- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Verso (5 Jan. 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844672980
- ISBN-13: 978-1844672981
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3.2 x 23.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 561,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages Of The 21St Century Paperback – 5 Jan 2009
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'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, University of Cambridge. 'Arrighi is a student of the French historian Fernand Braudel, and the book has the range and ambition of Braudel's work' --Financial Times
This book is an impressive result; it will have a major impact...Arrighi argues his case in great detail - using an elaborate exegesis of 'The Wealth of Nations', which will send many readers back to that text in amazement' --Economic and Political Weekly
'Adam Smith in Beijing' follows, and completes, his previous volume 'The long Twentieth Century'. Together they constitute a stunning work of world history with theoretical and political intent whose intellectual roots lie in a mix of radical historiographical traditions --Radical Philosophy
In the late eighteenth century, the political economist Adam Smith predicted an eventual equalization of power between the conquering West and the conquered non-West. Demonstrating Smith's continued relevance to understanding China's extraordinary rise, Arrighi examines the events that have brought it about, and the increasing dependence of US wealth and power on Chinese imports and purchases of US Treasury bonds. In the 21st century China may well become again the kind of non-capitalist market economy that Smith described, under totally different domestic and world-historical conditions.See all Product description
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One strength of the book is its critical perspective on American hegemony. It is interesting to see how apparent indicators of dominance may in fact suggest underlying structural decline. Its weakness is its uncritical treatment of China, and an account of Chinese ascendancy which covers over as much as it reveals. What, for instance, of the darker side of the Chinese system, its brutal biopolitical regime, its suppression of labour movements and national minorities, its appalling human rights record? What of the problem that its production system remains in many respects peripheral? Chinese ascendance is assumed rather than argued, and sceptical perspectives tend to be elided. One ends up with a Chinese development model without the contradictions which clearly arise in practice (for instance, the prediction of massive urbanisation suggests Arrighi is wrong in assuming a continuing prevalence of village enterprises). Arrighi's account isn't really plausible, and seems to give up on an alternative to global capitalism in effectively siding with one of its bearers as a "non-capitalist" society. Beijing becomes for Arrighi what Moscow was for an earlier generation of radicals, but whereas in that case one was at least dealing with systemic differences, in Arrighi's case the differences have to be invented. I find more plausible the idea put forward by Sassen, Hardt and Negri and others, that the world system is in transition to a hubs-and-spokes system focused on global systems, losing its previous association with a hegemonic state.
This is a fairly strong book nevertheless, particularly in its theoretical interweaving of world-systems analysis with Harvey's theory of accumulation by dispossession and a geopolitically-driven model of hegemony.
Historically, capitalism occurs in the later stages, and at the expense, of free markets, and requires ever expansive institutions and policies. According to Arrighi, the evolution of the USA, being the latest and most expansive capitalist power, has taken the capitalist logic to its earthly limits. Indeed, the US has continued on the trajectory set by the earlier capitalist powers--the Italian Republics, Dutch Empire and British Empire--by creating more powerful capitalist frameworks, alas all this has already come to a too high of a price for itself and the planet.
And, while the above arguments go back and forth, with factual illustrations and theoretical considerations, China is being analyzed in historical, comparative and Asian contexts. With the exception of some 150 years, at least for the past 5-600 years, China has been not only different from the West (and its capitalist models), but also very affluent. The differences come in many ways: military outlook and projection of power, trade, state institutions, relationships between the state and its citizens/other states, productivity, innovation and on and on. In fact, Arrighi seems to infer that, for the most part of that time interval, the Chinese have been as much closer to a free market system as far away from the capitalist system.
Close to the end of the book, one sees that Arrighi does not necessarily advance a comprehensive thesis to explain even the next 50 years, but leaves the reader better equipped to continue the inferential process he started. To summarize, this process consists of the study of theoretical frameworks, historical analogies between/among capitalist powers, comparative perspectives on China and the reduction of capitalist alternatives, by elimination, for the USA. Also by limiting the range of the capitalist alternative(s) in their current and historical forms, we are left to witness for ourselves the evolution, the tradeoffs, and ultimately the future of China itself.
This is a book that will most probably anchor the conversation about the 21st Century for some time to come. The wide spectrum for Arrighi's analysis provides for an integrated approach across several fields, which so far have been studied in isolation at best.
How can the reader benefit more? By tightening the argument and the text itself--maybe Arrighi needs to decide who his readers are. For the public at large, a Foreign Affairs article may do it. For the more academically inclined, it is not clear how/why the events of the last 10-15 years in the US fit Arrighi's framework. Indeed, Arrighi belongs to the school of thought dating the end of the US capitalist supremacy in the 1970s. So, if the US decline started in the '70s, how was it possible for the economical revival of the '90s? In other words, was the economic revival of the '90s in contradiction with Arrighi's earlier thesis? According to the author, Britain had also gone through a similar period of economic boom at the end of the 19th century--decline, sudden prosperity followed by decline and two world wars. Reconciling current events with-in a longue durée approach may look artificial/arbitrary/a posteriori. For example, was the Project for the New American Century historically immanent, or the result of voting accidents in Florida? On the other hand, a lot of the last 8 year events seem to follow the path indicated by Arrighi. After this book was published, even the paragons of capitalism, aka the US financial system, have entered a deep structural crisis. Moreover, if we are to consider the volume of inputs alone, the US has no place to grow unless the Chinese stumble at their own (Adam Smithian-) game. At a different level, I suspect there will be some to quarrel with Arrighi's implicit higher valuation of free markets relative to capitalism. They'll probably be quick to say that the "old" left may be redefining itself in terms of opposing capitalism with free markets instead of socialism...
All in all, the reader will be well rewarded by reading this book and perhaps follow its author all the way into the pages of the New Left Review magazine.
This book helped me crystallize a whole number of ideas, which I could well summon up into an Open Letter, for O8:
Small is Beautiful!
Small(er) enterprise is better than (quasi-)monopolies;
Universal healthcare is both good and necessary;
Let wages converge lower;
Put money into the following infrastructures: education, energy efficiency, internet, transportation;
Encourage innovation and exports;
Bring smart people in, our universities should be the Ellis Island of the 21 Century!
2009 Addendum: Like it or not, even 20 years after the fall of Communism, Marxist critique of capitalism is still ahead in making sense out of our times.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.