Dr. Minqi Li, a young exiled Chinese scholar, is about to publish a very important book: The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy. For details, see also the extensive interview series (with transcripts) here.
I’m particularly excited because it confirms my own analysis, which states that the current world system is going to hit a barrier of extensive globalization (the earth is full, capitalism is already everywhere, and the resources are no longer there for unbridled growth, we do not have the 4-5 planets needed to bring China and India to the full Western level), while the dream of intensive globalization through immaterial growth is irrealistic because abundant peer production of immaterial use value escapes the logic of the market.
Minqi Li’s book focuses in detail on how the Chinese high-growth economy will hit a number of snags starting in the period 2012-2015, and how this will inevitably lead to several social stresses, while also creating a crisis for the world system as a whole.
I’m not enthusiastic about every aspect of the book (which I have merely scanned, so my opinion is necessarily tentative), since Minqu Li moved the opposite way of the Chinese intelligentsia, i.e. instead of moving towards neoliberalism like the majority, he moved away from it to the old Maoist ideals, oblivious to its totalitarian nature. It seems to me that a more democratic ‘peer to peer’ option would have been advisable. We can note that despite the nostalgia of some farmers and workers for that bygone era (a feeling which is also notable in Russian and Eastern Europe), none of them defended the system, and it seems to me that is the case because despite the security it offered, it was just as disempowering as the current system.
Kevin Carson has read some of the material, and send some interesting comments, about a possible ‘third route’ that could have been pursued, when it became clear that centralized planning was in crisis.
“From reading the Preface, he seems to be starting mainly from the argument in vol. 3 of Capital, on the expansion of capital into new frontiers of low cost and underaccumulation as a counteracting tendency to the falling direct rate of profit. Li argues that China was the last such large-scale outlet (the last frontier), and is unable to continue to absorb capital investment on a scale sufficient to serve as an outlet for Western surplus capital.
IMO this parallels the collapse of the tech bubble (the tech industry being another example of a new field of investment of the sort Marx discussed as a relief for surplus capital), and the housing bubble (which was really associated with further mass-suburbanization, in the ways discussed by Kunstler, as a new field for surplus capital). Starting ca. 1940 with large-scale rearmament, the problem of overaccumulation has been remedied by one government effort after another, both through large-scale armament production and the direct creation of one new industry after another (the expansion of the car culture, suburbanization, and the trucking industry after WWII; the direct outgrowth of the miniaturized electronics industry from the military economy; the desktop revolution from the ’80s on; the new wave of suburbanization and the SUV culture; etc.).
As you suggest, Michel, capitalism is running out of such outlets because the unenforceability of IP is resulting in a crisis of realization. And as Li suggests, there’s a limit to how far the problem can be circumvented by exporting capital, because there’s only one Earth.
IMO there’s another way in which China is about to hit the wall. China’s economic process to date has relied on enormous, extensive addition of energy inputs, enabled through artificially low pricing of energy within the Chinese state capitalist economy (around a third of the world price, I believe). Now, China can price energy inputs internally in whatever Alice in Wonderland way it wants. But it relies heavily on outside energy markets, and the petroleum-exporting countries won’t sell it for the imaginary prices China uses internally. So China is headed for the same kind of input and resource crises as the West: its industry will gobble up energy as inefficiently and wastefully as can be imagined, since it’s “free,” even as the state bankrupts itself attempting to obtain more from outside.
Just from reading the Preface, the book seems to include a rehabilitation of Maoism as a libertarian/egalitarian/decentralist ideology. I’ve got to say, the idea doesn’t appeal to me. He appears to treat egalitarian Maoism and the Singaporean model of authoritarian hypercapitalism pursued by the current regime as the two polar alternatives. IMO this is a mistake.
Suppose, instead, China in the ’70s had pursued market reform on the same basis that Gorbachev was feeling his way toward before the coup: a land reform based on the recognition of village communal rights, privatization of factories as worker cooperatives, etc. This would also have included the actual cost pricing of inputs (which would have encouraged small-scale production and decentralism, and likely resulted in a continuation of small-industry at the level of commune and brigade developed earlier), the free organization of labor (which coupled with free access to the land would have made China far less attractive as a haven for sweatshops), and complete repudiation of the concept of “intellectual property.” China might have developed, instead, a decentralized market economy of the cooperatively organized working class and self-employed petty bourgeoisie, oriented mainly toward mobilization of local capital to produce for local consumption.”