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Harbingers of global economic crisis

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The upcoming global and financial crisis has been much talked about in the world, but what no one is talking about is how to avoid this crisis, survive it or, most importantly, what to do next. Neither is anyone pointing to the erratic approach to ensuring a smoothly working global economic system that actually made this crisis inevitable.

Karl Marx is one of the thinkers who analyzed the systemic crisis of capitalism and devised a universal theory as a way of solving this crisis. Adapted to the national and religious specifics of various countries, this theory to a large extent determined the logic of the revolutionary socialist movements of the late-19th and early-20th century. However, does Karl Marx’s method of analyzing the nature of classical capitalism remain relevant today? Do we know about economics today more than Karl Marx did back in the 19th century or less? These are the questions experts taking part in the recent meeting of the Zinovyev Club in Moscow tried to answer.

Marx’s Precursors and Marxism: globalism, anti-globalism, and the “End of History”

Oleg Matveichev, a prominent political analyst, philosopher and professor of the Higher School of Economics Research University, spoke about Karl Marx’s predecessors, whose legacy must be analyzed because their thoughts about the nature of capitalism inspired Marx to devote his whole life to the study of its workings.

The first such precursor was Immanuel Kant. Even though he never wrote about economics per se, many of his writings give us an insight into his views on the economy. Oleg Matveichev calls the Konigsberg-based thinker one of the first globalists. And with good reason too, since many apologists of modern globalization never miss a chance to quote, almost word for word, Kant’s essay “Towards Eternal Peace,” while often failing to reflect on its original source.

According to Kant, the true reason for a state’s existence is to defend itself from outside enemies, and the genuine task of free states is to liberate others. Paradoxically, this connects directly to George Soros via Karl Popper, the founder of the “open society” theory.

Oleg Matveichev believes that Karl Popper was weaned on the ideas of neo-Kantianism, but while borrowing ethical issues from Kant, he carried them over to epistemology. According to Immanuel Kant, moral maxims are subject to categorical and hypothetical imperatives. This is exactly how Karl Popper theorized about science when he said that we only put forward hypotheses in our knowledge, and if so, these hypotheses should be falsified. Kant categorically rejected all sorts of planning and attempts to build a paradise on earth. Popper had no doubt whatsoever in the finiteness of any system and human design.

Although Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a direct adherent of Kant’s theory, he substantially revised the legacy of his predecessor. In his “Discourses on the Tendencies of the Modern Epoch,” Fichte argued that Kant was mistaken in defining the tendencies of modern-day globalization as a desire for eternal peace and the formation of a single space and a super-state. Conversely, while during the Middle Ages the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation was a prototype of a single Christian state, this has since given way to the creation of “nation states” with nationalism and separation becoming the main trends of this day and age.

In his work “The Closed Commercial State,” Fichte actually comes out as the founder of anti-globalism. His ideas had a strong impact on the great German economist Friedrich List, an ardent advocate of economic protectionism, who regarded a planned economy and state monopoly of foreign trade as key to a country’s success in the world.

To make this happen, it is necessary to calculate the number of people producing material “wealth,” then of the class of Nature-transforming “artists” as well as of managers, old people and children. At the same time, the trade balance should not be upset either way, since overdependence on imports will lead to a situation where outside players dictate their will to the country. Excessive dependence on exports is equally bad, as it is fraught with the loss of foreign markets and increased unemployment. Fichte proposed the concept of ownership of activity instead of ownership of things. Also, unlike Emmanuel Kant, who was an advocate of universal publicity, Fichte embraced the idea of keeping state secrets.

Unlike his predecessors, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, once a believer in Adam Smith’s theory, left behind a trove of works related to economic activity. To better understand his logic, one should read his oeuvre, titled “Phenomenology of the Spirit,” especially the part about the so-called “master-and-slave” dialectic. This would also explain how Karl Marx, who in his early years was fascinated by Hegel’s philosophy, found his place in the great Hegelian system.

