World-System Future(s)

Another U.S. Hegemony, Global Collapse

or Global Democracy?

Chris Chase-Dunn and Kirk Lawrence

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

modis_EVI_2000_fall

[v. 8-03-09, 10381 words]

To be presented at the Political Economy of the World-System Mini-Conference: “The Social and Natural Limits of Globalization and the Current Conjuncture,” Session on “States, Scales and Alternative Futures, University of San Francisco, August 7, 2009.

Institute for Research on World-Systems Working Paper # 47 at http://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows47/irows47.htm

 

This paper discusses developments in the first decade of the 21st century and uses the comparative world-systems perspective to consider possible scenarios for the next several decades. Prediction is always a risky business, but some things are actually quite predictable, while others are less so. Natural cycles such as the seasons will continue, although human-caused global warming may be changing them to some extent. Human demographic processes are fairly predictable as well. Because of the spread of the demographic transition (to lower birth rates) in the Global South, demographers predict that the total population of the Earth will peak around 2075. The steepness and duration of this continuing rise will determine how many people there will eventually be on Earth -  estimates vary from 8 to 12 billion. The timing and height will be affected by the usual factors: food supply, diseases, and natural and human caused disasters. The education of women and their employment in jobs outside the home are the main things that affect the demographic transition. Its rapidity or slowness and the consequent size of the global population will have a huge impact on the effort to move toward a more sustainable global economy. The fewer humans that need to be accommodated, the easier the required adjustments will be. Of course, taking a very long-term perspective, the sun will burn out, our solar system will turn very cold, and life will no longer be possible. But that will take another 4 billion years (Christian 2004:487).

This paper considers the likely trends as well as the major challenges that humanity will face on the scale of immediate concern: the next 50-100 years. Like the birth and death rates and the total population, the timing and strength of these challenges and their interactions with each other will greatly influence how well we are able to cope with them and how much disruption and tragedy they will cause. As in the past, large challenges are also opportunities for innovation and for reorganizing human institutions. The point of this essay is not to be scary. Nor will we simply assume that all problems can be easily resolved. Our world-systems perspective leads us to see some disturbing similarities, but also some important differences, between what happened during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century and what seems to be happening in the early 21st century.

Major Challenges of the 21st Century     

          There are three major crises that loom in the early decades of the 21st century:

·                    global inequalities,

·                    ecological degradation, and

·                    a failed system of global governance in the wake of U.S. hegemonic decline.

Global Inequalities

Careful studies of trends in income inequality show that a huge global gap emerged during the 19th century between the average incomes of people living in the core countries and the average incomes of people in the non-core.  That gap has not decreased despite all the efforts to develop the non-core societies (Bornschier 2008). The global income gap has not gotten worse during the period of neo-liberal policies, but neither has it gotten better.  There is a huge, yawning chasm between the rich and the poor of the world that is not going away. Those who are concerned about inequality should be aware of, and focus upon, this huge global gap. It is far larger than the inequalities that exist within most national societies.

            This said, there has not been absolute immiseration, except in a few small regions, over the last century. Average incomes in most of the core and most of the non-core have both increased, but at rates that have reproduced the huge gap. Trends within particular countries have varied. Some have increased and others have decreased.

The causes of the global income gap include the uneven development of technologies and labor productivity, but also the operation of political and financial institutions. Wages went up in the core as industrialization increased the productivity of labor. But the core/non-core differences in income are much greater than the differences in labor productivity. Colonialism contributed to global inequality by allowing core countries to use the law as an instrument of exploitation and domination. Since decolonization, most countries of the non-core have experienced relative underdevelopment because of dependence on foreign investment and the operation of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

            Dependence on foreign investment means that foreigners own and control a relatively large part of a national economy. Crossnational comparative research has shown that investment dependence slows economic growth and increases within-country income inequality (Bornschier and Chase-Dunn 1985). The operations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have greatly favored core countries, especially since the rise of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” in the 1980s. Structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed by the International Monetary Fund have increased inequality in many countries. The World Trade Organization, despite its free trade ideology, has presided over a situation in which free trade has been imposed on non-core countries while core countries have been allowed to maintain protective tariffs and trade quotas, especially on agricultural goods.. Thus global inequalities are partly a matter of uneven development and partly due to what Andre Gunder Frank (1966) called “the development of underdevelopment” -- global institutions that favor the core countries and reproduce low levels of economic development in most of the non-core.

