By: Raúl Zibechi
In periods of global systemic chaos it’s easy to confuse reality with desires, even more so when there are authentic facts that give rise to thinking that what we desired for a long time seems to be approaching imminently. However, problems appear here, optic deviations that lead us to erroneous conclusions. In some way, we all fall into simplifications that are ultimately shown to be incorrect.
We desire, or at least I desire, the end of this imperialist, colonial, patriarchal and capitalist system. But it would be wrong to believe that “laws” exist that lead the system to ruin. Let’s look at just a few years ago, when serious and well-documented analysts predicted peak oil, the peak of oil discoveries, which would inevitably lead to the end of a civilization based on hydrocarbons.
We thought that starting with the first decade of this century an unstoppable decline would begin and that prices would be so high that they would provoke abrupt and revolutionary changes. As we know, that is not happening. The United States has put itself at the head of extraction by hydraulic fracture (fracking), a very contaminating technique, and is breaking all records of production bringing prices to much lower levels than those of three or four years ago.
That’s just one example, among many. Those of us who were formed in Marx learned –thanks to the bad communicators and to the desire to believe them– that capitalism is condemned to disappear because of alleged laws that govern the economy and that will lead it to collapse. These debates took place a century ago and still survive. I don’t refer to those who are scanning the horizon and see clouds approaching, but rather to those who make forecasts from a desk guided by some theory.
I want to give two examples, one that endorses the thesis of the decadence of the United States and another that contradicts it.
The economist David P. Goldman maintains in a documented work in Asia Times, that the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum “doesn’t have any possibility of rejuvenating the industrial base of the United States. His analysis is overwhelming. He assures that starting with the decade from 2000 to 2010 there has been a decline in innovation and productivity in the US, because “venture capital stopped investing in the manufacturing industry.”
The cause is typically capitalist: aversion to the risks due to the fall in the rate of profit. China did the opposite because it’s not a savage capitalism but a State capitalism that is dedicated to protecting and subsidizing strategic industries so that the nation won’t be humiliated again, as happened with the three invasions that prostrated (the opium wars in the 19th century and the Japanese invasion in the 20th century).
Investments in cutting-edge technologies have fallen dramatically in the US, being barely one fifth of those that it had at the beginning of 2000. “The United State share of world exports of high technology have fallen from 20 percent in 1999, to a little more than 5 percent in 2014, while China increased from 3 to 26 percent in the same period,” Goldman points out (goo.gl/1yVxNy ).
He asserts that the United States never confronted a competitor like China. Washington limits itself to imposing taxes, like the one imposed on solar panels, but Beijing continues to gain sympathy by offering itself as a champion of free trade. The roles have been reversed and now the US is becoming, in the words of Goldman, “a producer and exporter of agricultural products and raw or semi-finished materials with an atrophied industrial base.”
The second analysis was published days ago in the newspaper El Economista and shows that the United States will become the first oil producer of oil starting in October, thereby displacing Saudi Arabia and Russia, and placing OPEP on the defensive. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), thanks to fracking “the new US production will cover more than half of the world’s increase in demand for oil until 2023” (goo.gl/foDSzg).
With 10 million barrels per day, the US achieves solid energy independence and also becomes a big exporter. According to the IEA, in 2019 the countries that don’t belong to the OPEP (like Canada, the US, Mexico, Russia and Brazil, among others) will produce 60 percent of the world’s oil (goo.gl/1ywm16).
While Venezuela’s oil production falls to 1940 levels, that of the United States beats all historical records and, even more surprisingly, exports grow geometrically (89 percent in 2017), to the point that it is estimated that 40 percent of the demand of the Asian refineries will be covered with US oil (goo.gl/ecjQMp). From having been a country historically dependent on oil imports, it has become in a very few years the big global energy power.
At this point, it seems necessary to make some clarifications.
The first is that I believe that effectively the United States is a great power in decline. This is the principal aspect of the question. But the decline is not linear or rapid; it has counter-tendencies, like the one I point out above. This means that the transition towards the hegemony of China will be longer and more complex that what we could have anticipated years ago and, surely, along the way there will be agreements and crises, which will accelerate and slow down, at the same time, the la decline as well as the rise of new powers.
The second question is related to the modes of understanding and analyzing what is happening. It’s very common to fall into the temptation of eliminating data that contradict our forecasts and, above all, our desires. Up to a certain point it’s an inevitable tendency, but we must be on the alert in order to minimize this risk.
The third is that there are no “objective” laws capable of putting an end to this system of death. Only collective and organized human activity can, at the same time, restrain this barbarism and open cracks in the wall of domination.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, March 16, 2018
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee