Sunday, February 21, 2010

World Scientific Development in 2010

"Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society."
- Albert Einstein, May 1949

Scientific and technological advancement have always been the throttle for human knowledge creation and social development. According to a report in the New Scientist, nations in the Third World are beginning to crack the supremacy of Europe and America in the field of modern science and technology--- yet another ominous sign of decline in the Global North.

Out of all of the world's regions, only "North American scientific output has grown 'considerably slower' than the world as a whole." Europe was able to avoid this through greater cross-collaboration with Asia. For its part, "Asia is becoming the world leader in science". And, in the midst of a public relations campaign to isolate Iran as a Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship, Iran is showing the fastest rate of scientific development of any country in the world.

One great way to measure the trajectory of any society in the 21st century is by its ability to make significant advances in the sciences. The U.S. is beginning to lag behind, which is not good for a global economy largely dependent on the American political-economic system to prosper. However, the problem of scientific advancement in America is part of a much larger political, social, and ecological crisis. These crises can be summarized as the crisis of private capital that I discussed in my last post, and one of the great scientists of all time Albert Einstein argued in this famous piece.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Economic Recovery? No. Economic Transformation? Absolutely

The State of the Planet is an important conference March 25, in New York City hosted by the Earth Institute, of Columbia University. The Earth Institute is one of the rare organizations that actually understands the interconnection between the environment, the economy, and society; their research is eye-opening. This year's conference, held every two years, is apparently going to center around the core issues of "climate change, poverty and economic recovery". The first two agenda items, climate change and poverty, make absolute sense in the context of sustainable development but what about "economic recovery"?

Morally, there is nothing about the old economic system that should be continued into the next decade of the 21st century. If the global economy was to be 'recovered' in the state it was before the recession began, we would also be returning to a very destructive and polarizing development model that has been anything but sustainable.The process of unchallenged economic growth was the greatest driver of man-made ecological disaster in world history. Rapid economic development which, technocrats would like to return to, has also actually generated poverty in much of the Third World. The old neo-liberal model of economic growth was excluding an increasingly large proportion of poor farmers from access to use of the land, modern technology and then driving peasants into deprived shanty towns with no economic opportunity.

Conventional economists have not yet conceded that the most recent process of economic growth was inherently unsustainable and had disastrous ecological and human consequences . Even the most progressive theoreticians are only calling for minor regulatory reforms of the banking industry, and market-oriented carbon trading schemes. However, we will never move toward the path of sustainable development until we address our severe dependence on private sector investment or capital in the production process. Because our society is reliant on private investors to create new jobs and consumer goods, the will to act on global warming and extreme poverty is restricted to the narrow bottom-lines and cost-cutting strategies of big business rather than human compassion and reason. Private investors, who have the financial resources we believe we need to change course, refuse to pour their money into any venture from which they cannot gain short-term economic profits; this is true regardless of the potentially apocalyptic ramifications later down the road.

The alternative is to work toward a new cooperative economic model where production is motivated by the drive for scientific discovery and compassion for both other human beings and the natural environment. When the conventional economists say economic recovery ,we should demand economic transformation, and remind them of the creative destruction the last 30 years of "growth" brought us. Future generations will judge us with outrage if we do not.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another U.S. is Necessary

For several decades the global economy has been surging beyond the stage of industrial capitalism into an uncharted era of post-industrial capitalism. None of the world's economists or politicians know exactly what kind of system can replace the labor-intensive, industrial model of economic growth that defined global capitalism for centuries. The financial sector was promoted as the answer to the enigma but the recent economic collapse has driven that theory into a foxhole. The representative institutions of democratic government were designed to support the old economic growth model. Now the usually stable Western democracies are in a serious political crisis unable to respond to the complex social, ecological and demographic changes taking place. In the past, the rapid economic growth and easily available credit lines were enough to keep the majority of the U.S. and European consumer populations in stasis. This is increasingly not the case. Unfortunately, though the political crisis has created a re-emergence of the political far-right in the U.S., and Europe as people cling to traditional racial or religious hierarchies for social security.

All hope is not lost however. A vibrant global justice movement in the U.S. is vital toward dismantling the uneven development and ecological destruction of the third world. As the most technologically advanced and capitalized society major events in America affect the future of the human race and environment more than any other single global actor. The economic crisis, while crippling for most poor and working-class American families, presents a unique opportunity to envision a new economic, political, and environmental relationship with the third world and each other. The U.S. Social Forum in June of this year, will attempt to bring together thousands of activists, organizers, advocates and change agents determined to transform American society and our interactions with the rest of the planet. There are always contradictions within any mass movement but the progressive content of the Forum is a potential tidal wave of political change and cooperation as we mature fully into a post-industrial global economy. Detroit, an economically depressed city where the event will take place, is a prime example of the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy and failure of the government to respond.