            But why is this a problem? Despite the continuation of the huge global gap in incomes, most non-core countries have experienced some growth of average incomes. Life expectancy has gone up, and most countries are beginning the demographic transition to lower birth rates.  Should not these things make people happy?

            Political scientists and sociologists have long understood that people’s perceptions of a fair distribution of rewards -- distributive justice -- are largely a function of “relative deprivation.” Whether people are happy or not, and whether or not they feel exploited, is highly dependent on with what they compare their circumstances. If people in the non-core compared their levels of consumption with those of their parents most would perceive an improvement because life expectancies and average levels of living have increased, and so they should be content. But mass media and nearly instantaneous global communications have produced a situation in which people in poor countries increasingly compare their lives with those in rich countries. They see on television how people in core countries live. And they aspire to live that way.

Another contextual factor that makes continuing huge global inequalities a problem is the broad institutionalization of beliefs in the sanctity of equality. Equality is a value that is found in all the world religions and that was given powerful support by the European Enlightenment and the spread of secular humanism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a foundational charter of global culture that is widely supported by the peoples of the world. Most local cultures have shifted toward individualized and merit-based ideologies of distributive justice and away from ideologies such as the caste system that justify inequalities based on categories that are inherited at birth (so-called ascriptive characteristics). Racism and gender inequality are held to be illegitimate nearly everywhere despite that strong currents of these old inequalities are still operating. In this cultural and political context the existence of huge global inequalities appears to be unjust to broad segments of humanity in both the core and the non-core, and the frustrations of those who have unsuccessfully tried to better their condition has led to unhappiness with the existing systems of governance. International inequalities were masked when national societies were thought to be largely unconnected systems, each with its own unique history. But the increasing realization that national societies exist within, and are strongly  affected by, a larger global system encourages people to compare themselves to those in other societies and to see the whole world as a system of distributive justice.

The United States has been in decline in terms of hegemony in economic production since at least the 1970s and this has been similar in some respects to the decline of British hegemony in the late 19th century. The great post-World War II wave of globalization and financialization is faltering, and some analysts predict another trough of deglobalization. The declining economic and political hegemony of the U.S. poses huge challenges for global governance. Newly emergent national economies such as India and China need to be fitted in to the global structure of power. The unilateral use of military force by the declining hegemon has further delegitimated the institutions of global governance and has provoked resistance and challenges. A similar bout of “imperial over-reach” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the part of Britain led to a period of hegemonic rivalry and world war. Such an outcome is less likely now, but not impossible, as we shall see.

            These developments parallel to some extent what happened a century ago, but the likelihood of another “Age of Extremes” or a Malthusian correction may also be exacerbated by some new twists. The number of people on Earth was only 1.65 billion when the 20th century began, whereas at the beginning of the 21st century there were 6 billion. Moreover, fossil fuels were becoming less expensive as oil was replacing coal as the major source of energy (Podobnik 2006). It was this use of inexpensive but non-renewable fossil energy that made the geometric expansion and industrialization of humanity possible.

