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Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century Hardcover – November 17, 2007
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“In this deeply learned, sharply argued, and fascinating book Giovanni Arrighi shows that the mandate of capitalist heaven is shifting to China, more generally to East Asia, but Americans won’t like it. We are witnessing both a return to centuries of past practice, and an auger for a 21st century that, in his view, will be defined by East Asian advance and American retreat. Meanwhile Professor Arrighi offers a truly insightful analysis of the thought of a great political economist: Adam Smith. This is by far the best book to date in the rapidly-growing literature on ‘China’s rise.’”—Bruce Cummings
“Proceeding from a bracing re-reading of Smith and Marx, through a reconsideration of the ‘Great Divergence’ of East and West, to a blistering deconstruction of the Project for a New American Century, Arrighi dismisses neo-liberal interpretations of China’s economic ‘miracle’ and credits instead China’s own robust market economy tradition. In the process, he leads us on a breathtaking tour of the history of world capitalism over the past three hundred years, and suggests where we may be headed in the future.”—William T. Rowe
“In this wonderfully provocative and wide-ranging book, Arrighi offers a fresh and challenging interpretation of China’s economic ascent.”—Gillian Hart
“The convincing power of Arrighi’s argument lies in his choice to conceive geopolitics as the endless process of construction of political cultures associating class conflicts and collective commonwealth in different specific ways.”—Samir Amin
“An original, brilliant, always powerfully challenging analysis.”—Wang Hui
“In the vast landscape of literature on China rising Giovanni Arrighi´s Adam Smith in Beijing stands out as a beacon of bold creativity and as pursuing a sustained trail-blazing argument.”—Goran Therborn
Arrighi leads us on a breathtaking tour of the history of world capitalism over the past three hundred years, and suggests where we may be headed in the future. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Mr. Arrighi discusses how China's mixed economy of today conforms to Adam Smith's vision of a large market economy managed by an active government that ensures improved living standards for all; in fact, Smith reasoned that Asia might one day grow to assume parity with Europe. We learn that China's Industrious Revolution leveraged its large internal market and abundant labor supply to develop a diverse economy where wealth was widely dispersed among the population. In contrast, the West's Industrial Revolution conformed more or less to Karl Marx's analysis inasmuch as it allowed a relatively small class to own the means of production, secure power and finance a succession of military/industrial states whose imperialistic adventures were intended to guarantee an endless expansion of the capitalist system.
Mr. Arrighi tracks the global turbulences that have been wrought as a consequence of the Western development path; the process of creative destruction inherent in the capitalist model has grown ever larger beginning with the small Italian city-states to the Dutch, British and, finally, the American empire. The author shows how each successive wave of accumulation collapsed as a consequence of escalating administrative costs including the funding of ever larger armed forces; of course, the strategy did succeed during much of the 19th and 20th centuries as China fell under domination as a consequence of the West's advantages in military technology. However, the book describes how the failures of the George W. Bush administration's economic and foreign policies are but the culmination of an ill-conceived, decades-long neoliberal project of world domination that bears striking similarity to previous fallen empires. Ironically, as U.S. hegemony has unraveled in the wake of the Iraq War, the author contends that widespread economic prosperity has allowed the Asian nations to emerge as the true victors of the U.S. War on Terror.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Arrighi contemplates three different foreign policy approaches that the U.S. might consider as the Asian Age unfolds. The interconnectedness of the U.S. and Asian economies suggests to us why the differing proposals made by Robert Kaplan, Henry Kissinger and James Pinkerton have all been pursued to varying degrees simultaneously, amounting to a confused and conflicted U.S. Asian policy. Interestingly, Mr. Arrighi posits that China simply does not need to pursue a militaristic path to attain preeminence as long as the U.S. seems bent on self-destruction through its strident diplomacy and economic indebtedness; indeed, the U.S. is rapidly becoming irrelevant as more and more investment decisions are being made in Asia with less and less input and participation from U.S. business partners.
Unfortunately, for a book that is subtitled "Lineages of the Twenty-First Century" the author provides scant attention addressing three major challenges that lay ahead for China: environmental deterioration, the lack of democracy and growing income inequality. Readers interested in these issues might refer to Elizabeth C. Economy's The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge To China's Future (Council on Foreign Relations Book), which argues that continued neglect of China's burgeoning environmental crisis will seriously curtail and constrain its future economic growth; and James Mann's The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, which advances some of the reasons why democracy remains unlikely in China for many years to come. Whereas Mr. Arrighi is practically silent on these issues, both of these books suggest that serious internal conflict between a repressed Chinese working class and a privileged political class will become all but inevitable. In my view, Ms. Economy's and Mr. Mann's books serve as necessarily sobering counterweights to Mr. Arrighi's decidedly more ebullient narrative.