According to Hegel, there are two types of self-awareness that have clashed throughout the course of history, and only the one ready to defend its rightfulness to the last has prevailed, becoming the “master”. Because slaves are not allowed to fight, they labor on, while their masters wage war. This is the fundamental principle of a feudal society. However, the process of the master’s degradation eventually becomes increasingly evident since, according to Hegel, “he has nothing to do with the product, does not process it, and does not feel Nature’s dependent status.” Conversely, the slave, who processes Nature, is gradually becoming his own master. The result is a sort of a coup which, however, does not change the whole matrix.

It will do so only when the master realizes that as long as he owns a slave he is not master in the true sense of the word. As soon as the tendency towards universal liberation sets in, the “master-and-slave” dialectic dies out ushering in the end of history. According to Hegel, the more civilized European nations (including the Germanic ones) will bring about the end of history, which can last forever. This logic brings us  to the legacy of Francis Fukuyama, who, at the close of the 20th century, devised his concept of the “end of history,” based on the writings of the Russian neo-Hegelian émigré thinker Alexander Kozhev.

Karl Marx, for his part, argues that “the end of history” Hegel wrote about is somewhat premature – simply because what Hegel had in mind was only the political liberation of man, while economic domination hasn’t gone anywhere.  The end of history (Communism) will come only after the economic imbalance between people has been eliminated as a result of a politico-economic revolution. Here Karl Marx was drawing, in part, on the legacy of Fichte, and the criticism that Kantians leveled against him at the time, were leveled against Marxists in the 20th century, including by Friedrich von Hayek who, just like Popper, believed in the finiteness of any human design and of any cycles of economic and social activity.

Modern economics and the relevance of Marxism

Is the Marxist dialectic relevant today? According to Higher School of Economics Professor Dmitry Yevstafyev, an economic theory hinges on two parameters: time (today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow) and space (private, sectoral, regional, or universal).

People usually think about economic theory when a new economic crisis is looming but hasn’t actually struck yet, and that the tension being felt on the global, regional and national level has not yet found its way out. Marxism as a theory stems from disputes swirling around the central question of the latter part of the 19th century: “Where will classical industrial capitalism go from now?” This explains the longevity of this theory, which gained so much prominence in the 20th century.

Dmitry Yevstafyev regards the current economic space as a non-linear and multi-vector one. Almost every serious analyst agrees that the existing economic system is teetering precariously on the brink of a massive global economic crisis, the consequences of which will be highly unpredictable, but most likely dire nonetheless. And here Marx’s theory, especially its economic part, can do little to help since it is extremely linear. It was an attempt to characterize the economic mainstream of that time, though a unidirectional, single-vector one, which implied no significant derivatives or deviations. That being said, Karl Marx did acknowledge, however, the multilateral nature of the economic development of his day and age. It was with this understanding in mind that he introduced the term “Asian mode of production,” which gave rise to a discussion that became a major headache for Soviet philosophers and political economists.

According to Yevstafyev, the linear nature of Karl Marx’s teaching will limit the possibilities of using this methodology in the future. On the other hand, it is hard to deny the fact that in modern economic science vulgarization of liberal approaches in the economy and fetishization of numerical indicators has reached the point of absurdity. Economists often try to present a holistic picture of global progress based on individual economic indicators. It should be noted here that mathematical liberalism was relevant when the process of globalization was on the rise. However, with the globalization area shrinking as it has done the past few years, very serious problems arise.

Could the methodology that Karl Marx used to characterize the 19th century capitalism and Vladimir Lenin – to describe the early-20th century capitalism, be applied to the capitalism that exists today?

Doing this would be extremely difficult since we are dealing with a very hybrid economic environment, which is greatly complicated by non-economic factors. What we are dealing with today is, in fact, a pseudo-economic system, which uses the language of liberal theories to legitimize itself.

That being said, however, classical Marxism may well be applied to new industrial countries and the so-called “reverse industrialization” states where post-industrial structures are being dismantled and replaced by industrial ones. Even though such cases are few and far between, looking at Marx’s theory from this angle, one could see a phenomenon that is not typical of Marxism. According to Karl Marx, a more progressive economic system is bound to prevail over a less progressive one. However, we have seen a competition between post-industrial or pre-post-industrial countries (such as Germany) and new industrial ones (mainly South Korea, China, and India). “I don’t think that this progressiveness has good chances of being implemented in the long haul,” Dmitry Yevstafyev noted.

With the upcoming global crisis threatening to exacerbate all the internal contradictions of modern-day capitalism, Dmitry Yevstafyev believes that Karl Marx’s methodology still remains relevant today.

The expert outlined the main specifics of the modern-day capitalist system. The first has to do with the idea of the so-called “fluid property,” which ultimately leads to the emancipation of the worker from property and the proprietor from management. The second is a systematic, man-made pauperization of society, as well as the growing number of part-time citizens as the most vulnerable social stratum. The factor of the information society will play a major role too.

Finally, from the standpoint of the geo-economic situation, there is one major problem that can’t be ignored, and this is the emergence of several “gray zones” with diffusive forms of economic and social interaction where existing economic and social institutions are being replaced by others. Such zones will serve as breeding grounds for new forms of human activity.

From an economic point of view, post-crisis capitalism will, just like its present version, be all about intra-group competition for control over mechanisms for extracting rent – natural, logistic and technological. On a social plane, however, multi-vector and multidirectional development will increase. As a result, instead of a global, highly standardized social and cross-cultural mainstream we will see the growing role of the multi-vector approach. Thus we may witness the emergence and sustained existence of a post-industrial version of capitalism based on trade relations of a network and sub-state nature, instead of industrial enterprises and financial institutions.

According to Dmitry Yevstafyev, a global economic crisis could be set off by a variety of factors, not least by problems emerging in the local financial market without any war.

“If the crisis starts with an economic collapse, you will take fewer risks. But from the standpoint of exercising control, the best option would be to take greater risks, but start with military action,” the expert noted.

first published in our partner International Affairs

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The Economy Against the Tide

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The world evidently grappled with the effects of the Covid pandemic in 2020 and continues to wedge forward against the odds to survive and stay afloat. The major economies contracted as the global boards pinned records after records in economic depreciation, monetary devaluation and corporate deterioration. However, whilst the pandemic pushed the metaphorical brake over the developed and developing economies alike, and simultaneously nudged the least developed into desperation, China posted surprisingly positive growth figures as it bid adios to the yesteryear. While anything remotely lucrative seems like a farce nowadays and although the relatively booming Chinese economy seems superficial at the first glance, a detailed analysis dissects the tenets of the trade that have set the People’s Republic apart from the struggling world.

China stands as the figurative ‘Ground Zero’ of the Coronavirus pandemic; reporting the earliest emergence of the virus in the ultimate month of 2019.  China later went on to have a gloomy start to the new year; struggling to deal with the strange occurrences, rising death toll and having no answer to the surging uncertainty. The new year celebrations were cancelled, holidays extended and even corporate giants like Toyota and Apple were resorted to immediate closure across the Mainland. The year expected to be of expansion turned polar as the world started to isolate the country to contain the virus; turning exports to the lowest levels over decades of preceding economic flourish.

However, while many global experts predicted the downfall of China; extrapolated by the dismal figures of the first few months of 2020, China quickly recovered and surpassed expectations in both containing the virus within the country and stabilising the tattering economy. The main contender and outright rival of China, however, faced the music in the most ironic way possible. Whilst the United States pillared on the trade war between the two since before the Covid pandemic, Mr. Trump left no stones unturned in maligning China for spreading the virus around the globe; deliberately and in an attempt to exponentiate its accession to power over US. The US economy faced the brunt of the pandemic rather expectantly since the time was wasted on hurling accusations instead of proactively adopting protective measures beforehand. While US is currently the worst affected country around the globe, its economy is no different than the mounding death toll on charts each day.

