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Components of þe Grand Narrative of þe 21st Century: Global Warming, & China Stands Up
Noting a good critique of “Slouching” by Jeremy Wallace
FOCUS: Components of þe Grand Narrative of þe 21st Century: Global Warming, & China Stands Up:
I made a decision fairly early in writing Slouching Towards Utopia <bit.ly/3pP3Krk> that there were two important processes—global warming, and the rise of China to whatever its ultimate position in the world will turn out to be—were parts of the story of the 21st century, and did not belong in my grand narrative of a long 20th century that began in 1870. Jeremy Wallace seems to me to have by far the most intelligent disagreement with that decision of mine:
Jeremy Wallace: Slouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (of Neoliberalism): ‘I… have a hard time reading a history of the long twentieth century while ensconced in my position well into a 21st century where it seems increasingly clear that climate and China are central if not the main characters…. Taking China more seriously as not just a major player in the world going forward but as a causal force in the global turn towards neoliberalism as well as its current demise (?) is a missed opportunity….
The “Thirty Glorious Years of Social Democracy”… phrasing is very common and, in some ways, not wrong…. This was a period of vast improvement, relatively well-distributed. On the other hand, different perspectives (*cough* China *cough*) might view this time period as less congenial. One could argue that the famine of China’s Great Leap Forward is, next to World War II itself, the second greatest devastation humanity has suffered since the Black Death. Forty million Chinese are killed….
Great forces of economics and politics reshap[ed] the world… pushing forward neoliberalism from the social democracy that came before it…. More could be done to acknowledge China as an agent in that story with particularly underexamined power…. Early shifts away from Maoist planning helped to cement hegemonic beliefs in markets in the field of economics. The (Chinese) left wasn’t just devoid of ideas, it was actively switching sides…. That rapid development in China was seen by modernization theorists and Western politicians as likely to produce shifts in Chinese political dynamics towards greater freedoms helped provide cover for investments that could have been more tarred as disloyal to the home country. The idea that these investments might have positive political externalities smoothed them….
Delong argues against a simple “China shock” understanding of this dynamic where China stole American jobs leading to backlash: “Hyperglobalization’s principal effect was to cause not a decline in blue-collar jobs but a roll of the wheel from one type of blue-collar job to another—from assembly-line production to truck-driving and pallet-moving distribution, plus, for a while, construction.”… I concur, trade with China generated broad but diffuse benefits, principally through cheaper goods to consumers across a range of products, while the costs of the trade remained relatively narrow but deep….
China’s undercutting of neoliberalism also comes from its presentation of an alternative system of political economy with substantially more state involvement… Keynesian stimulus… industrial policy for favored firms and sectors…. I’m not suggesting that a world shifting away from neoliberalism will be moving more quickly to utopia…. As likely as not… we’ll fall deeper into morasses of identity-based violence, isolationism, beggar thy neighbor policies, and war…