The above minor reservations notwithstanding, I highly recommend this brilliant, timely and informative book to everyone.
Compared with The Long Twentieth Century, Arrighi had down-played the distinction between capitalist and territorialist logic of domination and revived geopolitical-military as an indispensible component of capitalist world hegemony. But he had apparently exaggerated the decline of US hegemony in comparing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq with Vietnam war. The Vietnam war in the global context of general stand-off: not only was America stretched to contain Communism in several fronts at the same time, American strategy in Vietnam war also required a significant presence of military forces and resources on the ground, . On the other hand, the recent invasions occurred during a period in which America enjoyed relative strategic supremacy in the inter-state system; moreover, a full-force invasion was quickly scaled down to a counter-insurgency warfare involving tactical units with less manpower and more precise striking capabilities, thereby reducing the material burden on America. In other words, while America was frustrated in both cases, the impact of these two wars to US balance-of-payment situation and global strategic position were simply not on the same scale. Moreover, geographical/spatial fixes and financailization appeared to be holding their grounds, as revealed by the continuing global division of labor and industry as well as the relative stable hegemony of US dollar despite several rounds of financial crises.
Assuming that a new hegemony was to replace America as the new center of global capitalism, the “learning process” of emerging centers would register their importance. In the first three “long centuries”, the three emerging powers---Holland, Britain and USA---all experienced development of financial markets and techniques that coupled with, or even preceded industrialization (in the case of Holland, arguably), as they tapped early into the financial system built by the old centers. Whichever emerging hegemony would have to spend a much longer time to acquire financial know-hows, and it would face a more mature hegemony that had combined capitalist techniques of several previous hegemonies. It also preferably should have tapped into the US-led global financial and monetary system for a significant period of time before launching its assault.
Arrighi was optimisitc about the potential of China’s Smithian path of development, but he provided no reason as of why China would stick to its path of without stepping into stages of financialization and military domination. Arrighi’s brilliant discussion of Smithian agriculture-based growth versus Marxist/Schumpeterian cycle of expansion and crisis was severely undermined by a ill-informed, if not chaotic, discussion of historical capitalism in China. Arrighi’s categorized late Imperial China as a country with significant market economy but without much capitalism. He never appreciated the serious historical concept of “China/Chineseness” and imposed an anachronistic framework of capitalist network on China. He counted Zheng family’s coastal occupation (a rebellious faction against the central Qing court) and wealth of Chinese diasporas in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (traditionally regarded as peripheral outcasts by the central Empire that were indeed more incorporated into British maritime capitalist system) as “Chinese” elements of capitalism in late Imperial China; subsequently, their re-integration into was comfortably described as a “historically Chinese” one. And then this “historical” discussion of Smithian path of development jumped from late Imperial China to Reform and Open era of PRC. The Maoist period of thirty years of industrialization and accumulation coupled with massive rural deprivation and control was simply skipped. Without discussing this period of “primitive accumulation” and “accumulation with dispossession” (a “Communist” style of Marxist/Schumpeterian development?), it would be quite questionable how applicable the “Smithian” version of development is to China after 1979.
In the final analysis, Arrighi’s efforts in reconciling Smithian path of development and cyclical domination/financialization of capitalism did not achieve much. Based on Smithian logic of development, Arrighi saw a more “natural” path of Industrious Revolution, coupled with , occurring in China, and that a distinctive path of development was possible in China as it had historically been separated from the capitalist world-system originating in the West. With regards to cyclical domination and financialization, however, China appeared to be merely entering the stage of “material expansion”; China’s industrialization was achieved while deliberately cut off from the global monetary and financial system, and it would take much longer time to acquire the necessary know-hows to challenge the system. Thus Arrighi left unsolved the problem of “Adam Smith in Beijing”: if we are witnessing merely a shift of capitalist domination center from America to China, then who’s that “Adam Smith” in Beijing? And if Adam Smith is indeed in Beijing, then where is capitalism going next? Is, in the end, the “Smithian” “natural” path a “capitalist” one?
Arrighi, Giovanni. 2007. Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century. London, UK: Verso.