Ellen Meiksins Wood on the spread of capitalism

The Origin of CapitalismMarxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood, in an excerpt from her hugely interesting book The Origin of Capitalism, describes the spread of capitalism from its unique genesis in England and its impact on international relations (p.174-6). The section on the role of the state in promoting ‘late’ development beyond Britain remains particularly relevant to today’s poorest countries:

“For those who regard capitalism as the consequence of commercial expansion when it reached a critical mass, there is something paradoxical about the development of English capitalism. England was certainly part of a vast trading network. But other European nation states in the early modern period were also deeply involved in the system of international trade, as were non-European civilizations, some of which long had trading networks more highly developed and extensive than the European. What distinguished England – and what was specifically capitalist about it – was not, in the first instance, predominance as a trading nation or any peculiarity in its way of conducting foreign trade. England’s peculiarity was not its role in an outwardly expanding commercial system but, on the contrary, its inward development, the growth of a unique domestic economy.

What marked off England’s commercial system from others was a single large and integrated national market, increasingly uniting the country into one economic unit (which eventually embraced the British Isles as a whole), with a specialized division of labour among interdependent regions and a growing, and mutually reinforcing, interaction between agricultural and industrial sectors. While England competed with others in an expanding system of international trade, not least by military means, a new kind of commercial system was emerging at home, which would soon give it an advantage on the international plane too. This system was unique in its dependence on intensive as distinct from extensive expansion, on the extraction of surplus value created in production as distinct from profit in the sphere of circulation, on economic growth based on productivity and competition within a single market – in other words, on capitalism.

Capitalism, then, while it certainly developed within – and could not have developed without – an international system of trade, was a domestic product. But it was not in the nature of capitalism to remain at home for very long. Its need for endless accumulation, on which its very survival depended, produced new and distinctive imperatives of expansion. These imperatives operated at various levels. The most obvious was, of course, the imperialist drive. Here again, although other European states were deeply involved in imperialism, capitalism had a transformative effect. The new requirements of capitalism created new imperialist needs, and it was British capitalism that produced an imperialism answering to the specific requirements of capitalist accumulation. Above all, capitalism created new imperialist possibilities by generating economic imperatives, the compulsions of the market, which could reach far beyond direct political dominion.

Capitalism also expanded out from Britain in another and more complicated sense. The unique productivity engendered by capitalism, especially in its industrial form, gave Britain new advantages not only in its old commercial rivalries with other European states but also in their military conflicts. So, from the late eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth, Britain’s major European rivals were under pressure to develop their economies in ways that could meet this new challenge. The state itself became a major player. This was true most notably in Germany, with its state-led industrialization, which in the first instance was undoubtedly driven more by older geopolitical and military considerations than by capitalist motivations.

In such cases, the drive for capitalist development did not come from internal property relations like those that had impelled the development of capitalism in England from within. Where, as in France and Germany, there was an adequate concentration of productive forces, capitalism could develop in response to external pressures emanating from an already existing capitalist system elsewhere. States still following a pre-capitalist logic could become effective agents of capitalist development. The point here, however, is not simply that in these later developing capitalisms, as in many others after them, the state played a primary role. What is even more striking is the ways in which the traditional, pre-capitalist state system, together with the old commercial network, became a transmission belt for capitalist imperatives.

The European state system, then, was a conduit for the first outward movements of capitalism. From then on, capitalism spread outward from Europe both by means of imperialism and increasingly by means of economic imperatives. The role of the state in imperial ventures is obvious, but even in the operation of purely economic laws of motion, the state continued to be an unavoidable medium.

Capitalism had emerged first in one country. After that, it could  never emerge again in the same way. Every extension of its laws of motion changed the conditions of development thereafter, and every local context shaped the processes of change. But having once begun in a single nation state, and having been followed by other nationally organized processes of economic development, capitalism has spread not by erasing national boundaries but by reproducing its national organization, creating an increasing number of national economies and nation states. The inevitably uneven development of separate, if interrelated, national entities, especially when subject to imperatives of competition, has virtually guaranteed the persistence of national forms.”


Industrial policy: the last 30 years, the next 30 years

More on industrial policy, this time from Carol Newman of Trinity College, Dublin. She outlines some key findings on industrial development from some of the more successful late developers and looks ahead to what is necessary to encourage development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Interesting stuff. For such a short video, she manages to pack in quite a lot of information.

More education in itself is not going to make a country richer (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 17)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismAnother golden nugget from development economist Ha-Joon Chang‘s book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, continuing this occasional series:

“There is remarkably little evidence showing that more education leads to greater national prosperity. Much of the knowledge gained in education is actually not relevant for productivity enhancement, even though it enables people to lead a more fulfilling and independent life. Also, the view that the rise of the knowledge economy has critically increased the importance of education is misleading. To begin with, the idea of the knowledge economy itself is problematic, as knowledge has always been the main source of wealth. Moreover, with increasing de-industrialization and mechanization, the knowledge requirements may even have fallen for most jobs in the rich countries. Even when it comes to higher education, which is supposed to matter more in the knowledge economy, there is no simple relationship between it and economic growth. What really matters in the determination of national prosperity is not the educational levels of individuals but the nation’s ability to organize individuals into enterprises with high productivity (p.178-9).