There was an outpouring of support for Barack Obama's message of change unlike anything ever in my life time. His loosely defined campaign promises for change have not been carried through and the military and financial elites who were in control remain in control. However, the spirit and youthful energy of the campaign can be translated into something real and empowering for those of us hungering for another world. The U.S. Social Forum is the first opportunity we will have to make this vision manifest.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Iran's Nuclear Program for Dummies

The rhetoric is heating up over Iran's controversial nuclear program. Israel, the United States and European Union believe that Iran is secretly attempting to build a nuclear bomb. Iran maintains that they have never attempted to build a nuclear bomb and at only 20 percent uranium enrichment do not have the capacity to create one; a nuclear bomb takes around 90 percent enrichment. Israel, the arch rival of Iran in the middle-east, has indicated eagerness to setback Iran's nuclear capabilities through strategic aerial bombings. The U.S. on the other hand can not afford the opening of another war front in addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. An Israeli strike would lead to a complex Iranian response and the U.S. would be forced to intervene. To avoid this potentiality the U.S. and Europe are proposing another round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran as punishment for their disobedience.

Iran is the only muslim country in the middle-east today which opposes the U.S. wars and occupations in the region. Although in the past Iran has been bitter enemies with Sunni extremist organizations like Al-Qaeda, it maintains the true intentions behind the current U.S. occupations are to increase political hegemony and military control. Other Arab muslim countries on the other hand, have tacitly supported U.S. objectives in the middle-east and the stalemate in occupied Palestine. The U.S. is working to isolate Iran by supplying billions of dollars in military aid and other payments to the Arab regimes. Ironically, most of these countries are governed by authoritarian regimes that are responsible for serious violations of basic civil liberties and human rights themselves.

All of the countries which are proposing sanctions against Iran have nuclear weapons; and, one(America) is the only country to have dropped them on actual people. The problem therefore is not nuclear weapons or enrichment of uranium but political power. If the U.S. can leverage the threat of a nuclear armed Iran to weaken its position in the region, America will have won a huge strategic victory over the only opposing government in the middle-east. Iran on the other hand, surrounded on every side by permanent U.S. bases and proxy governments, can not afford to allow this marginalization to take place. Israel is waiting for U.N. sanctions to fall through so that it may take direct military action its self with guaranteed American support. The nuclear saga is proving once again that "politics is war without bloodshed". But when the stakes are as high as they are in the middle-east, bloodshed is never beyond the realm of immediate possibilities.

The most important thing for intelligent observers in the weeks ahead is not to become so blind with patriotism or bleeding heart liberalism to allow themselves to be manipulated as most were before the Iraq War. Iran is no different than any other State in that it is narrowly seeking its own self-interests, but that does not mean it wants to build a nuclear bomb and destroy Israel or America. Realize the attempts to demonize the Islamic Republic of Iran through comparisons to Nazi Germany are totally based on propaganda, not reliable information. And the fact that Iran is historically guilty for human rights violations is the rule rather than the exception for all State powers including America. This time around we can break through the bipolar, good v.s. evil garbage and appreciate the complexity of geo-politics before the war breaks out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

U.S. Defense Spending and the Battle of Ideas

"History has shown that where the Great Powers cannot colonize, they balkanize. This is what they did to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and this is what they have done and are doing in Africa. If we allow ourselves to be balkanized, we shall be re-colonized and be picked off one after the other...."-Kwame Nkrumah

My mother says in a verbal debate the one who throws the first punch has conceded the argument to the other side. At the bequest of the "invisible government", the Obama administration wants to increase war spending to record highs and has made clear that America has given up trying to persuade the world to accept its role as the supreme hegemon and instead has chosen to impose its self.

The overwhelming reliance on violence by the American government is obviously a response to declining ideological legitimacy around the world. The recession has eroded the mythology of neo-liberal economics. The attempts by the U.S. to impose its version of liberal democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are extremely unpopular and along with the Israeli occupation of Palestine are radicalizing millions of young muslims in opposition. In Latin America a legion of left-wing political and social movements are directly challenging the historical dominance of the U.S. The American government finds its self increasingly marginalized, supporting a right-wing coup regime in Honduras and ignoring human rights violations against the poor in Colombia. Accordingly, the U.S.-lead "War on Drugs" in Latin America has been almost as tragic a failure there as in the ghettos of the U.S.

