A reply to Professor Immanuel Wallerstein of Yale
Dear Professor Wallerstein,
I just read your article, “The Global Economy Will Not Recover, Now or Ever,” from Foreign Policy and reprinted in the February 6 Dallas Morning News. It’s a very courageous and convincing article. I certainly agree with you that capitalism cannot go on forever because, as you say, “All systems have lives.”
I can’t really agree with you that the reason for capitalism’s dilemma is that it has strayed too far from equilibrium. I don’t think equilibrium was ever a part of capitalism. It’s an expansive system, always seeking new markets because it produces more than it can sell in its own sphere. They may try to use advanced technology, more skillful trading, or downright military intervention, but their goal is always expansion. Capitalism was a good system as long as it had the ability to expand, but it simply ran out of planet.
You mentioned “at least 2008” as the beginning of the problem but the beginning of the 20th century would be a better guess. By that time, the major capitalist powers had exhausted their ability to expand further into the colonial world, and consequently turned on each other in a devastating World War. Bombs and killings created a little space to grow, but it didn’t last long until the next war became inevitable. The bombs and killings of World War II left the United States as the only capitalist nation still immediately able to expand, which it did for a very prosperous few decades.
The U.S. and its capitalist competitors, mired in a self-defeating and mutually destructive competition, caught a break in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc of nations. That bought them room for a surprisingly short expansion. Since then, capitalism’s crisis has worsened steadily and, as you point out, has no real hope of recovery. The capitalist nations who fought one another on their way up, are now killing one another on the way down. The simple and direct solution they used previously, world war, is precluded, we hope, by their ability to destroy the planet and all hope of future expansion.
For some time, I have been saying, “capitalism will never get out of this crisis alive.” But one veteran communist from India recently told me with a laugh, “We’ve been predicting that since 1946!” The old joke, you probably know, is that communists predicted 25 of the last 3 recessions.
I would emphatically like to join you, Professor, in your anticipation of a new system that would be an improvement over capitalism. It isn’t the only possible outcome, but the other one is too awful to consider. The problem with predicting qualitative change, the end of capitalism and the beginning of a better economic system, is that you can’t put a timetable on it. A future with an improved economic system depends on enlightened and courageous people struggling to make it happen, as you infer in your excellent article.
Congratulations on your ability and your bravery.