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Uneven Development and Imperialism Today: Engaging with the Ideas of David Harvey

The last few decades have been characterized by weak economic growth in the developed countries, which contrasts with the dynamism shown by China and other countries on the periphery. What does this tell us about the relations that characterize the world capitalist system?

Esteban Mercatante

September 13, 2020
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Those of us who think that the old categories of imperialism do not work too well in these times do not deny at all the complex flows of value that expand the accumulation of wealth and power in one part of the world at the expense of another. We simply think the flows are more complicated and constantly changing direction. The historical draining of wealth from East to West for more than two centuries, for example, has been largely reversed over the last thirty years.1David Harvey, “A Commentary on A Theory of Imperialism,” in Prabhat Patnaik and Utsa Patnaik, A Theory of Imperialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 169. Claudio Katz is another author who has recently made similar statements; see “América Latina en el capitalism contemporáneo. II – Geopolítica, dominación y resistencias” (“Latin America in contemporary Capitalism. II – Geopolitics, Domination, and Resistance”), blog post, March 7, 2020.

David Harvey, author of the above statement, highlights that the reconfiguration of the international division of labor over the last decades, associated with the internationalization of production I have analyzed previously, has produced in some countries this reversal of the development-underdevelopment pattern of polarity that is of imperialist capitalism since the late 19th century. A few years ago, Harvey’s suggestion provoked a polemic with John Smith, author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century.2John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).

As I already pointed out during this controversy, Harvey’s assertion taken in the strictest sense is not confirmed. If we consider as a bloc all the dependent countries (typically characterized by the multilateral agencies as “emerging” and “developing” countries, or “middle income” and “poor” countries, etc.), they have continued to “drain” wealth towards the rich countries during the last decades. I based this on a 2015 study that reconstructs the net results of global licit and illicit financial flows — including “development aid,” wage remittances, net trade balances, debt services, new loans, foreign direct investment (FDI), portfolio investment, and other flows.3Centre for Applied Research (Norwegian School of Economics), Global Financial Integrity, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos, and Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, “Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People,” December 2015. The study estimated that between 1980 and 2012, “emerging and developing countries” lost $3 trillion in net transfers to rich countries. On average, since 2000, transfers represented more than 8 percent, per year, of the GDP of the affected countries. China represents no less than $1.9 trillion of the total transferred during those years. To give you an idea, China’s economy today is worth $12.5 trillion.

To this negative result of net transfers should be added another “drain” the study considered: the outflow of capital (the “flight” so well known in Argentina), which during the same period amounted to $13.4 trillion — or $10.6 trillion when China is excluded. These figures show that there was no reversal.

Discordant Rhythms

Harvey points to the way in which some Southeast Asian countries have become dynamic centers of world capital accumulation. Of course, it is China that is at the center of his conception, because with its specific historical conditions — the 1949 revolution that allowed for national unity after the break with imperialism and the expropriation of the landowners, along with the fact that Chinese Communist Party itself has commanded the gradual capitalist restoration while maintaining until today state ownership of broad sectors of its economy — it stands out as a clearly exceptional case. But Harvey points out, in another article that is part of his polemic with John Smith, that China is not alone: “Add in South Korea, Taiwan and (with a little geographical license) Singapore, and you have a real power block [sic] in the global economy.” He concludes, “If we look back at the world as it was ordered in, say, 1960, then the astonishing rise of East Asia as a power center of global accumulation will be blindingly obvious.”4David Harvey, “Realities on the Ground: David Harvey Replies to John Smith,” Review of African Political Economy, 2018.

Thus, considered not in a strict sense but as a way of highlighting a relatively new phenomenon, Harvey’s statement takes on another meaning and becomes even more relevant. Indeed, within a few decades, a pole of capital accumulation was formed in Southeast Asia that clearly gained some global prominence, especially in the production and international trade of manufactured goods. That space was gained to the detriment of manufacturing both in the imperialist countries, which relocated, and in other dependent countries, as was the case for the Southern Cone of Latin America — Argentina and Brazil saw their industrial productive capacities deteriorate over the past 50 years, although to different degrees.

