The G20 summit in London has seen the first redrawing of the global economic map since Bretton Woods in 1944, which officially announced the United States as the major global capitalist power, the axis around which every other nation was to revolve economically in the postwar world.
The fact that a G20 summit was convened for the first time, with twenty of the world’s largest economies meeting to decide a new economic template in response to the global recession instead of the usual eight (though Russia’s inclusion in the G8 was merely in deference to her strategic weight rather than her economic size or strength), is significant in itself, an acknowledgement by the postwar capitalist order that the emerging economies of China, India, and Brazil, etc. will be key players in the coming period, not only as sources of cheap labor and resources but as markets for exports.
In effect, emerging from the G20 summit has been the admission that the formerly major markets of Europe and the US can no longer supply the demand for commodities which underpins the global capitalist system, and at bottom the financial system responsible for the economic collapse that has swept the globe.
As the largest economy in the world, the US, under the Obama administration, has embarked on a new strategy as it adapts to the economic reality of the disappearance of the free market from the stage of capitalist history. Managed demand, the adoption of Keynesian doctrine on a global scale, is to be the way ahead, with global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, formerly twin pillars and enforcers of the Washington free market consensus, now to play the role of ballast of the global economy through the disbursement of aid in order to maintain demand among nations of the G20.
Conditions, of course, are to be attached to such aid in order to ensure that none of the G20 economies adopt protectionist measures to block imports and thereby interfere with that holiest of holies – free trade.
Be that as it may; this new strategy of the US has been adopted with the same priority of global hegemony which has dominated the actions of US administrations since the end of the Second World War. With a 2008 GDP of just under 14 trillion dollars, the US economy continues to stand head and shoulders above its nearest economic rival, Japan, with a GDP of just under 4.5 trillion dollars. In order to maintain this gap, and with it the lifestyles of US consumers, the US realises that it has to ensure that markets for US exports don’t dry up, else demand at home will fall, leading to an increase in unemployment, poverty, and economic slump domestically.
The continuing role of the US dollar as the major international reserve currency, used for the purchase of primary goods such as oil, gas, minerals, and so on by global economies, will continue to allow the US to ramp up huge deficits in order to service a national debt of 11 trillion dollars and continue to fund its monstrous expenditure on defense and war, as well as continuing to meet its diminishing social spending requirements without taxing the rich proportionate to their income.
In other words, attacks on the poor and the working class which have defined US society under both Democrat and Republican administrations since the end of the Vietnam War will continue, though less aggressively than under previous administrations going back to the Reagan years, when the free market structural adjustment of the US economy was unleashed.
By far the most significant aspect of the G20 summit has been the formal inauguration of China as a First World economic power. China’s growth over the past few years has been staggering. The huge growth in Chinese exports over the past few years ($900 billion in 2006) has seen China overtake major export economies such as Germany and Japan, with some economists predicting that China will eclipse the US by 2010 as the world’s major exporter, despite the slowdown caused by the global recession.
However, it is China’s foreign exchange reserves that have increasingly been a major cause for concern to US economists, politicians, and military planners. By the end of 2008 they amounted to $1.9 trillion, a trillion of which is in US treasury bills and notes, making China a major financier of the US deficit. The danger this poses to the US is that if China were to stop purchasing US treasury bills, or worse start dumping them on international markets, the value of the dollar would plummet, the value of US stocks would hit the floor, and an economy already in major recession would fall flat on its back.
But with the current recession being global in scope, and with China’s main export market the US, it is neither in Chinese nor US interests to act in a way that would impact negatively on the other in the current period.
The Obama administration understands this, which is why it has sought to replace the aggressive macroeconomic strategy vis-à-vis China, pursued by the Bush administration, with a more conciliatory one.
The invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan was part of this aggressive grand strategy, when using 9/11 as a pretext, the US set out to seize control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves in order to break OPEC’s monopoly and control of oil prices, whilst at the same time being able to control the ever-increasing energy requirements of emerging economies such as China and India. Afghanistan’s role in this process was as a vital transhipment route of energy reserves located in the Caspian Basin.
The economic drain of these military adventures in the short term has had a deleterious impact on the US economy, however, which is why that section of the US ruling class represented by the Obama administration is desperate to pull out as soon as is it is feasibly possible to do so.
As for the majority of the world’s population living throughout the so-called developing world, despite the usual rhetoric about alleviating global poverty, etc., immiseration and despair looks set to continue. Free trade between the G20 economies will not extend to the exports of the world’s poorest economies – economies which for so long have been plundered and ravaged mercilessly by the developed world, making them reliant on loans and aid with a welter of free market conditions attached.
This in effect has turned governments of the developing world into enforcers acting on behalf of global corporations against their own populations, forced to implement the wholesale privatization of social services along with the destruction of domestic agro-economies unable to compete with the subsidised agro-economies of the West.
The end result of this process has been a race to the bottom as workers throughout the developing world have been forced to compete for poverty wages, a direct consequence of those same global corporations scouring the globe looking to drive down production costs in order to maintain profits.
So whilst the global recession is far from over, the complete collapse of capitalism – ruefully predicted by free market ideologues and gleefully predicted by anti-capitalists and socialists – looks to have been averted.
JOHN WIGHT is a writer and political campaigner based in Scotland. He can be reached at Jscotlive@aol.com