The US economy contracted on record levels and even itsworld-renowned indexes like DJI and S&P500 posted negative rallies; first since the Great Depression of 1929. Although the economic damage to the US has been cushioned, now twice, by heavily strategized monitory polices of the FED and colossal fiscal stimulus, the world superpower is showing signs of weakness as it deals with over 250,000 fresh cases each day yet can’t function to facilitate the 14 million and counting Americans facing unemployment for months and seeking benefits, taking the national bill to unprecedented heights.

Even compared to the regional counterparts, China stands out in much more than just the economic stability. Europe currently deals with a detrimental surge of the virus-variants while simultaneously accommodating the challenging deals across the borders in the wake of Brexit. The United Kingdom faces contradictions over new trade policies and procedures; not just with EU but with its very own states like Northern Ireland. The monetary rates now touch zero with a possibility of further plunge into the negative territory as London shivers with fatal blows of the highly infectious variant of Covid and the nation facing the second country-wide lockdown as hospitals run at full capacity.

Meanwhile, EU falters with the economic fiasco even under the improving financial conditions and finally grabbing an agreement on the year-in-year-out negotiations of the Silk Road Initiative. The distinction, however, is clear as while Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, wrestles with a catastrophic recession, China completely avoided recession throughout the year 2020. While Germany looms into negative growth rates, China posted a steep 6.5% growth in the last quarter (Oct-Dec); a cumulative growth of 2.3% in 2020. A stark opposite of the slump caused by Covid restrictions that initially pulled China’s economy down by 6.8% in the first quarter compared to 2019.

While China has been gauged as “The only major economy to quickly recover from the pandemic and find the normal course of business operation”, the recovery has been uneven over multiple sectors of the domestic industry. The boom in the economy has been celebrated and attributed to the growing optimism of Chinese investors in the relentless recovery of the economy. The Shanghai stock market was recently pulled up by 1% even under the rippling conditions of the global economy. However, while the consumer electronics sector has enjoyed the waves pushed by the ‘stay at home’ mottos under the lockdown, service businesses like hotels and restaurants have faced a crunch which has eventually carried forward to the blue-collar workers in China. While the factories in the Mainland have turned into an overdrive to fill in the boom of exports since many countries face a manufacturing break, the exporters to the poor countries are dealing with the devastation alike to their clients. While magnates like Jack Ma have made a fortune, the recent graduates are struggling to find new jobs.

Now, with the resurgence of the virus, the fear in lacing the country again. The recent tally has jumped up to 769 new cases whilst reporting first death in over six months. However, the health officials have deemed the sporadic spread as ‘very, very small’. Ultimately, China came about to be a tough nut to crack, analytically due to its effective centralised strategies in dealing with the pandemic followed by aggressive policy making; focusing on the advanced manufacturing industries to stay proximate to core competencies whilst simultaneously maintaining a free market structure in other areas of the economy, setting a path for a predicted average 5.7% growth until 2025. Thus, paving China’s way to attain the coveted title of ‘World Superpower’ and surpassing US by 2028.

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Indian Farmers Protest Against the Parliament’s Encroaching Bills

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The new agricultural reforms in India aim to permit farmers to offer their produce to private purchasers beyond a state-run discount or wholesale markets, where farmers are guaranteed a minimum cost for their yields.

However, the farmers state that the laws would undermine their livelihoods and will solely be profitable to large companies, leaving producers helpless under the heel of a free market. Such patters can be gauged from the Modi government’s corporation-oriented policies. For instance, the current corporate tax rate – 30 percent – has been considerably reduced: 22 percent for existing companies and 15 percent for those established after 1st October, 2019. 

Farmers regard these bills with suspicion, for they feel threatened by the corporatization of their agricultural domain and the dismissal of the MSP regime. Introduced in 1966-67, the MSP regime promises the sale of specific crops at a fixed price thus assuring the farmers of a regular income in spite of escalating input costs and unstable prices.

Primary leaders of farmers’ associations have called for protests, even willing to observe fasts during the protest in order to challenge the new farmer laws. With almost 250 million protesters, to protest is being called the largest protest in human history

This is the second time in the previous two weeks that the farmers have called for country-wide protests, requesting all the people to organize sit-ins outside the district organizations across the state. The protests are being led by a large number of farmers sitting outside the capital, New Delhi, obstructing main highways heading towards the city.

Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and his party ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ have supported the sit-ins by fasting with them. Kejriwal encouraged his party workers and members to join the campaign and asked Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party to set aside arrogance and fulfill the demands of the farmers.

The agriculture sector contributes almost fifteen percent to India’s $2.9 trillion economy and enrolls the greater part of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals. In recent years, this sector has been facing setbacks and driving a huge number of indebted farmers to take their lives.

Modi said the enactment was required to support the agricultural sector, and that the new laws would profit the farmers and “free” them from the oppression of middlemen. Farmers, generally from Haryana and Punjab and considered the “grain bowl” of India, have denounced the laws as “hostile to farmers”.

The farmers have demanded revocation of the new laws and assurance of the Minimum Support Price for their yields.“It’s been months now since the farmers began protesting. We have sent a few written messages to the Prime Minister, Agricultural Minister is demonstrating our hatred to the hostile laws but the BJP government is careless on this issue,” said the farmers’ leader.

One elderly woman, aged 75, said that “unless and until Narendra Modi withdraws these laws, we will not go back. This government should know about the strength and determination of the Punjabi people.”

The Indian Supreme Court has received many petitions regarding a ban on the protest, but the top court has declined such calls and ordered the government and unions to form a committee in which the experts would mediate between the concerned parties.

On the birth anniversary of Sikh leader, Guru Nanak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Zoom meeting that Canada would always defend the right of peaceful protest.

Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed Indian behavior with farmers as “shameful”. He stated that the Indian government’s policies were the biggest threat to regional peace. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on the Indian government to allow protests, asserting the right to raise a voice and show opposition to the government.

The vociferous calls have certainly proven to be a feather in the farmers’ cap, as India’s Supreme Court has recently ordered for the suspension of these farming bills.

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U.S. Trade Deficits Increase from Covid

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America’s trade deficit (excess of imports minus exports) reached its minimum in February 2020, and since then has increased 84% from February’s -3708, up to November’s -6812. America has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus-19, or Covid-19, infection, and therefore is less productive and more needy than most countries are, during the coronavirus crisis, and is consequently importing more and producing less. The reverse has generally been the case for the countries that have had good policy-responses to the virus — those countries’ economies have either been virtually unharmed by, or else have actually boomed from, this pandemic.

China’s mere month-long trade deficit from coronavirus was an enormous -62.05 in February, but by March China popped back up to+19.93 and has remained above +36 since that time, and it reached its high of +75.43 in November. China has one of the world’s lowest rates of coronavirus-19 infection, and is therefore exporting more as it fulfills the needs of countries (such as America) that are producing less because of the coronavirus crisis. 

A major study by Jungle Scout, “Global Imports Report 2020”, says that:

Those countries that were able to recover from the impact of early 2020 economic events are the countries faring better later in 2020. For example, China had the most drastic year-over-year reduction in U.S. imports among the top 20 countries in February and March, second only to Hong Kong. But in April, China bounced back significantly, achieving approximately 40% year-over-year growth in U.S. imports. The countries that were able to recover early are the countries faring better later in 2020.

On December 17th, Matthew C. Klein at Barrons headlined “China’s Pandemic Recovery Accelerates While the U.S. Economy Rolls Over” and he reported that, “Soaring consumer spending, rapid manufacturing growth, and robust exports are pushing up the speed of China’s recovery from the pandemic even as the third wave of the viral outbreak and the withdrawal of federal government income support are causing the U.S. economy to turn over.”