…take the case of the East Asian miracle economies, in whose development education is supposed to have played a critical role. In 1960, Taiwan had a literacy rate of only 54 per cent, while the Philippines’ was 72 per cent. Despite its lower education level, Taiwan has since then notched up one of the best economic growth performances in human history, while the Philippines has done rather poorly. In 1960, the Philippines had almost double the per capita income of Taiwan ($200 vs. $122), but today Taiwan’s per capita income is around ten times that of the Philippines ($18,000 vs. $1,800). In the same year, Korea had a 71 percent literacy rate – comparable to that of the Philippines but still well below Argentina’s 91 per cent. Despite the significantly lower literacy rate, Korea has since grown much faster than Argentina. Korea’s per capita income was just over one-fifth that of Argentina’s in 1960 ($82 vs. $378). Today it is three times higher (around $21,000 vs. around $7,000) (p.180-1)…

What really distinguishes the rich countries from the poorer ones is much less how well-educated their individual citizens are than how well their citizens are organized into collective entities with high productivity…[d]evelopment of such firms needs to be supported by a range of institutions that encourage investment and risk-taking – a trade regime that protects and nurtures firms in ‘infant industries’, a financial system that provides ‘patient capital’ necessary for long-term productivity-enhancing investments, institutions that provide second chances for both the capitalists (a good bankruptcy law) and for the workers (a good welfare state), public subsidies and regulation regarding R&D and training, and so on.

Education is valuable, but its main value is not in raising productivity. It lies in its ability to help us develop our potentials and live a more fulfilling and independent life…the link between education and national productivity is rather tenuous and complicated. Our overenthusiasm with education should be tamed, and, especially in developing countries, far greater attention needs to be paid to the issue of establishing and upgrading productive enterprises and institutions that support them” (p.189).

How did South Korea become so rich?

Here is a rather lively video introduction to South Korean development from VisualPolitik, describing how in the post-war period the political economy of the country encouraged rapid growth and transformation for many years. This enabled it to significantly catch up with the rich world’s economies. In the history of economic development, Korea has been a success story.

The video is partly wrong on the nature of trade policy: companies were encouraged to become successful exporters but there was at least temporary protection from selected imports at certain times.

It leaves out aspects such as the legacy of Japanese colonialism which bequeathed a particular political and social structure to the country. This certainly affected the path of development.

It also fails to mention the enlightened self-interest of the US, which provided aid and military support, as well as access to its markets, during the years of rapid growth. After all, they wanted to prevent the spread of communism and help create a successful capitalist South Korea. Continue reading

Governance reform and development: a heterodox view – Part 2

Following yesterday’s post, here are the final two parts of the discussion on governance reform and development by Mushtaq Khan, Professor of economics at SOAS in London.

Governance reform and development: a heterodox view

Today and tomorrow, I will be posting a series of short videos discussing the relationship between governance and development. So-called ‘good governance’ covers such factors as support for the rule of law, anti-corruption and effective democracy, which I think most people would agree are desirable, but are usually missing in the poorest countries.

Professor Mushtaq Khan of SOAS discusses how, in contrast to the ‘good governance’ agenda of the World Bank, these desirable factors have historically been the outcome of successful development rather than its cause.

Instead of policymakers in poor countries trying in vain to achieve good governance, they should instead try to promote developmental governance, which would enable their economies to successfully grow and develop and to some extent ‘catch up’ with their richer neighbours. This would then create the conditions for good governance to be more easily promoted and sustained. Continue reading

Africa is not destined for underdevelopment (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 11)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismAnother post in this occasional series of excerpts from Cambridge development economist Ha-Joon Chang‘s excellent 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (p.112-3, 124):

“Africa has not always been stagnant. In the 1960s and 70s, when all the supposed structural impediments to growth were present and often more binding, it actually posted a decent growth performance. Moreover, all the structural handicaps that are supposed to hold back Africa have been present in most of today’s rich countries – poor climate (arctic and tropical), landlockness, abundant natural resources, ethnic divisions, poor institutions and bad culture. These structural conditions seem to act as impediments to development in Africa only because its countries do not yet have the necessary technologies, institutions and organizational skills to deal with their adverse consequences. The real cause of African stagnation in the last three decades is free-market policies that the continent has been compelled to implement during the period. Unlike history or geography, policies can be changed. Africa is not destined for underdevelopment.

…[W]hat appear to be unalterable structural impediments to economic development in Africa (and indeed elsewhere) are usually things that can be, and have been, overcome with better technologies, superior organizational skills and improved political institutions. The fact that most of today’s rich countries themselves used to suffer (and still suffer to an extent) from these conditions is an indirect proof of this point. Moreover, despite having these impediments (often in more severe forms), African countries themselves did not have a problem growing in the 1960s and 70s. The main reason for Africa’s recent growth failure lies in policy – namely, the free-trade, free-market policy that has been imposed on the continent through the Structural Adjustment Programs. Nature and history do not condemn a country to a particular future. If it is policy that is causing the problem, the future can be changed even more easily. The fact that we have failed to see this, and not its allegedly chronic growth failure, is the real tragedy of Africa.”

I am broadly sympathetic with Chang’s argument, but he avoids a deeper exploration of the politics of development. It is all very well to say that bad policy is the cause of underdevelopment, but why do bad policies persist? The answer to this lies at the interface between politics and economics, namely in a political economy analysis.

Economic trends influence the distribution of power in society between particular interest groups, and this in turn has an effect on the choice of policies and institutions, and their subsequent success or failure. I will discuss the implications of this for development in future posts, focusing this week on Venezuela, which has been much in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons both economically and politically.