Ecological Degradation

Now we are facing global warming as a consequence of the spread and rapid expansion of industrial production and energy-intensive consumption, and energy is once again becoming more expensive. The low hanging “ancient sunlight” in coal and oil has been picked. “Peak oil” is rapidly approaching, “clean coal” and nuclear fusion remain dreams, and the price of energy will go up no matter how much we invest in new kinds of energy production (Heinberg 2004). None of the existing alternative technologies offer low-priced energy of the kind that has made the huge expansion possible. Many believe that overshoot has already occurred in terms of how many humans are alive, and how much energy is being used by some of them, especially those in the core. Adjusting to rising energy costs and dealing with the environmental degradation caused by industrial society will be difficult, and the longer it takes the harder it will be. Ecological problems are not new, but this time they are on a global scale. Peak oil and rising costs of other resources are likely to cause resource wars that can exacerbate the problems of global governance. The war in Iraq is both an instance of imperial over-reach (which also occurred during the British hegemonic decline) and also a resource war because the U.S. neoconservatives thought that they could prolong U.S. hegemony by controlling the global oil supply.

            The first decade of the 21th century has seen a continuation of many large-scale processes that were under way in the last half of the 20th. Urbanization of the Global South continued as the policies of neoliberalism gave powerful support to the “Live Stock Revolution” in which animal husbandry on the family ranch was replaced by large-scale production of eggs, milk and meat. This, and industrialized farming, were encouraged by the export expansion policies of the IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One consequence was the ejection of millions of small farmers from the land.

For most of these former rural residents migration to the megacities meant moving to huge slums and gaining a precarious living in the “informal sector” of services and small-scale production. These huge slums lack adequate water or sewage infrastructure. The budget cuts mandated by the SAPs, required by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for further loans, have often decimated public health systems. And so the slums have become breeding grounds for new forms of communicable diseases, including new strains of avian flu that pose huge health risks to the peoples of both the core and the non-core. These diseases are rapidly transmitted by intercontinental air travel. Many public health experts believe that a flu pandemic similar in scope and lethality to that of the infamous 1918 disaster is highly likely to occur in the near future (Crosby 2007). Most of the national governments have failed to adequately prepare for such an eventuality, and so a massive die-off is a likely outcome. Like most disasters, the lethality will be much greater among the poor, especially in the megacities of the Global South (Davis 2005).

Peter Taylor (1996) points to the important fact, which he calls “world impasse,” that it is an ecological impossibility for the global poor to catch up with the global rich. If the Chinese people eat as many eggs per person and drive as many cars as the Americans do the biosphere will cease to function. Thus global equalization will require that the rich go down to meet the poor who are coming up. This is a huge problem that no one wants to discuss, especially in the core countries. Mentioning this in polite conversation is usually considered to be in poor taste.

The Democratic Deficit

          Institutions of global governance have been evolving for centuries. The system of sovereign states was extended to the non-core in waves of decolonization and international organizations have emerged, grown in number and size, and taken on increasingly specialized and differentiated functions since the Napoleonic Wars. Democracy is still a contested concept, despite the triumphalism on the part of neoliberals after the demise of the Soviet Union. The old debates about economic and participatory democracy have been raised anew in the global justice movement, and there are new debates about non-Western forms of political participation and indigenous legal institutions. This said, the different notions of democracy are related to one another. Nearly all the forms involve legitimation from below, in which the human population rather than transcendent deities are understood to be the main constituency whose interests are to be represented and served by government. In this broad sense democracy has become the predominant justification for governmental institutions across the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of government.”

The existing institutions of global governance exhibit what many observers have called a “democratic deficit.” This means that, by even the weakest standards, the institutions of power in the global system are not democratic. The world polity, despite the emergence and growth of international organizations, is still mainly operating according to the logic of the system of sovereign states and global governance continues to take the form of hegemonic power exercised by a single national state.

The United States is the world’s only superpower. It controls a massive global military apparatus that is formally under the control of the U.S. Commander-in-Chief – the President. But the U.S. President is not elected by the peoples of the world, but by the voting citizens of the United States. Thus the global system of military force is not democratically controlled or legitimated.  It remains a system of “might makes right” and claims and dissenters outside the U.S. have no legitimate way to “throw the bums out.” There has been growing popular sentiment against the policies of the U.S. government in most countries of the world since 2001 (PEW Global Attitudes Project). This constitutes a crisis in global governance in which the old mechanism of hegemonic leadership is being brought into question because of the decline of U.S. hegemony and the broad awareness that the whole world now constitutes a single global economy and polity.

