Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Rise of Neo-Mercantilism and the Trump Presidency


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,

"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.


  1. Ideas of fascism originated at the turn of the century. Spain was a fascist country for many years under Franco. Little care was taken for the citizenry of a relatively homogenous population.

    It was a 3rd world country where poverty and antidemocratic principals were enforced. Modern Honduras and Guatemala are grotesquely fascist countries with rightwing death squads. Hillary helped that. Police states with few individual rights for the majority of the citizens.

    Hillary also helped precipitate the neonazi junta in the Ukraine. The Maiden neonazis have gutted the Ukraine.

    Japan is close to being a fascist state. People can be persecuted for talking about Fukushima. Children relocated from Fukushima to Tokyo or Yokohama, are bullied and called germs. The government of Abe encourages it. They want the evacuees relocated back to Fukushima.

    Fukushima is worse than Chernobyl. Of 60,000 people relocated from the Chernobyl area only 11 thousand are currently alive. Most of those died before they we're 40. Hillary is also responsible for putting the current regime in power in the US.

    1. Fascism is ancient. It is really another name for oligarchy. Is there any nation in the world that does not have an oligarchy? I suppose we could designate Fascism as bad oligarchy.

  2. Some times knowing less is knowing more. “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er,” (Macbeth:Act 3) In fact we can not go back to some time when the world turned right and should have gone straight ahead. I like science and technology--but not too much. We have created a world civilization which holds beliefs that are false and which are quite destructive when they get applied. In my world we would have taken E.F. Schumacher and men like him to heart; it would not take thirty years to ban DDT, and there would be no Monsanto Protection Act. I doubt there would be vaccines but an abundance of good food. Etc. In my world of course humans would be trans-humans, so my world is refuted on a daily basis. Given the world and the human being as he/she is, we should be glad for jobs and the basics which I believe Trump will deliver. The question is, having hitched these talented and powerful persons to his carriage will Donald Trump be able to keep them under control and headed in the right direction? Ichan is an old man now and probably has grandchildren. What kind of life will these grandchildren have? I spent some time at a wedding this past weekend explaining why utopias do not happen. Unless all the people had almost the same desires there would be endless conflict. The criminals would be out of work; the addicts would feel even worse; and so on. For some reason most people have trouble grasping that each person has different desires. It would not be possible to be a crook without the desires that go with that or to start a war without those kinds of desires. Even Buddhist monasteries experience serous conflict. So Trump is hitching these powerful war horses to plows and later wagons filled with grain.
    The one way to get a nation productive is what both Putin and Trump are doing. Appeal to the good past. Summon up the high times and the traditions. Hence, the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and the invitation to the Romanovs to return. In the USA it means appreciating the Founders, the pioneers, the homesteaders, the industrial era . . . and wishing people Merry Christmas. We have had a very strange ideology at play now for at least fifty years. And it has not been inspiring. Alcohol,drugs and sex are the addictions. At least one out of six people on psychiatric medication . . . While not quite the classical Dark Night of the Soul it has been a very long late evening. I think things will go well now for quite some time.

  3. Your a criminal billy and you have done well. You are also addicted to being a blowhard and in this country that still has some civil liberties you can continue your addiction. Fascists like to think themselves above the rest.

    1. You avoid cold hard facts except when you invent them. And argument is beyond your intellectual powers. Calling someone a criminal because he holds different ideas shows a very immature person desperate for attention. So the above is a little attention. For all your verbosity you actually fail to communicate anything intelligible. You are a member of the Death Cult that still has this nation in its grip. Death Cult members are filled with insults and despair. They love nothing and respect nothing and endlessly wail that their decaying ideology is no longer in style. Or if you prefer you are a nihilist. You might get some edification by reading the Possessed by Dostoevsky. Good luck.

    2. We want the nuclear nightmare to recede as any rational person would. If president trump helps with that good. If not then things do not look good. So far not good. Nuclear madness is irrational. Nuclear war and pollution is nihilism.

  4. A person who thinks it is OK to construct a radiation weapon has criminal tendencies. Billy thought the guy who was building a radiation weapon should not be in jail. Guess he is exceptional and some peoples lives are worth more than others.


    Interview with Karl Grossman

  6. How people can productive input on nuclear and Fukushima. Lonnie Clark finding unity in the Fukushima information community
    Arclight2011 aka Shaun McGee interviewed by Lonni…:



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