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  August 20, 2010


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Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the filed of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. Many economists and political analysts think the current recovery, as it's being called, is a rather temporary phenomenon. Many people expect the recession to kick back in, and perhaps within a couple of years get rather serious. What does that mean in terms of the future of the world economy and world politics? Well, Minqi Li, who's a professor teaching at the University of Utah, has written an article called "The End of the 'End of History': The Structural Crisis of Capitalism and the Fate of Humanity." Here's a little excerpt from the article. "The global capitalist economy is now in its deepest crisis since the Great Depression. Even the world's ruling elites no longer have any doubt that a significant historical turning point has arrived. The neoliberal phase of capitalist development is coming to an end. This will prove to be the end of the so-called 'End of History' and the era of global counter-revolution it signifies. The immediate and important question is: what will be next? Where is the world heading as the crisis unravels and evolves?" And now joining us from the University of Utah is Minqi Li. Thanks for joining us, Minqi.


JAY: So answer your question: what comes next?

LI: Well, I guess it's not exaggerating to say that global capitalism right now is in a structural crisis. And, of course, in some previous historical periods, we know that capitalism has similar structural crises and that later managed to survive. So the question is whether we are going to see a similar restructuring of global capitalism, and so that capitalism would be back to some kind of normal expansion in the coming decades. But my own understanding is that this is not likely, because on the one hand, capitalism, unlike in previous historical periods, has exhausted its historical space for social reform. So, for example, after World War II, capitalism was able to restructure itself, undertaking some social reform, introducing welfare state, and then return to social and economic recovery. But now, basically, in all the Western countries [inaudible] we see that it's not possible to combine a redistribution to the favor of the working people with the requirement of capitalist accumulation. On the other hand, in the past, capitalism has been able to rely upon the exploitation of cheap labor force in the non-Western world, especially in places like Asia. But in the future I expect that the Asian working classes are going to have more organization, they will demand more economic and political rights, and that will reduce capitalist profit rate and undermine global capitalism. But probably the most important limit is that after centuries of accumulation, capitalism has exhausted the environmental space, so that the global ecological system now is literally on the verge of collapse.

JAY: So by that you're talking a climate change crisis.

LI: That is just one among many aspects of global environmental crisis.

JAY: What other aspects do you think are so serious that are threatening to the system itself?

LI: Well, you have the water shortage, water pollution that is pervasive. The United Nations predict that by 2025 maybe 70 percent of the population in the world will live in areas of water stress. And we have soil erosion, and we have desertification, we have deforestation, ocean acidification. So all of these aspects are threatening the global ecological system.

JAY: So there's two places or two—from two places change to this scenario could come, one from within the elites themselves. You get to see some sign of trying to restructure, and you hear voices in the American elite, European elite, who are saying, for example, the American empire is going to diminish; it needs to be done rationally, not in a bloody way. From an economic point of view you hear some voices (although they're certainly not in control) calling for far greater financial regulation so the finance sector doesn't run amok as it has. Or something's going to come from the other side of the barricades, and not from the elites, but from workers and ordinary people. But one doesn't see in too many places any real sign of that, really, now.

LI: I agree. Yeah. I agree with you.

JAY: What are you seeing? Because you could have 100 years of decay.

LI: Well, I would rather not see it. I mean, I agree with you as far as the elites are concerned, and we know that basically advanced capitalist country right now is talking about reducing fiscal deficits and trying to abandon the historical commitment to workers' health care and pensions. And on the other hand, with respect to climate change, the US Democrats just gave up hope to pass the climate change law. So, as far as the elites are concerned, I agree with you. About workers, recently we have seen that workers resistant in Western Europe, although there has been no immediate major effect. But in the medium term or long run, I say in five to ten years, I think hope could happen in the non-Western world, in places like Latin America, in places like in China—especially in China. I think the Chinese working class have now reached a turning point in the coming one or two decades, and we are going to see more organization from the Chinese workers. That's going to challenge the Chinese capitalist system. And if the Chinese capitalist system is challenged, because of the central role of the Chinese economy in the global capitalist system, and also with respect to energy and climate change, and so if the Chinese capitalist system is challenged, that could dramatically change the global balance of power.