            The main international organizations with general responsibilities for international and global governance are:

·                    the regional military apparatuses such as NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), SEATO (the South East Asian Treaty Organization), etc.

·                    the United Nations and

the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

The regional treaty organizations are key institutions in the global system that are intended to provide security and military cooperation. They, and the other international institutions of global governance lack what Jackie Smith (2008: 11) calls “external” legitimacy, meaning that they are not at all subject to popular consent. The also lack what Smith calls “internal legitimacy” – because their policies and actions do not represent the consensus of all the world’s national governments. This is not just because they are regional organizations. They are primarily controlled by the great powers that are their members, mainly the United States.

The UN and the IFIs are increasingly seen as both incapable of dealing with challenges such as global warming, and as primarily controlled by the United States or by the core powers and thus the democratic deficit is a perception that applies to both the system of hegemony and to the structure of global governance by international organizations.

The IFIs have been targeted by large social movement protests since the anti-IMF riots in the 1980s because of the unpopularity of the structural adjustment programs that they began imposing on non-core countries after the rise of the neoliberal Washington consensus. The transnational “Twenty-five Years is Enough” coalition advocates the abolition of the World Bank. And the WTO’s meeting in Seattle in 1999 became the occasion for a huge protest demonstration by labor unions, environmentalists, and others that has become known as the “Battle of Seattle,” a totemic event in the growing global justice movement of movements.

The UN, though survey research shows that it is far less unpopular than the IFIs, is widely believed to be undemocratic even though the General Assembly of the U.N. makes decisions based on the principle of “one nation, one vote”. Both China and Honduras have a single vote in the General Assembly, thus the General Assembly displays Smith’s (2008:11) internal legitimacy. 

But the U.N. General Assembly has little real power. It is known as a debating society.  The important decisions about “collective security” – when to deploy U.N. peace-keeping forces – are the responsibility of the Security Council. The Security Council has five permanent members – the countries that won World War II. Germany and Japan are not permanent members.  Proposals to restructure the Security Council have been advanced for decades. But the Security Council cannot legally be restructured except by a vote of the permanent members, and they have continued to obstruct reforms.

Neither the U.N. nor any other major international institution tries to directly represent the wishes of the world’s peoples. There is no global popular assembly or parliament. George Monbiot (2003) and others have proposed the formation of a global parliament, but such an institution is as yet only an idea.

            The IFIs are even less democratic than the U.N. The Director of the World Bank is always from the United States. The Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is always a European. The formal structure of control of the World Trade Organization is more representative of the world’s nations, but all the important decisions are reportedly  made in the informal “Green Room” by the most powerful countries before they are brought to a formal vote. The IMF and the World Bank both have their headquarters offices near one another in Washington, DC, while the UN his headquartered in New York City.

The World Revolution of 20xx

The world-system has certainly become more integrated in the latest wave of globalization. The current high degree of economic integration is already higher than the peak in the 19th century, but we should also remember that waves of globalization have always been followed by periods of deglobalization in which long-distance interaction decreases, and this is likely to also be true of the future even though most analysts find this difficult to imagine. As political globalization – the formation of a single global polity, the extension of the interstate system to the whole periphery, the growing size of the hegemon compared to earlier hegemonies and the growth and elaboration of international political and financial organizations—has become denser, world revolutions have become more frequent and have started to overlap one another. Originally formulated by Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989, see also Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000), world revolutions are rebellions spread across the world-system that cluster together in time in ways that pose huge challenges for the core powers and the hegemon. These clustered rebellions are an important cause of the evolution of global governance because enlightened conservatives consolidate new hegemonies by making compromises in which they adopt some the demands of earlier world revolutions in order to preserve or extend hegemony at a later date. Thus the evolution of global governance by means of hegemony is the outcome of a struggle among competing elites in a context of repeated rebellions from “below,” and below includes both subordinated classes within societies and also popular movements from the periphery and the semiperiphery.