We can clearly observe how in the last 20 years the relative weight of the rich (imperialist) countries and the rest of the world has changed in terms of foreign direct investment from these countries (destined to productive enterprises, either by starting them up from scratch or by acquiring some participation in local companies) and, to a lesser extent, in the return flow from these countries to other countries. The consequence of direct investment abroad is that the capitalists doing the investing appropriate a part of the surplus value generated in those places where they make their investments.

Before we continue, some clarifications are necessary. While up until 50 years ago foreign investment was carried out almost exclusively in the form of capital flowing from the imperialist countries that were scouring the rest of the world in search of profits — for which they would go not only to the dependent countries but also, in good measure, to other imperialist countries — this has changed over the last decades. As a result of the greater general economic opening, of the liberation of capital flows, and of the greater scale achieved by some firms in dependent countries, global investment has become more complex. Today, many “emerging” and “developing” countries also export capital — that is, their residents make foreign direct investments. Most of these are in other “emerging” and “developing” countries, but some make their way to the develop economies.

That is why the hierarchy of countries today is not about whether they export capital, but the degree to which they do so and the net result between capital “exported” and taken in. A country with an intake of foreign investment greater than its outtake generates more surplus value for foreign capital at home than its own capital generates abroad.5The degree to which this occurs will depend, obviously, on the return on investment of each country. Two countries, A and B, may have equal cross-border foreign investments, but if in country A the return on B’s capital is 10 percent per year, while in country B the capital return A realizes is 8 percent, B will be enriching itself at the “expense” of A. As Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy have pointed out on several occasions, the United States has benefited significantly, over several decades, from this difference between the return on its foreign investments and the return on the foreign investments of other countries in the United States. Translator’s note: Duménil and Lévy are French economists at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, National Center for Scientific Research) in Paris. See their book The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. Dependent economies generally receive more foreign investment than they send abroad, while imperialist countries tend to strike a balance between the volume of capital exported and that which they receive.

With these clarifications, we can see how foreign direct investment (henceforth, FDI) reflects the emergence of a new pole to which Harvey refers. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 90 percent of FDI in the year 2000 still originated in rich countries, with more than a third (36%) of total FDI originating in the United States. By 2019, the richest countries accounted for only 75 percent of FDI, and the United States share had fallen to 22.3 percent. So, while these figures indicate that the rich countries are still overwhelmingly the source of most FDI, they also show a marked decreasing trend. That has taken place mainly in the last decade: in 2010, the developed countries still accounted for 85 percent, with the United States around 24 percent.

If the more developed capitalist countries fall back, who picks up their lost percentage? What increased was FDI by residents of “emerging” and “developing” countries. In 2000, they held 8 percent of global FDI stock, but that figure grew to 22.9 percent by 2019. China accounts for a significant part of the increase. Its stock of FDI in other countries increased 71-fold in 18 years, from almost negligible outward investment in the year 2000 totals to 6 percent of the international total today. When we disaggregate by country, we can see that only the United States and the Netherlands — which together with Japan and Great Britain are characterized by a considerable expansion of their firms abroad — are rich countries with a higher FDI percentage than China.

If the more developed capitalist countries fall back, who picks up their lost percentage? What increased was FDI by residents of “emerging” and “developing” countries. In 2000, they held 8 percent of global FDI stock, but that figure grew to 22.9 percent by 2019. China accounts for a significant part of the increase. Its stock of FDI in other countries increased 71-fold in 18 years, from almost negligible outward investment in the year 2000 totals to 6 percent of the international total today. When we disaggregate by country, we can see that only the United States and the Netherlands — which together with Japan and Great Britain are characterized by a considerable expansion of their firms abroad — are rich countries with a higher FDI percentage than China.

If we now analyze where the investments have been directed, we also see that the participation of the most developed capitalist countries as a destination for investment has been reduced: from absorbing 78% of the stock of FDI in 2000, they went up to 66.5% in 2019. The US went from being a recipient of 37% of investment in 2000 to 25.9% in 2019, with the peculiarity that it grew strongly in participation since 2010 (when it had 17% of the total), instead of regressing. Although China was already a major investment destination in 2000, when home-based FDI accounted for 2.6%, it increased to 5% of the total.

