Thursday, July 28, 2011

"All Arrighians Now"

The Los Angeles Review of Books has published a review essay by Joshua Clover, entitled "Autumn of Empire," which considers the relatively recent work of Giovanni Arrighi (Adam Smith in Beijing and the recent edition of The Long Twentieth Century), Robert Brenner (The Economics of Global Turbulence), and Richard Duncan (The Dollar Crisis). I must say, in the company of Arrighi and Brenner, it is difficult to see why Duncan's book is featured in the essay, aside from the way it functions within the rhetorical structure of Clover's essay (or, perhaps, it's there to balance the three books from Verso), but otherwise it's an interesting article that has the merit of dodging a lot of jargon.

Here's the general idea:
Like democracy itself, this official thought [within the predominant strains of economics] presents itself as having subtleties, wings, parties. But the oppositions on offer — NYT vs. WSJ, Krugman vs. Cochrane, saltwater vs. freshwater schools of economics — can’t begin to grasp the fullness of the situation. Whether discovering “green shoots” or hand-wringing over a “jobless recovery,” they think unquestioningly in terms of a return to normalcy, debating only the rate and method: the crisis a mere blink in the long stare of empire.
But the scandalous lesson we learn from heterodox thinkers like Brenner, Duncan, and Arrighi is quite a different one: that the American experience is grand, outsized, but not entirely novel. Industrial growth is bound to undo itself as a profit center, to be replaced by a regime of finance; this regime’s profit mechanism is always the bubble and its total crisis inescapable; and this is how empires end. Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s book on the delusions that accompany bubbles is called, with a wink, This Time It’s Different. Meaning, it never is. We must admit the same about the course of empire, and the current conjuncture. Empires rise and fall.
We live in an epoch in which the great question is how to bid farewell to the U.S.-centered empire, and what the transition to another global arrangement might look like. Whether we know it or not, we are all Arrighians now.
As the title Adam Smith in Beijing conveys, Arrighi paints a picture of a market alternative to capitalism that is too optimistic in its considerations of Adam Smith's work and the Chinese economy (we've talked about David Harvey's take on China here). He doesn't consider extensively (nor does Clover in this article) that alternatives to capitalism that could arise in a place other than the likely site of the next hegemonic power (although to be fair, Arrighi does mention India). This possibility of an alternative is why Latin America and more recently North Africa have received so much Left-leaning critical attention lately.

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