I feel like I've been a frantic hamster on a wheel the last couple of months, culminating in a frantic end to the semester.
The broader political and economic context has been so distressing that I've not even had the energy to blog.
For example, Trump's decision to ask Icahn to head regulatory reform is truly insane:
Chris Isidore. December 22, 2016. Trump taps Carl Icahn for regulations busting post. CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/21/news/economy/donald-trump-carl-icahn/
"It's time to break free of excessive regulation and let our entrepreneurs do what they do best: create jobs and support communities," Icahn said in the announcement. "President-elect Trump is serious about helping American families, and regulatory reform will be a critical component of making America work again."Are readers aware that Carl Icahn was one of the biographical characters that Oliver Stone based his despicable Gordon Gekko figure upon in the 1987 film Wall Street? See here.
Trump's political appointees are drawn from the most powerful and ruthless financial and energy players.
For them, competitiveness is defined in terms of corporate profits and control, with less (if any) regard for long term impacts on populations and the environments that sustain them.
The regulatory state that Icahn and Trump want to roll back has its problems, but regulatory structures alone protect citizens and the environment from the worst excesses of predatory, neoliberal capitalism. See my discussion here
I argue in my book, Crisis Communication, Liberal Democracy and Ecological Sustainability, that we are lapsing into a form of government I call "neo-mercantilism" that resembles the imperial mercantilism of the 19th century.
"Imperial mercantilism" describes the form of government that was characterized by an imperial sovereign state at the turn of the 20th century, whose interests were closely aligned with its most powerful corporations, particularly in the areas of energy (oil) and finance.
Imperial mercantile powers extended their power and control through the exploitation and administration of foreign lands under the guise of laissez-faire, as explained by Polanyi:
As Polanyi (1957) observed, throughout the nineteenth century, the powerful Western countries exercised “an unrelenting pressure to spread the fabric of market economy and market society elsewhere,” a universalizing governmental/economic imperative which existed uneasily with nineteenth century national monetary sovereignty, based on the gold standard (p. 253). The state, through charters and financing, and later military support, would provide the conditions of possibility for “laissez-faire” market expansion. (Nadesan, Governmentality, Biopower and Everyday Life).
Laissez-Faire was a fiction in so far as the marketplace under mercantilism was neither open nor ungoverned, as I describe here:
The liberal age of laissez-faire was also an age of mercantile colonialism. Beginning in the 1500s, European colonists, such as Spain, often instituted extractive institutions and unequal exchange systems that resulted in highly stratified societies and impacted their developmental trajectories.[i]
Extractive and colonial logics and systems of administration were imported into Mercantilism, a system of governmental thought and policy that emerged with the rise of the European nation state in the 1600s and 1700s. Mercantilism valorized the strong, centralized state and viewed the world as a zero-sum game among nations for limited resources.[ii]
Under mercantilism, European sovereigns deployed maritime forces to increase their wealth through trade and domination of markets. These adventures gradually incorporated efforts to administer and exploit foreign territory, ushering in the intense colonization efforts during the close of the 1800s, a period described as “neomercantile” or economic nationalist.[iii]
By the early 1900s, this system had been refined into “economic imperialism,” characterized by: (1) great international rivalries among European nation-states and their corporations, (2) the accumulation of capital seeking investment abroad, and (3) economic exploitation of foreign territories,[iv] all of which resulted in the dispossession of subjugated peoples and greater inequality within colonizers’ home nations.[v]
The mercantile, colonial and extractive logics of rule described here have little to do with liberal ideals of competitive free trade among relative equals or individual sovereignty. Colonialism by liberal nation-states deployed imperial (that is, “non-liberal”) strategies to exploit other people’s resources.
Liberal nation-states pressed to legitimize illiberal tendencies often rationalize them as necessary “exceptions” to liberal practices that do not undermine fundamental principles. Exceptions are often framed in terms of the imperatives of efficiency or because of imminent risks represented as threatening state security.[vi]
Economic imperialism resulted in two catastrophic World Wars and demands for reforms in corporate and state governance. States promised to reform their mercantile ways through rational international political governance instituted with the (failed) League of Nations (1920) and more successful United Nations (1945) and through comprehensive trade and financial agreements, especially with Bretton Woods (1944).
Mid-Twentieth century capitalism promoted close cooperation between corporate and government interests, but the two sectors were not perfectly aligned, as demonstrated in the U.S. by the significant regulatory reforms that occurred with New Deal banking regulations in the 1930s, many of which were opposed by the financial industry.
Yet, although the liberal state is not fully suborned, its agencies and infrastructure have too often failed to protect public welfare, particularly when powerful corporate interests and colonial concerns shape policy priorities.
In Power Inc, historian David Rothkopf describes a central tension between the power of the people and the power of private actors and corporations desiring maximum freedom to pursue their own interests.[vii] Rothkopf interrogates the state’s role in mediating competing interests, in “reconciling the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of a just and equitable society,”[viii] concluding that corporations, as a primary center of private power, have rivaled, challenged, defeated, and sidestepped public power.[ix]
He also notes that the power of the state is calcified in centralized, hierarchical forms that formed centuries past and which often serves interests other than the general public welfare.
This project is particularly concerned about the sedimentation of institutional relationships across corporations and government in finance and energy that threaten liberal values of self-determination, freedom of expression, personal property, and the freedom to pursue happiness.
Liberal capitalism has produced financial and energy complexes that pose catastrophic security risks for global populations. Yet, although these risks are formally acknowledged, the complexes continue to dominate money and energy production. END EXCERPT FROM Nadesan, Crisis Communication, Liberal Democracy and Ecological Sustainability.
ME HERE: My book was published in the late spring of 2016, before the Trump Presidency.
It is clear to me that Trump's political appointments will INSTITUTIONALIZE the neo-mercantile tendencies already existing in the US.
Trump has appointed Goldman Sachs bankers and an Exxon CEO to run the country. Designating Carl Icahn to lead de-regulation is perhaps the worst insult so far to a Main Street that has never recovered fully from the recession, whose millennial children cannot find jobs that enable economic independence, and whose health and well-being are increasingly jeopardized by toxins in the air, in their food, in their water, and in their culture.
[i] Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, “Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development among New World Economies,” Economia 3 (2002):41–88.
[ii] Mortimer Chambers, Raymond Grew, David Herlihy, Theodore Rabb, and Isser Woloch, The Western Experience Since 1600. 3rd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983). 500-501.
[iii] R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World Since 1815 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). 605.
[iv] Sidney Fay, Before Sarejevo: the Origins of the World War, Volume 1 (Toronto: Free Press Macmillan, 1966). 44-45.
[v] , J. A. (1972). Imperialism: A Study rev. ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972; Original work published 1905).
[vi] Majia Nadesan, Governmentality, Biopower, and Everyday Life (New York: Routledge, 2008). 183-184.
[vii] David Rothkopf, Power Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government--and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).
[viii] Ibid., 12.
[ix] Ibid., 362.