Here we are considering all the foreign investment stock. But it must be emphasized that this underestimates the importance acquired by some dependent countries in the development of new productive enterprises established by imperialist capital. The reason for this underestimation is the enormous weight foreign investment plays not in developing new enterprises but rather in mergers or purchases of existing enterprises — what Marx defined as the “concentration” and “centralization” of capital.6Marx, Capital, Book I, chapter 25, “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation.” If we only consider FDI destined for the establishment of new productive projects — that is, if we discount that slated for mergers and acquisitions of companies — the weight of China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries as a destination (and, in part, also as an origin) of FDI is even more considerable.

It is in this sense that Harvey’s statement about a partial reversal in the drainage of historical wealth could be considered valid: the fact that this “periphery” has become a receptacle for capital on a larger scale, hand in hand with an increase in investment by local capitalists (and in China, above all, by public enterprises), and at the same time these countries have increased their weight in the generation of capital exported to other countries.

Another dimension that could favor Harvey’s assertion appears when we analyze the participation in industrial production in the countries he mentions and in the “emerging” world as a whole. This is a terrain that historically the imperialist countries had reserved for themselves. But since the 1980s, the big multinationals have increasingly located these activities in some emerging economies through the development of global value chains. The fragmentation of production processes and the international dispersion of tasks and activities within them has led to the emergence of production systems without borders — which can be sequential chains or complex networks, and which can be global, regional, or involve only two countries. These systems are commonly referred to as global value chains. 7United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Global Value Chains: Investment and Trade for Development, World Investment Report 2013. Between 1991 and 2016, the number of manufacturing jobs worldwide increased from 322 to 361 million. But in the developed countries it fell from 107 to 78 million, while it increased in the rest of the world from 215 to 279 million.8United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Demand for Manufacturing: Driving Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development, Industrial Development Report 2018, 158. In 1950, only 34 percent of industrial employment was outside the developed countries, and in 1980 it was still only 53 percent.9Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, 101.

In the mid-1970s, the share of low- and middle-income countries in manufacturing exports averaged 5 percent, while today it has reached 35 percent. The remaining 65% is traded by high-income countries, which in 1970 exported 96 percent of manufacturing. The growth in the share of low- and middle-income countries is explained centrally by China, which in 1990 exported 1.17 percent of manufactures, but since has gone on to become by far the leading exporter in general and in manufacturing in particular. In 2018, China exported 14 percent of all manufactured goods, followed by Germany (9.26%), the United States and Canada. (8.63%), Japan (4.67%), and France (4.04%).

We are seeing, as Harvey argues, that some economies grow and accumulate at the expense of others, and that those that are showing the most dynamic growth in GDP, manufacturing exports, or foreign investment are not at the center but are a rather limited sector of the periphery.10Limited because, as Ajit Ghose writes, “What appears to be a change in the pattern of North-South trade is in essence a change in the pattern of trade between industrialized countries and a group of 24 developing countries … The rest of the developing world, in contrast, remained overwhelmingly dependent on export of primary commodities.” See Ajit K. Ghose, Jobs and Incomes in a Globalizing World (New Delhi: Bookwell, 2005), 12. That said, it is also true that, as John Smith writes, “many other smaller nations have made a brave effort to reorient their economies to the export of manufactures and play host to manufacturing enclaves, also known as export processing zones” (Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, 51–2.). In this sense, the search for export insertion has been generalized in the dependent countries, beyond that the number of those that developed major projects has been limited, and the number of those that achieved this through a substantial increase in their per capita product has been reduced even more. 

Does it follow, as Harvey argues, that the “old categories of imperialism do not work too well in these times”? There are several reasons why that would be a hasty and erroneous conclusion.

The Broken Ladder to Development

The first thing to point out is that beyond the case of China, which is clearly exception because of the revolution-restoration dialectic by which it is characterized, the rest of the countries that make up the short list on which Harvey relies to refer to a reversal have each depended as well on unusually favorable geopolitical circumstances that have allowed them to sustain developmentalist policies more consistently. These include South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Unlike other countries, the United States considered them “safeguard[s] against the ascendance of communist forces.  Some of them, including Japan during the post-World War II reconstruction, “were given the opportunity to protect their industries and were provided special access to US markets” — that is, they were not conditioned in their development to the domestic market. 11Zak Cope, The Wealth of (Some) Nations. Imperialism and the Mechanics of Value Transfer (London: Pluto Press, 2019), 31. Only from such exceptional conditions did the cases of rapid industrialization, the so-called “tigers,” arise.

