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The following notes are designed to assist anyone who has tried to analyze developments in global capitalism. Even if the reader has not, then the points made will highlight some issues that should be borne in mind when examining what is written or discussed on these topics.
1. Imperialism and world economy
Any attempt to understand things from the perspective of a national economy is bound to fail. Even the US, the world’s largest economy, can only be understood from how it fits into the world economy. For example, the US dollar is world money, not just the national currency of the United States. Its importance and role depends upon the scope of US power versus other countries, both in economic and political terms. However, even the position of the dollar can be challenged by international developments. It is not an unchanging hegemony; nor has it been in place for all time. Signs that US power has limits are seen in the collapse of ‘The Project for the New American Century’ in 2006 and the political shambles of US policy in the Middle East and North Africa. However much destruction might be in US interests from a tactical perspective, it is hardly a recipe for continued hegemony.
Far less can the UK, France, Germany, China, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, etc, etc, be understood unless their position in the world economy is taken into account. Their government and corporate policy choices are decided with this in mind. Nevertheless, a key point is that a small number of countries have a monopolistic position in the delivery of most key goods and services and, of the 200 or so countries in the world, there are only around 20 who count for anything in the hierarchy.
For this reason alone, Keynesian economic theory is useless for an analysis of the world economy (see here for a fuller discussion). Quite apart from its errors in understanding the profit-driven nature of capitalism, it focuses only on flows of income, rather the origin of that income and, at most, allows only for international trade balances. Almost always, a Keynesian approach is tied into a nationalist outlook, something that underpins so many apparently radical policies. ‘International’ Keynesianism might appear to be an exception to this, but it is a utopian technocrat’s toolbox. The OECD, or G7 meetings, might recommend changes in economic policy by different countries to benefit world economic growth, but everything still comes down to whatever is in the interests of the capitalist countries concerned.