The waning influence of American ideological hegemony is being overcome by an anti-democratic attempt to force our "national interests" on the third world. This is the reason why in the first month of 2010, the U.S. has sold millions of dollars in weapons to Taiwan to threaten China, to authoritarian proxies in the middle-east and why the latest budget request from the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a record $708bn in defense spending for fiscal year 2011. The budget calls for a 3.4 per cent increase in the Pentagon's base budget to $549bn not including the occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The "national interests" the U.S. is seeking to achieve around the world clearly do not include the interests of poor and working-class families in America. At the same time the Obama administration spends a greater amount of money on so called defense than ever before, it has announced a spending freeze on all Federal social programs. The recession has hit many American states hard and massive budget cuts have eroded the minimal safety-nets which existed before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the American people who need help the most are being forced to pay for endless war and occupation in foreign lands.

The U.S. is clearly loosing the battle of ideas on environmental protection, socio-economic justice, and committment to a multi-polar world. The only way to stop their irrational rampage for market access and influence is for a united global justice movement to challenge the militarization of social problems and propose real solutions to the crises which affect us all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Which Road to Development? Nationalization or Socialization?

Many third world countries, under the disguise of nationalism, have created state-owned enterprises or parastatals that are reinforcing social and economic inequities between people rather than reversing them. This statist model of development has been adopted in rapidly developing East Asian countries like China and South Korea. As the neo-liberal development strategy (rightfully) continues to decline in Africa and Latin America, many governments there will look toward variants of authoritarian "Asian Capitalism". The debate in South Africa over this particular version of nationalization therefore should be followed closely by progressives in the Global South.

As a key member of the African National Congress-led alliance, the South African Communist Party (SACP) must often balance between revolutionary leadership for the country's marginalized and a policy 'think-tank' for the state's bureacracy. This dialectical relationship between fundamental transformation of the system and gradual reform within the system was on full display during the Party's most recent Politburo meeting. Their first meeting of the new year featured a heated debate with the ANC Youth League over nationalization of mines in South Africa. I would like to re-post the meat of the SACP's argument on nationalization because I think it speaks to a general contradiction within the developing world today---the movement toward greater state nationalization of industries without popular and democratic content.

"In the first place, state ownership of key sectors of the economy is, in itself, not necessarily a progressive still less anti-capitalist move - the apartheid regime and various fascist states had extensive state ownership. Key financial institutions in the UK and US currently are also now effectively "nationalised". In all of these cases, state ownership has not been about rolling back the logic of private profits for a few in the interests of meeting the social needs of the majority - but rather bureaucratic interventions to rescue capitalism in crisis. The recent bank buy-outs in some advanced capitalist countries have been correctly described by mainstream economists as "socialism for capitalists", while the majority are burdened with a huge national debt to pay for the bail-outs.

In the second place, as the many recent scandals in our own parastatals have underlined, public sector ownership, on its own, is no guarantee that this public property will not be plundered by senior management for their own private accumulation purposes. Primitive accumulation rent-seeking is one of the major plagues currently afflicting our democracy and it lies at the root of many sectarian battles and disputes within our broader movement. It is absolutely essential that we wage an intensified battle against it. It would be the height of hypocrisy, by the way, to be calling for "nationalisation" on the one hand, while being intimately involved in the private plundering of public resources on the other."

Likewise, fighting corruption, another shared strategic priority, critically relates to bringing the state and especially the SOEs under a social/developmental mandate - as opposed to using them as sources for primitive accumulation. The current crisis around governance, golden hand-shakes, exorbitant tariffs, and failures to actually effectively deliver in many SOEs provides us with an opportunity to advance (not the cause of privatisation, as the DA will do) but rather their effective and increasing socialisation - i.e. subordination to the logic of meeting social needs not private profits."

There are more effective ways of challenging the dominance of transnational capital or promoting economic sovereignty than narrow nationalist statism. As the SACP correctly points out, nationalization without democratic socialization and participation is surrendering public resources to defend private profits. The next decade will feature other high profile debates about the role of the state in developing economies. Repeating the perverse 'developmentalist' policies of East Asian countries will only serve to further marginalize the poor and popular classes who are waiting so desperately to be empowered during the global recession.