One of the very few countries that were hit about as little as China by this pandemic is Vietnam, whose northern border is China. Vietnam has perhaps the world’s most vigorous and well-planned policies to restrain this virus. The country’s only two months of trade deficit were during April, at -12.20, and popped back up to +12.33 in May, then peaked at +49.86 in August, and declined sharply down to +6.00 in November, and then down to -10.00 in December. Although Vietnam’s worst month of the infection was August, after which the numbers of new daily cases returned quickly to the extraordinarily low numbers of the preceding months, Vietnam was hit hard by retaliation (such as complaints and investigations) from the U.S. regime in October, which caused an especially hard drop from 29.39 in October down to November’s +6.00, and then December’s -10.00. China wasn’t hit so hard by the U.S., mainly because Trump had already turned the screws against them earlier, and China had thus already reoriented its exports toward other countries. Yet, still, China has, steadily, each year, during the past five years, produced almost exactly 40% of all imports by the U.S. The impact of America’s policies against China has been much bigger in boosting America’s imports from China’s competitors than it has been in reducing America’s imports from China. America has been increasing its imports mainly from Vietnam, Germany, and Taiwan. So, those have been the chief beneficiaries of Trump’s anti-Chinese policies.

Another of the very few countries that have been hit by this coronavirus even less hard than China has been is Taiwan, which is almost unique in its enjoying a positive balance of trade throughout the year, and so Taiwan has produced record-breaking trade surpluses ever since May. This is largely because Taiwan is selling more to all of the desperate countries, such as the United States (which regime is especially happy to increase its purchases from Taiwan so as to decrease its purchases from China and from Vietnam). Taiwan is perhaps the world’s top gainer as a consequence of this pandemic.

Unlike China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, Germany has been somewhat poor in its coronavirus policies, and has 24,493 cases per million inhabitants, versus 16 in Vietnam, 36 in Taiwan, and 61 in China. America, by comparison, has 73,795. So, whereas America is over 3 times worse than Germany, it’s 4,612 times worse than Vietnam, 2,950 times worse than Taiwan, and 1,210 times worse than China. Germany is benefitting not because its coronavirus policies have been good but because the American regime wants to crush China and for some products this means buying from Germany instead.

The people who were saying that the aggressive types of measures that countries such as China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, were imposing against this virus would hurt instead of help those nations’ economies were not only wrong but they had their understanding exactly upside-down. They were exactly and precisely and extremely wrong. And if the United States (and perhaps some of its allies) had not been retaliating against the countries (other than Taiwan) that are the most successful against this virus, then the countries that have been doing an outstanding job of protecting their populations from this virus would be economically benefitting even more than they have been economically benefitting from their success against this virus. The result for the well-performing countries is not only lower rates of disease and lower rates of deaths, but higher rates of economic production and GDP. 

Coronavirus has thus been redirecting global leadership away from the United States. One might anticipate that America will respond by relying increasingly upon its military in order to impose its will — no longer as any sort of role-model to inspire its ‘allies’. For example, on Christmas Day, December 25th of 2020, at the very same time that the nation’s austerity hawks were blocking passage of a covid-19 relief bill in the U.S. Congress, and millions of Americans were terrified at the resulting prospects of soon becoming made homeless, CNN headlined “US Army prototype cannon blasts target from 43 miles away”, and presented video of a successful test of a tank’s cannon firing a small guided missile against a military vehicle that was located 43 miles away, which video CNN accompanied with martial music in celebration of the huge explosion and fireball-annihilation of that targeted vehicle. America would then be selling its threats more, and its benefits less, and CNN was already a liberal cheerleader for this change to a more ‘assertive’ style of propaganda. But if this is liberal propaganda, then what is conservative propaganda; or: How will CNN now distinguish itself from, say, Fox?

Trump’s replacement, Biden, has appointed, to his Administration’s international affairs posts, individuals who are just as intensely neoconservative (or “hawkish” or “war-loving”) as Trump did; and, therefore, the incentive for America’s trading-partners to become less economically dependent upon America is likely to decrease little, if at all, and America’s balance-of-trade numbers will probably improve little, if at all, during his Presidency. America seems set on being an aggressive declining power, economically, no matter how much it will be spending militarily in order to prop-up its power. America’s billionaires have been thriving while America has been spending around half of the entire world’s military expenditures, and, so, this type of U.S. Government is unlikely to change in the near future.

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