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Drop Till We Shop?

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Paralleling this crisis is mounting disaffection with Washington- or Westminster-type liberal democracies that have served as a central stabilization mechanism for global capitalism in the South--a site that hardly makes an appearance on Brenner's stage yet has constantly been a critical point of vulnerability in the stable reproduction of the system globally. In places like the Philippines, Pakistan, Brazil and Venezuela, popular disillusionment with socially riven, economically stagnant electoral democracies oiled by money politics is rife among the lower classes and even the middle class; in the case of Pakistan, it is one of the factors that allowed General Musharraf to seize power.

About the Author

Walden Bello
Now a member of the Philippine House of Representatives representing Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party), Walden...

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Outnumbered by the country’s rural voters, Thailand’s once vibrantly democratic urban middle class has embraced an elitist, antidemocratic agenda.

But the crisis of legitimacy of liberal democracy is not limited to the South. It is also shaking up the United States, Japan and Europe. Beneath George Bush's post-9/11 poll popularity continues to stir the widespread pre-9/11 feeling that, owing to overweening corporate influence, plutocracy and not democracy is now the US system of government. Despite Washington's current posturing about punishing corporate fraud, the spectacular developments on Wall Street are perceived as a moral collapse in which both economic and political elites are implicated.

In Japan, ineptitude is the key characteristic associated by citizens with the interest-group-ridden conservative democracy that has presided over a decade of stagnation and decline.

While there is also much concern about corporate control of political party finances in Europe, an even greater subverter of democratic legitimacy is the widespread anger over the nontransparent process that technocratic elites allied to corporate elites have--in the name of European integration and technocratic and market rationality--eroded the principle of subsidiarity by funneling effective political and economic decision-making upward to techno-corporate structures, at the apex of which stands the European Commission, that are largely unaccountable to electorates on the ground. Electoral revolts like those associated with Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands are manifestations of deep alienation with technocratic democracy.

Finally, there is the strategic crisis brought about by politico-military "overextension." While there may be factions in Washington that see "military Keynesianism" as a way out of the current economic impasse, in fact the military equation at this juncture might be more of an unraveling factor. The recent expansion of US military influence into Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Asia and Central Asia may communicate strength. Yet, despite all this movement, the United States has not been able to consolidate victory anywhere--certainly not in Afghanistan, where nascent anarchy, and not a stable pro-US regime, reigns. Indeed, it is arguable that because of the massive disaffection the United States has created throughout the Muslim world, Washington's political-military moves, including its pro-Israel policies, have worsened rather than improved the US strategic situation in the Middle East. This sense of being strapped into the roller coaster of overextension is probably what accounts for the reluctance of some factions in the Pentagon to follow the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz lobby's push to invade Iraq. Meanwhile, even as Washington is obsessed with terrorism in the Middle East, political rebellions against neoliberalism are shaking up its Latin American backyard.

Kondratieff's portrait of crisis was hardly deterministic. In his schema it was the volatile interaction of production and political and ideological crises that facilitated the descent of the long waves from crest to trough in the 1880s and again in the 1930s. The situation today, more than fifty years after the beginning of the post-World War II economic ascent, is analogous. Robert Brenner provides us with an insightful guide to the roots and dynamics of the crisis of the system of production, one that is more reliable than most of the treatises turned out by the hotshot deserters from the collapsing neoclassical paradigm. But his superb analysis of the crisis of production needs to be supplemented with an exploration of the parallel crisis of the system of reproduction to bring home both the depth of capitalism's contemporary crisis and the volatility of the conjuncture.

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