This importance of the geopolitical dimension to circumvent, at least in part, what for other countries in similar circumstances were iron conditions is a first refutation of the idea that one would have to discard the “old” categories of imperialism to understand current developments.

Second, the “power block [sic] in the global economy” to which Harvey refers is clearly a dimension of recent trends in capital accumulation. But to understand it fully, we must contrast it not only with the relatively lesser economic dynamism of the imperialist countries, but also with the results produced by the penetration of imperialist capital and the generation of value chains in other latitudes. There we see that in this era, the “categories” of imperialism function fully, although they do so with the specific features of the period, characterized in particular by the internationalization of production. This means that, unlike the situation up until the 1970s, there has been a clear increase in the number of countries integrated into the production of manufactured goods, and even that improve their position in the so-called indices of “economic complexity.” But, also unlike 50 years ago, these are no longer clear indicators of any development.

If we look beyond the handful of countries Harvey names, what do we see? Export-oriented industrialization, which many countries stimulated and was promoted by development agencies and multilateral organizations modeled after the example of the Asian “tigers,” had as its starting point closing the possibilities of sustaining what had been import substitution industrialization (ISI).12Translator’s note: The policy of import substitution industrialization by countries promotes establishing domestic production to replace the need for foreign imports, and is thus aimed as well at diminishing overall foreign dependencies. While it is a principle feature of development economics in the 20th century, its origins go back much further. For instance, Alexander Hamilton was a major proponent of such a policy at the time of the establishment of the United States in the late 18th century. ISI began to develop in different dependent countries between the 1930s and 1950s as a way to supply internal markets. As Gary Gereffi argues, “The death knell for ISI, especially in Latin America, came from the oil shock of the late 1970s and the severe debt crisis that followed it.”13Gary Gereffi, Global Value Chains, Development, and Emerging Economies: Redefining the Contours of 21st Century Capitalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 344.

Gereffi continues, “Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, many developing countries made the transition from ISI to export-oriented industrialization (EOI) during the 1980s.”14Gereffi, Global Value Chains, 345. But the paradigm of “export-led manufacturing development” became something to be emulated not only by countries that had developed some level of industrialization between 1930 and 1970 (some of which would, in fact, end up being left behind in this new wave), but also by other countries that entered into new waves of late industrialization. As Smith argues, “For nearly half a century, export-oriented industrialization has been the only capitalist option for poor countries without abundant natural resources.”15Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, 51.

The attempt by many countries to imitate the path of export industrialization increased competition to offer multinational companies the best conditions for investment and organization of global supplier networks. On the one hand, more countries competed to attract the same investments; on the other hand, a growing group of multinational companies16In 1976, there were some 11,000 multinational companies operating globally, with 82,600 subsidiaries. By 2010, those numbers had reached 103,788 and 892,114, respectively. See United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Non-Equity Modes of International Production and Development, World Investment Report 2011. grew ever more concentrated, especially in the higher links of the value chains. The size of the firms and their structure became increasingly complex, integrating suppliers and subcontractors into their networks. Internationalization and the concentration and centralization of capital were inseparable, producing firms of increasingly gigantic scale. Successive waves of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) during the 1980s and 1990s accelerated the centralization of capital (a concept Marx refers to as the integration of existing firms). The “explosion of M&A activities at the end of the twentieth century has produced unprecedented levels of concentration in almost all of the high value-added, high technology parts of the world economy.”17Peter Nolan, Jin Zhang, and Chunhang Liu, The Global Business Revolution and the Cascade Effect: Systems Integration in the Global Aerospace, Beverage and Retail Industries (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 3. Some 25 percent of the volume of M&A involved international operations, reflecting the fact that centralization crossed borders.18United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Cross-border Mergers and Acquisitions and Development, World Investment Report 2000, 107–8.. However, “large multinational firms based in high-income countries dominated cross-border transactions.”19Nolan et al., The Global Business Revolution …, 17. General Electric carried out no fewer than 183 M&A deals in those years and the Dutch firm Koninklijke 301. The balance of this centralization was that, by the beginning of the new millennium, 1,000 industrial firms were carrying out 80 percent of global manufacturing production, while the 300 largest companies on the planet were managing 25 percent of productive assets. The internationalization of production meant an increase in the proportion of surplus value produced worldwide that is appropriated by the multinational firms, the overwhelming majority of which are based in the imperialist countries.

