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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Decline of American Power

I had been looking for an introduction to world systems theory by Immanuel Wallerstein and stumbled over this accidentally. It looked fitting enough for my topic though, so I picked it up and read it quickly (and superficially) yesterday. The Decline of American Power is not what I thought it was, it is in fact a collection of speeches and essays on very abstract topics such as democracy, race or globalization. Those discourses were highly interesting, but I didn't read them as careful as they deserved to be read, simply because I wanted to get through the book and focus on something more rewarding (in a productivity sense). Fitting for me, were Wallerstein's introduction and closing essays, which were geared a lot more towards current events (American hegemonic decline and response to it).

I especially found his reasoning for the invasion of Iraq intriguing: "the hawks ... believe that the world position of the US has been steadily declining since at least the Vietnam War ... the basic explanation for this decline is the fact that the US governments have been weak and vacillating in their world policies. [As a remedy] the US must assert itself forcefully, to demonstrate its iron will and its overwhelming military superiority. Once that is done, the rest of the world will recognize and accept American primacy in everything. The Europeans will fall in line. The potential nuclear powers will abandon their projects."

This of course works great with my argument that the EU is emancipate itself from the US itself. American primacy has miserably failed (does anyone even fear American invasion anymore?), thus the nuclear powers are still working on their projects and Europe will not fall in line.

Related to Arrighi he also promotes world systems theory (being the creator actually, I believe, have yet to read his oeuvre on that though). In his argument we are nearing a point where not only a hegemonic cycle comes to an end, but a structural end is nearing because the endless accumulation of capital necessary for a capitalist system is coming to an end. This were the case, because taxes, wages, and input costs as shares of profits have risen increasingly over the last centuries, resulting in financial expansion coming to a stop at some point in the near future. I have a hard time countering this argument, but I do not believe in it. First of all, I do not believe that wages' share of profits necessarily have risen as much as he makes out and while taxes have surely risen, this undoubtedly has been countered by an increase in security and safety (against losing goods/freight to robbery or storms). All in all, I do not find his argument very convincing here. Especially because he prefaces it by saying that no one has ever tried to calculate this on a global basis and that it probably would be impossible, to then turn around and claim that capitalists' profits have fallen though. No proof, sorry.

In general the problem with all these economic theories of empire or hegemonic power are complicated to incorporate into what I want to write about, or maybe I just haven't read enough yet and my understanding does not go deep enough yet. Thus, I will continue to spend my life reading (and thoroughly enjoy myself doing so, don't get me wrong).

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