The capitalism crisis

2011-11-09 00:00

A WORK of economic history written by a philosopher: this may explain its strange mix of content ranging from complex theoretical argument to anecdote; with much in between, including the author’s enthusiasm for Latin dancing.

His basic thesis is clear enough. Capitalism is in permanent cyclical crisis unable to find a solution to the problem of debt; and its pursuit of profit discounts both the environment and poor people. Ultimately, it has depended on military force to resolve its contradictions.

Guardiola-Rivera shows how the roots of capitalism can be found in the seizure of Latin American silver and gold by Spanish conquistadores such as Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés. They were followed by other freebooters and other empires, most recently American.

He suggests that the destruction of indigenous societies resulted in the loss of a compact with nature. And he reminds the reader that the earliest post-colonial states emerged in Latin America in the nineteenth century. A tradition of radicalism persists and some of the strongest challenges to neo­conservative orthodoxy and modern globalisation are found there ­today.

But Guardiola-Rivera fails to make a ­convincing case for redemption from the South. He seems to pin his hopes on the demographic likelihood of a Hispanic United States, but forgets to mention the Chinese, the world’s latest imperial, orthodox capitalist power.

The new vision seems to be a quixotic mixture of socialism, indigenous knowledge, reverence for common resources and defence of national and regional interests against globalisation.

With growing signs that global capital is in deep and possibly terminal crisis the world needs all the new, creative ideas it can muster to promote democratic, economically just and environmentally sustainable societies. Latin America is clearly a source of inspiration and Brazil appears to be a success story. But it is significant that the author says next to nothing about Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan autocracy.

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