Nolan, Zhang, and Liu characterize as these large firms as “system integrators” that acquired a command role over others in the international arena, and Nolan describes that they “constitute the … ‘organizing brains’ at the apex of extended value chains.”20Peter Nolan, Is China Buying the World? (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012). These firms have an advantage in their capability to raise finance for large new projects, and the resources necessary to fund a high level of R&D spending to sustain technological leadership, to develop a global brand, to invest in state-of-the-art IT and to attract the best human resources.21Nolan et al., The Global Business Revolution …, 28. In each productive sector, a few firms survive. For example, in the automotive sector, of 42 independent manufacturers in the United States, Western Europe and Japan in 1960, 15 remain. There is an even greater preponderance of leading firms in other areas. The last few decades have seen “a drastic increase in the intensity of competition,”22Peter Nolan, Is China Buying the World? (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012). but it is a game between fewer players.

Competition from many poor and low-wage developing countries to attract capital for industrial development, while fewer and fewer firms dominate these industries, tipped the balance in favor of the latter. The “success” of “developing” countries in attracting multinationals interested in reducing costs had perverse effects. As the costs global companies faced in those countries (lower because the multinationals “carry” their productivity but pay less for the value of the labor force) became those that determined international prices of goods produced in the global chains, there was a deterioration in the terms of trade that was unfavorable to developing countries. This was a direct consequence of the fact that they were the links in the global industrial chains. What does this mean? Basically, that although they export more manufactured goods, the value exported increases less than proportionally (or, in the worst-case scenario, it can even fall). Therefore, as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) recognized, only those countries capable of “increasing the technological content of exports and upgrading quality can offset persistent declines in terms of trade.23UNIDO, Demand for Manufacturing, 12. These efforts to exit the so-called “race to the bottom” — competing for lower costs (which always leads to downward pressure on wages) — and instead join the “race to the top” also became increasingly difficult as more countries attempt similar strategies. Therefore, the asymmetric relationship between the leading firms in value chains and their suppliers tends to be reproduced in new areas.

Therefore, although a sector in the dependent (“developing”) countries increased its share of so-called manufacturing value added (MVA), which is the indicator of how much of the value generated in a chain a country “captures,” this is progress full of contrasts. As noted by UNIDO, more than two-thirds of the increase in developing countries’ share of MVA is explained by China, which exported less than 1 percent of total manufacturing in 1990 and now generates 24.4 percent of industrial value added. More importantly, “industrialized economies still dominate world MVA, largely through the manufacture of medium-high and high-tech products” while “developing and emerging industrial economies produce largely basic consumer goods, although their share of medium-high and high-tech products increased sharply between 2005 and 2015.24UNIDO, Demand for Manufacturing, 162–4. Several studies on value chains show that the relationship between increases in manufacturing value added and what is called “upgrading” — a term used to refer to a qualitative increase in a country’s productive capacity — has become more diffuse. Only a handful of countries can show some level of upgrading, and in almost all cases it is quite limited.25William Milberg and Deborah Winkler, Outsourcing Economics: Global Value Chains in Capitalist Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 255.

This weak connection is characteristic of much of the industrialization produced in low-income countries in recent decades. Most of it has been driven by the expansion of “special economic zones,” one of the many names for spaces freed up for multinational companies and their partners to form value chains, avoid taxes, forego labor and environmental regulations, and so on. This has produced, in most cases, the opposite of any “industrial system” in newly industrialized countries.26For a discussion on lack of an “industrial system” in the peripheral countries of the value chains, see Enrique Arceo, El largo camino a la crisis. Centro, periferia y transformaciones de la economía mundial [The Long Road to crisis: Center, Periphery, and Transformations of the World Economy] (Buenos Aires: Cara o Ceca, 2012, 217. Jorge Schvarzer is among the other authors who have highlighted this need to think about industry in a systemic way; see his La industria que supimos conseguir. Una historia político-social de la industria argentina [The Industry We Were Able to Achieve: A Political and Social History of Argentine Industry] (Buenos Aires, Ediciones Cooperativas, 2000). One consequence of this lack is that “it is the requirements of expanded reproduction of the relations of production in the core countries that determine both the characteristics of the production process and the activities that are profitable to carry out.”27Arceo, El largo camino a la crisis, 218.

