Globalization, Regionalism and Democracy

Multinational Monitor, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Globalization, Regionalism and Democracy


An Interview with Samir Amin

Samir Amin heads the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, where he is leading

an effort to strengthen regional ties among African nations. He is the author of many books, including: Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, Delinking: Toward a Polycentric World and Unequal Development.

Multinational Monitor: What do you mean when you say that the world capitalist system is facing stagnation?

Samir Amin: After World War II, we had very high rates of growth for three decades in the three parts of the world: the capitalist world (the West), the socialist world (the East), and most parts of the Third World (the South). Three decades of high growth and investment, which had never been achieved in the history of capitalism before.

This is precisely because the markets were regulated -- that is, because there was a balance of forces between capital on the one hand, and the working or popular classes on the other hand. This balance was less in favor of capital than it had been for a long time before, and was the result of a double victory -- the victory of democracy over fascism and the victory of the people of Asia and Africa over colonialism.

These two popular victories created the conditions which compelled capital to adjust to the social demands of working people. The adjustment of capital to those demands is the meaning of the market being regulated. Capital was unable to unilaterally impose the logic of profit maximization. That was the basis of high growth and accelerated rates of accumulation and development.

Gradually, the balance of forces has been eroded to the benefit of capital for a variety of reasons. If we look at the West in the capital centers, the pattern is that welfare states and democracy have been gradually eroded by the pressures of globalization -- the opening of national economies to the pressures of the global system.

In the East, it is because of the internal limits of so-called socialism and the lack of democracy. In the South -- especially in Asia and Africa -- there was a period of strong national unity which started to be eroded by internal social conflicts.

This erosion of the regulation of the market which dominated after World War II led to a change in the balance of forces to the benefit of capital. We can say that Reagan and Thatcher were the announcement of that. But it was not just under Reagan and Thatcher. It was also due to the loss of legitimacy of most national radical popular regimes of the South, as well as the stagnation of the Soviet system.

That led to a comeback of the utopian capitalist dream of ruling the world as a market and reducing whole societies to just market-based relations. Which means the unilateral domination of capital.

MM: And removing regulations on capital undermined growth?

Amin: According to the so-called neoliberal view, "deregulation" of the market -- which meant oppressing other social interests -- should have led to higher growth. Instead, it led to the opposite.

Since the early 1970s, it led to a slowing of the rates of growth, to about half of what they had been in previous decades. This happened not only in the West, but also in the East after high growth rates during the Soviet period of industrialization. It also happened in the South. In the 1960s, the rates of growth in Africa were roughly twice as high as they have been in the 1980s and 1990s -- during the current period of structural adjustment. Simultaneously, rates of investment and the expansion of the productive system went down.

That led to a new kind of crisis characterized by a surplus of capital which does not find an outlet in the expansion of the productive system in the West, East and South.

In order to avoid this problem, the owners of capital are designing rules in order to open alternative financial outlets for capital. …

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