A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World by William I. Robinson
|Reviewed By:||John W. Cioffi|
|Reviewed in:||The Journal of Politics|
|Date accepted online:||02/11/2007|
|Published in print:||Volume 69, Issue 03, Pages 876-895|
In Robinson's view, and I agree with him, globalization represents a qualitatively new form of political economic order. The defining features of what he calls "global capitalism" are: (1) an accelerated expansion of international trade; (2) the extraordinary internationalization and growth of financial markets and services; (3) the segmentation and internationalization of production
Robinson argues that the objective conditions of globalization supply the conditions for the formation of an increasingly self-conscious "transnational capitalist class" (TCC) capable of agency and the deliberate pursuit of its interests (i.e., a class for itself in Marxian terms). Economic organization defines class identities and interests, and the resulting class structure embodies power relations that are inherently political. Changes in economic organization undermined the political and economic foundations of post-World War II Fordism, Keynesian labor-capital compromises, and developmentalist industrial policies that enabled the growth of organized labor and the welfare state. Simultaneously, they have induced economic and political elites to view their interests within a global, rather than national, frame of reference. These elites, comprised of senior managers of industrial and financial firms, state actors at the highest levels, and a growing cadre of supporting professionals, increasingly act within and favor the further development of a "transnational state" (TNS) that is developing from within the existing system of nation states (98). Robinson points to international organizations such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank, among other multilateral institutions and trade agreements as part of the infrastructure of this emergent TNS.
As the TNS develops within the historically defined international system, the nation state as we've known it becomes resituated within the TNS. Existing states do not wither away, but are "transformed into
According to Robinson, global capitalism has already entered a stage of crisis generated by its very structure. He discusses three forms of crisis endemic to this new world order: crises of (1) overproduction and underconsumption, (2) global social polarization driven by growing inequality of wealth and power, and (3) state legitimacy and political authority (147-55). He reaches some bleak conclusions in laying out the contradictions of the new global capitalism. In a twist very much in the spirit of Marxist dialectics and crisis theory, the decisive tilt in power relations towards capital and away from labor unleashes growing resistance from below as the contradictions of global capitalism manifest themselves in political economic instability and upheaval. The only way for the TCC to maintain its power will be through intensifying repression of dispossessed classes worldwide (155-58).
There is a wide array of criticisms and reservations one could raise in response to this theory. I restrict myself to just a few. First, this is a highly theoretical work. In less than 200 pages of surprisingly accessible text, one cannot hope to characterize the dynamics and immense complexity of "global capitalism," marshal sufficient empirical evidence to establish the existence of new class of global capitalists, and describe and/or theorize the effects of these developments on politics and the state.
Second, it is not at all clear that economic elites, let alone political ones, have achieved the self-consciousness of a hegemonic class. Much more evidence would be needed to show that members of a transnational class now have a subjective self-awareness distinct from that of nationally based capitalist elites, that they can act coherently in accordance with these interests, and that their self-understanding, organization, and agency cannot be explained as consistent with established national elites pursuing narrow self-interests in a more open global economy.
Third, I remain skeptical of the claim that there is an emerging global state structure. Nation states remain vital to the interests of a TCC and the operation of the TNS. If these states can maintain divergent institutional arrangements and distinctive policies, it is unclear what a new "global" level of analysis in terms of class and state formation adds to our understanding. State actors and institutions confront a very different and more constraining international economic environment than existed 40 years ago. And as Robinson ably points out, one should not reify conceptions of the state informed by receding historical conditions. Yet the nation state still seems to be the primary locus of authority and power-even if it is arguably confined within narrower limits. Although the WTO has developed
Whether one agrees with his theory or not, Robinson has provided a provocative and conceptually intriguing account of globalization that forces us to think about fundamental issues of economic organization, class, power, and the state in a time of rapid and dramatic change. This book would be appropriate for graduate classes in comparative political economy and international relations. At a minimum, it would stimulate some conversations well worth beginning.