It is the multinational companies that dominate the value chains that define what is produced, how it is produced, and with what inputs, which makes it difficult to form sectoral production complexes.28Translator’s note: A sectoral production complex is one that contains one or more sectors of production that are linked by a common resource base and common economic relations. This is evidence of the regeneration, in new forms, of dependent, subordinate, and disjointed patterns of accumulation.

The Wealth of Nations?

In short, the “drainage reversal” to which Harvey refers can be applied only to a handful of countries, and only if we do not consider his statement in a strict sense, because in reality the drainage continues to be unfavorable even for some of the recently developed countries that have risen the most with respect to per-capita production, productivity, and so on. The true part of the Marxist geographer’s assertion is that we should not have a stagnant image of development in the imperialist countries and uniform underdevelopment across the rest of the planet. Some countries have advanced enough to check off several boxes, and this partially affects the “balance of power” with respect to the imperialist powers. But at the same time, it must be stressed that none of them could be explained were it not for a highly unusual combination of determinations (beginning with China) that illustrates, more than refutes, the persistence of the “old categories of imperialism” Harvey is quick to dismiss.

We must not draw the wrong conclusions from the image of imperialist countries with relatively weak economic growth, while the economies of some Asian countries are growing at higher rates. The multinational companies, almost all based in the imperialist countries, command a good part of the profits from this growth, and although they reinvest them in part in these same countries to sustain their global expansion, they also return in various ways to the imperialist countries themselves or go to tax havens. The same offshore destination play an important role in the profits of the local capitalist classes in the most “successful” emerging countries, such as Argentina, which in this respect behave no differently than other bourgeoisies.

What happened with per-capita GDP per capita shows quite convincingly how productive internationalization has worked. The gap between the richest economies and the rest of the developing world, if we exclude China, not only did not close, but it has increased almost continuously in the last 60 years. Not surprisingly, UNCTAD states that “the global economy does not serve all people equally. Under the current configuration of policies, rules, market dynamics, and corporate power, economic gaps are likely to increase.”29United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Financing a Global Green New Deal, Trade and Development Report 2019, 41.

As we see, the world today is not one of dissolved hierarchies, but rather perpetuates them in a modified form according to the more globalized conditions of capital accumulation. In this framework, the relative rise of some Asian economies that Harvey seeks to highlight is a reality that shows the complexity of the strata in the world economy; the other fact of this reality is that productive internationalization has benefited the multinationals of the imperialist countries, although they have been downgraded when it comes to growth. In this way, multinational capital based in the imperialist countries has been a big winner of the period.

In these same countries we also find some of the losers, absolute or relative, of the period. These are the less transnationalized sectors of the bourgeoisie that suffer from competition with capital from the rest of the world, and the labor force whose income has been stagnant for decades. Along with the lasting effects of the Great Recession, these are some of the breeding grounds of sovereignty and nationalism running through the United States (which will continue to affect the country’s politics even if Trump loses) and Europe — the latter a subject for future articles.

In most of the dependent capitalist countries, raising the levels of “development” under the conditions of a capitalist world economy that tends to reproduce the development gaps with extremely limited modifications is as elusive under the conditions of productive internationalization as it had been throughout the 20th century. Nevertheless, the “successful” countries serve as a model. International organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the development agencies of the United Nations, as well as the bourgeoisies of the dependent countries, continue to push these success stories to propose apparently attainable goals. This serves to give ideological support to the subordinate classes regarding the “need” to make “sacrifices” in terms of income and living conditions, and to accept “modernizing” reforms to imitate these examples — which in reality rarely reached their levels of development thanks to these recipes, but rather to the margins they had to eke out of them.

For the working classes and the poor, this road can only be a “race to the bottom.” Breaking with imperialism — and with the local bourgeoisies that are increasingly integrated into it — is the only way to get out of the vicious circle of dependence and backwardness.

First published in Spanish on August 30 in Ideas de Izquierda.

Translation: Scott Cooper


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Esteban Mercatante

Esteban is an economist from Buenos Aires and a member of the PTS.

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