JAY: That's very interesting. So talk a little bit more about that. And in one of our earlier interviews you said in China this is coming mostly from the urban workers. I mean, how many people are we talking about? And what stage is that movement at?

LI: Well, historically, let's say over the past two or three decades, one of the major problem with the Chinese workers movement is that it's divided between the urban workers that had its origin in the socialist tradition, and the migrant workers who have origin in the countryside and recently moved to the cities. The hope is that in the future the urban workers and the migrant workers will develop the growing solidarity, growing unity. And so, as the migrant workers learn to get organized, demand more rights, and they will realize that it's not possible to realize their rights within the current form of capitalism, within the current Chinese political regime, so they—hopefully in five or ten years they would move beyond just asking for higher wage and also make demand for political rights. So at that stage their demand is going to converge with the demands of the urban workers, which have been asking for more political rights, asking for a return to socialist legacy. And if we have unity between the urban workers and the migrant workers, that's going to make the Chinese working class a powerful political force.

JAY: Is there any reflection of this within the Chinese Communist Party? Are there forces within the party that support this kind of movement?

LI: I would not say "support", but there has been some interesting developments within the party. In the past, over the past two or three decades, the overall direction of the party is to move increasingly towards a neoliberal capitalist direction. But over the past two years there have been some interesting signs. Some party leaders, like the secretary of the major city of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, is making some speculation or making some gesture in the leftist direction by promoting Maoist era songs, by promoting anti-mafia campaign in the local area, although so far his effort has not been cooperated by other parts of the elites.

JAY: Okay. Say that again. Anti what?

LI: Anti-mafia.

JAY: Mafia, anticorruption, anti-crime.

LI: Right. Right.

JAY: Okay. Good. So what he's been doing is going after the organized crime. And has he been going after crime and corruption within the party, within the state apparatus itself?

LI: Well, he, of course, has to use the police. But interesting thing is that the organized crime in that city has grown stronger under the previous secretary, who is now still the provincial secretary of the Guangdong province, the very important export-oriented industry province near Hong Kong. And so that, you can see the split within the elites.

JAY: So what do you think? What do you think over the next five to ten years? What are you going to be looking for to see how this is developing?

LI: Well, one thing we want to look at is how the Chinese economy is going to evolve. And we know that the Chinese economy has relied upon investment and exports. We need to transition towards a more consumption-led economy. We need to see whether that's going to happen. But potentially more importantly, and we are going to see how the energy crisis and the climate-change crisis is going to evolve in the coming decades, and whether that's going to move toward some kind of global ecological catastrophes.

JAY: Well, what are the possibilities of a Chinese-styled New Deal to kind of put off this threat to the Chinese capitalist system?

LI: That I would not—although I cannot rule it out 100 percent, I don't think it's very likely, and for a number of reasons. One is that to have a consumption-led economy, you need to have higher wages. But then, if you want to have higher wages, then capitalists are going to have lower profits, so capitalists are going to resist it.

JAY: But in the United States you had a somewhat similar situation in the 1930s, and they did make the New Deal.

LI: That was true. But then, by the 1960s, because the workers have got too high wages, capitalists have got lower profits. That's why you have got neoliberalism. And then another major factor is that because the wealth of the Chinese capitalist class mostly came from the theft of state and the collective assets from the socialist era, so the whole Chinese ruling class is very corrupt. And because of this corruption, the central government has a smaller ability to impose discipline on the capitalist class. So the Roosevelt New Deal used to be able to impose some discipline on the American capitalists, even though some capitalists would call Roosevelt a socialist, right? But nevertheless you could have a New Deal. But today it's not clear if the Chinese government, despite its talk, whether it's able to force any significant group among the capitalists to make concessions.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Minqi.

LI: Thank you very much.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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