Wednesday, November 17, 2010


"As a direct consequence of the 'Great Recession' of 2008-2009 and the continuing financial instability left in its wake, the G20 has moved into the putative position of premier forum for global economic governance. The immediate impact of the G20 as a 'crisis breaker' has been palpable. From the initial leaders' summit in Washington, DC (November 2008) to the second in London (April 2009) and the third in Pittsburgh (September 2009), the G20 served as an effective catalyst for generating both big domestic stimulus packages and promises of new resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks....Beyond its immediate role as the primary locus for concerted initiatives on the crisis, the G20 attracts attention as a new form of reordering in global governance. This view gives priority to the G20's ability to act as a new form of 'steering committee' with a new membership reaching beyond the countries at the helm of the post-1945 settlement and those incorporated in the 1970's (through the creation of the G5 and then the G7) and the post-Cold War era (the G8). To the old establishment---previously restricted to North America, Western Europe and Japan---key emerging powers are added".

Andrew F. Cooper, "The G20 as an improved crisis committee and / or a contested 'steering committee' for the world". International Security (May 2010), p.741.

"In this sense political leadership became merely an aspect of the function of domination-in as much as the absorption of the enemies' elites means their decapitation, and annihilation often for a very long time. It seems clear from the policies of the Moderates that there can, and indeed must, be hegemonic activity even before the rise to power, and that one should not count only on the material force which power gives in order to exercise effective leadership".

Antonio Gramsci, Selections From the Prison Notebooks, edited & translated, Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. (1971). p. 59.

"You must either conquer and rule or lose and serve, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or be the hammer".

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Der Gross-Cophta (1791).

The failure of the G-20 Summit to make any progress in resolving some of the conflicts between the differing powers attending the summit: PRC & Germany versus the United States / Emerging versus Developed / Trade surplus versus Trade deficit, et cetera, highlights various things at once, but perhaps the most important aspect of the failure of the meeting was that it shows we are perhaps in the midst of an interregnum. Not mind you, an interregnum in terms of machtpolitik (at least not yet), but in terms of the International economic order (or should one say 'dis-order'?). Of course in using the term 'hegemony' in this sense of the word, I am borrowing from the oeuvre of Robert Gilpin & Robert Keohane (see in particular the former's 'The Political Economy of International Relations'.). Au fond, the fact that we are in an interregnum would seem to be beyond dispute, and helps to explain the failure of the Americans to get their way at the Summit vis-`a-vis China and Deutschland over the issue of global imbalances. The fact that the criticisms uttered by both the PRC and the Berlin government were so outspoken seems to indicate that the days are long gone were the Americans could merely 'stamp their feet', and get their way at these meetings. Reducing us to a state perhaps best described in the Old Testament: "there was no King in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes". Id est, the Hobbesian state of international anarchy: bellum omnium contra omnies

However, at some level this description of the current situation as it pertains to the international economic order is slightly misplaced. Meaning that it is suffers from a telescoping of events and hence a mis-reading of them. Firstly, one did not have to be particular discerning to be rather skeptical of the idea that the formation of the Group of twenty countries was a 'Bretton Woods' moment in International political economy. It was not. And the events in the past two years has clearly proven the same. Rather than taking the steps described by Andrew Cooper, in point of fact, the G-20 merely gave its blessings to moves which the different powers were in the process of taking / under-taking. Actions in which domestic considerations (primat der Innenpolitik) were uppermost in the minds of the officials who made them. The best example of this being the fact that the gradual movement among many of the powers from fiscal expansion to fiscal contraction, was almost entirely a result of domestic political imperatives rather than any pressure by peer pressure among the powers in question. Just as the fact that the Americans are for the most part, laggards in this change is a result of domestic political imperatives in the USA. Secondly, if one has the presence of mind and the command of enough historical knowledge to go back in time to say the 1970's, one will recall the fact that during the Carter Administration, there was a great 'to-do' between Bonn (as it was then) & to a lesser degree Japan, and Washington over the need for a concerted 'fiscal stimulus' by the G-Seven countries. The latter two powers being hesitant and Washington (as to-day) being in favor. With no one power, or powers being especially able to 'impose its will' over the others (For the quarrel over what was labeled at the time as the 'locomotive theory of international equilibrium', see: David Calleo, The Imperious Economy, (1982), pp. 125-126). A state of affairs which in fact goes straight back to the 1960's, with the slow-moving decline and fall of the Bretton Woods system of exchange rates. With the Nixon 'Shocks' of 1971, being evidence of American weakness and not American strength. At least as it relates to America's hegemonic position in the International economic order. Once again, it is only through a very partial mis-reading of history that one may say that, until circa 2003 or 2007, that the United States exercised unchallenged hegemonic power in the realm of International Political Economy. In fact it would be truer to say that since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, the Americans have merely exercised a 'veneer of hegemony' rather than the genuine article. A state of affairs in which the Americans often lead, but only so long as the other powers were willing to be lead. In instances such as that cited above, where the other powers were unwilling to go, the hegemonic veneer, came to nought. Arguing along much the same lines for even further back in the post-bellum era, the one American commentator noted almost thirty years ago:

"Because the immediate postwar period is now seen as a time of American hegemony, there is a tendency for people to think the United States always got its way. Careful scholars know matters are more complicated than that. But when labels become commonplace, they often mislead, and that has happened to many people in this case. There is no doubt that the United States was the greatest power in the world. That did not mean it could impose a new economic system on the postwar world."

William Diebold, Jr. "The United States in the World Economy: A Fifty Year Perspective," Foreign Affairs (Fall 1983), pp. 84.

In short, our current interregnum, was something which began quite awhile ago, and the non-results of the G-20 Summit are merely another sign of the same. When or if the Americans recover their veneer of hegemony, `a la the period from 1994 to 2007 remains to be seen (For an idea of what that veneer of hegemony seemed to convey at the time, see: Joseph Nye, The Paradox of American Power, (2002), pp. 36-76). Right now I for one get the impression that the almost ad hominen attacks leveled at the American performance at the Summit, reminds one of nothing so much as the Franco-German dismissal of the Americans during the Carter years. With Deutsche Kanzler, Angela Merkel making a very good impression of ex-Kanzler Helmut Schmidt in one of his rants about the then American President (For Angel Merkel's comments on current American policy, see: "Transcript of an interview with Angel Merkel," 9 November 2010, in On Helmut Schmidt's view of the Carter Administration, see: Francis Loewenhein, "From Helsinki to Afghanistan: American Diplomats and Diplomacy, 1975-1979," The Diplomats, 1939-1979, eds. Gordon A. Craig & Francis Loewenheim, (1994), pp. 645-655). Unlike say some, I do not believe that in point of fact, the Americans are 'down and out' (on this see: David Rothkopf, "The Perils of America's Pacific Presidency," 14 November 2010, in At least not in any structural sense. The fact that American diplomacy was not at the top of its game, is more an indication that the current American Administration, notwithstanding its allegedly many positive qualities, is in terms of its diplomacy sub-par if not in frankly second-rate & amateurish. Or as Alan Beattie in the Financial Times, notes:

"With a weak economy, and external debt burden and a general loss of faith in US capitalism, the White House needs to start punching above its weight rather than below it."

Alan Beattie, "Drive to arrest decline in US power proves beyond Obama," Financial Times, 13 November 2010, p. 2.


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