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China and the Great Transformation

February 2, 2010

Rubber Worker, Firestone Rubber Plantation, Liberia - each one of those buckets weighs 75-80 pounds. He's carrying 150-160 pounds of weight

Today in one of my classes I was trying to put together some of the various threads that led to the Third World Debt crisis that was first manifested in 1982. A number of themes were cited

  • economic and political structures inherited from Colonialism – ie, peripheral economic status of producing basic food stuffs and raw materials for industry, rushed transitions to independence without infrastructural support systems, debts carried over from the colonial period imposed on newly independent countries, the `neutralization’ or elimination of Third World leaders who might have developed alternative models – Lumumba, Allende, Nkrumah, Sukarno, Mossadeq – , etc
  • post-colonial failed models of development – imposition of Cold War developmental models, reliance on World Bank- IMF developmental `advice’, foreign aid that re-enforced Third World countries peripheral status, the Third World all star cleptomaniacs (Mobutu, Marcos, Somoza, the Duvaliers of Haiti)
  • what I refer to as the quadruple whammy of the 1970s:

1. the floating of the dollar and currency instability

2. the spike in the price of oil as a result of the October 1973 Middle East war and the Saudi decision to raise the price of oil at the well head

3. the flooding of the US-UK financial sector with oil money much of which was than recycled to the Third World in what were irresponsible if not reckless loans – this combined with poorly conceived World Bank-IMF equally reckless loans during the `McNamarra Period’ of the World Bank – the so-called World Bank `mega-projects’ – , few of which translated into development `successes’ that produced income for the lenders

4. the collapse of the price of commodities across the board in the late 1970s and early 1980s that devastated Third World economies and forced them to beg for more funds

We also touched upon those countries that were able to, in spite of all this, begin some momentum towards development, the so-called `BRIC” countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – all of which have not had an easy time finding their own voice, and developmental path. Each country’s trajectory or `developmental model’  is somewhat different and deserves specialized attention as is the tale of the so-called Asian Tigers (S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc) which seemed to defy gravity – and World Bank-IMF structural adjustment programs – all of which in one way or another have parallels to Japan’s extraordinary development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Weak States, Failed States

I have been thinking about how the United States – and other core countries – views weak and failed states. On a certain level, their protests to the contrary, it seems to them – despite the political and human rights problems they present – to strong states, which are more difficult to `manipulate’ or shake down in terms of contracts agreeable to foreign corporate penetration

Look at US policy in the Middle East – Iraq pulverized, little more than a `federalized state’ today in which the different regions conduct their own foreign economic policies, Iran targeted – the last remaining strong centralized oil producing state in the region. Yes there is Saudi Arabia but frankly, under the surface, Saudi is kept together by a rather fragile glue – a royal family giving out favors (ie – money) to tribes, united in part by a strict Wahhabist ideology and supported, virtually unconditionally by the United States. The deconstruction of states, or at least of strong centralized states seems to be the goal here and is a logical continuation of the Sykes Picot agreement of World War One days that made certain that the ideal of `one Arab nation’ would never come to fruition – to difficult to control. A hundred years later Western Imperialism (a term I use purposely and I believe technically accurately) continues to try to slice the region into yet smaller, more easily controlled units.

In Africa, be it in the Congo, the most egregious example, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan – all states with considerable mineral or oil wealth to one degree or another – different levels of political chaos reign, but the minerals continue to be extracted despite the human tragedies unfolded. Rather extraordinary. `Managed chaos’ I have heard it called elsewhere. The contracts mining companies have recently made with the terribly weak Congolese central government are a case in point. They leave the Congo with so little that there is now an attempt to renegotiate them. But given the weakness of the central government it would be surprising if Kinshasa can get much of a better deal.  One has to conclude that its rhetoric apart, the United States looks like it can `live with’ weak and failed states rather well. And if things go amuck, there is always AFRICOM or increasingly NATO that can be drawn in to straighten out the situation to US specifications.

This evening I came across an article by John Feffer on China that nicely dovetailed with today’s discussion. It goes on to discuss matters other than China, but the `Chinese section’ of the article is very well done. The link is listed below. It can also be reached by clicking on the link to the Foreign Policy In Focus webpage on the right

John Feffer – The Next Great Transformation



2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2010 7:45 pm

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  2. June 16, 2010 5:24 pm

    Thank you for writing this it was essential for a paper I am right now writing for my thesis. Thanks

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