Brian Holmes on Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:11:43 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Digital leftism in a globalised world?

It's important for the political imagination to have these discussions
about history.

>   As for the examples from a British professor in Paris you mention
>   they are all taken from a colonial past where the destructive
>   colonialist effects of the measures involved were not taken into
>   picture. Scottish trade barriers had a target and that target
>   was hardly English or German producers but rather producers in
>   colonised territories whose industralisation was delayed by some
>   200 years due to racist trade barriers in colonial Europe in the
>   18th and 19th centuries up to European trade barriers against
>   African cotton and food products to this very day.

Well, here is something to think about. After WWII the US, which
had outstripped in productivity practically all other nations in
practically all sectors, and had bombed most of those other nations
and sectors into the ground to boot, wanted to declare free trade
as Britain had done in the 19th century. That would have been a
"neo-liberal" order (liberal being more or less equivalent to free
trade in the context of the British-led world system). To achieve this
renewed free-trade order the US wanted to impose a thing called the
World Trade Organization as part of the Bretton-Woods treaties. But
other countries, including the Europeans above all, understood that
they would never be able to develop their economies again under such
conditions. Why? Because the products of the more sophisticated and
advanced country would always be cheaper and better, and therefore no
new local development would occur. So what emerged instead, not 200
but 70 years ago, was the Generalized Agreement on Tariffs and Trade,
the GATT, which was a process of inter-national negotiation over
tariffs in order to reconcile the benefits of protectionism with the
benefits of free trade.

And the story didn't end there. In the 1970s, so-called developing
nations, whose resources and labor had basically been the prey of the
industrially developed ones up to that time, tried to extend such
principles into a New International Economic Order. Again the point
was to selectively negotiate tariff barriers in view of national
development. This, at the time, was considered proper Marxism,
by the way. And it briefly appeared practicable due to the high
resource prices that had been won through concerted resistance. Those
high prices gave the developing countries a bargaining chip in the
international arena for the first time. They could actually negotiate
over which of the benefits of free trade would be beneficial *to
them*, just as the Europeans had done a generation before. However,
all that fell apart in the 1980s, due to the rise of what untold
numbers of critical economists and social scientists have analyzed
"neoliberalism" (also known, insofar as free trade is concerned, as
"the Washington Consensus").

In the end, the US finally saw its 1944 Bretton-Woods plans
fulfilled in 1997 with the foundation of the WTO. So, free trade and
neo-liberalism have just about everything to do with each other, as
Milton Friedman would certainly have agreed.

>    Which reminds me of rule #1 in discussing international trade:
>    it can not be taken seriously unless full global implications of
>    trade rules are taken into perspective. Believe it or not, the
>    economy has been globalised ever since The Silk Route's golden
>    days. It is just the size of the trade whic has exploded in
>    recen decades. To the benefit of hundreds of millions of Indian,
>    Chinese, Indonesian and other people. So my mistake was to act
>    out frustration in a completely unacceptable manner.

iI think your mistake is rather to make false assertions that support
the status quo (or in this case, the status quo ante, since free
trade, and with it, the entire neoliberal order, is now on the edge
of collapsing). Nonetheless, you're right to say that the full global
implications of trade rules should be discussed. Had this been done
in 2000, when China was admitted to the WTO, we might have avoided
the spectacular shift of global manufacturing to a country that was
essentially free of all labor and environmental laws, leading to
form of uncontrolled export-oriented growth under the control of
expatriate corporations and so-called financial planning (ie, invest
massively in cheap industry for a quick buck). The consequences of
that quintessentially neoliberal phenomenon of export-led growth in
East Asia have been many, but as a proper Marxist ecologist (and
please consult John Bellamy Foster, editor of the Socialist Review,
before you deny the existence of such a proper being) I would point
to two consequences. The first is the alienation of people throughout
the formerly developed world from the labor process, and from the
democratization that goes with a practical grasp over what you make,
which is indispensable for collective control over production and
societal development. And the second is the dramatic acceleration
of global warming under the just-in-time global factory system
that was characteristic of, yes, let's insist, neoliberalism. This
great acceleration represents the ultimate and indeed fatal loss of
collective control over societal development.

We could talk more about the details of these things, but we've done
so at length for years on this list, as in hundreds of other contexts.
Now that an uncertain future dawns, there might be better uses for the
political imagination. For instance, we might want to talk about which
of the benefits of free trade are actually useful to us - to all of us
humans, in what the proper old guy himself used to call our "species

ciao, Brian

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