democracy is about competition, and a war is competition par excellence. They are all ultimately the same – diverse moments in the life of “social capital”(1). Krugman refuses to recognize that capital whether protected by democratic regimes or not is at constant war against labour – which needs to be divided and controlled if it is to be exploited – and Western xenophobic megalomaniac nationalisms have always been nurtured for this reason. Where is the country in the West free from state-sponsored Ku-klux-klanesque policies and activism against migrants and “the other”? The neo-capitalist regimes have learned their lessons properly – obviously at the cost of threatening the established monopolies. It is not an end of globalization, as Krugman prognosticates, but a new stage – and a more barbaric stage – of capitalist globalization.

Note:

(1) “Here social capital is not just the total capital of society: it is not the simple sum of individual capitals. It is the whole process of socialization of capitalist production: it is capital itself that becomes uncovered, at a certain level of its development, as social power”. (Mario Tronti (1971), “Social Capital“)

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