There is another world revolution occurring now and it is too soon to pick a symbolic year of a key event or development that connotes its character. Thus we shall call it the world revolution of 20xx (Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009). As with earlier world revolutions, it is a constellation of local, national and transnational rebellions and protest movements that cluster in time. These challenge the global powers simply because they all occur in the same period. The institutions of global governance have to contend with rebellion on many fronts. This is analogous to a single national state getting into more than one war at the same time.  But the world revolution of 20xx includes more transnational rebellions and movements than any of the earlier world revolutions have had. This is a consequence of the saturation of the modern societies by mass media forms of communication, the low cost of long-distance transportation and communications, and the Internet, which allows nearly instant communication among peoples and organizations all over the planet.

The phenomenon of transnational social movements and global political parties that began in the 19th and 20th centuries has grown to the point that there is now a vibrant global civil society of world citizens who consciously act in the arena of world politics. No one knows how large this group of cosmopolitan world citizens is at present. Obviously the people who consciously think of themselves as acting in world politics remain a small minority of the global population. Most people continue to participate mainly at local or national levels. But this cosmopolitan minority of world citizens is undoubtedly larger than ever before, and it includes substantial numbers of farmers, workers and students as well as the usual collection of scientists and intellectuals, journalists, statesmen , and religious leaders that have acted in world politics for centuries.

      Robinson (2008) claims that global capitalism has erased the core/periphery hierarchy and transformed the whole earth into a single world society with a single transnational class structure. The insight about the growing systemness of the world-system is useful, but both the interstate system and national societies continue to be important socially-structured institutions in the contemporary world (Sassen 2006). Overstating the completeness of transnationalization and world society formation becomes most obvious in the claim that the core-periphery hierarchy has been entirely replaced by “peripheralization of the core” and the emergence of clusters of monopoly privilege in parts of the non-core. Robinson himself reports that that call-center workers in Argentina earn ten times less than call-center workers in the U.S. do (2008:127). Despite the trends toward a more globalized world class structure, the core/periphery hierarchy remains an important reality of the world-system. On the average, it is still much better to be homeless in the core.

 No one knows the real numbers of those who are consciously participating in a global arena of politics, but it is obvious that the numbers have grown in recent decades as social movements have discovered that local and national political activities often cannot resolve problems that appear to have been created by global processes. Local and national social  movements have also been able to gain additional leverage by accessing resources from abroad or by appealing to international institutions. This process, called “scale-shift” by scholars studying social movements, has produced a vibrant and diverse global civil society (e.g. Reitan 2007).

The world revolution of 20xx has primarily been a reaction against what we have called the neoliberal globalization project. Arguably it began with the anti-IMF riots that broke out in the 1980s when the Structural Adjustment Programs caused prices of food and transportation to rise in many of the cities of the global south.

The World Social Forum (WSF) was established in 2001 as a counter-hegemonic popular project focusing on issues of global justice and democracy.[1] It was initially organized by European and Latin American NGOs who were miffed at being excluded from the World Economic Forum (WEF) that has met in Davos, Switzerland since 1971. The WSF was organized as the popular and progressive alternative to the WEF.  It was designed to be a forum for the participants in, and supporters of, grass roots movements from all over the world rather than a conference of representatives of political parties or governments. The WSF has been supported by the Brazilian Workers Party, and has been most frequently held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a traditional stronghold of that party. Whereas the first meeting of the WSF in 2001 reportedly drew 5,000 registered participants from 117 countries, the 2005 meeting WSF drew 155,000 registered participants from 135 countries.  In opposition to Margaret Thatcher who declared that, “there is no alternative” to neoliberal globalization, WSF participants proclaim that “another world is possible.”  The WSF is both an institution—with its own leadership, mission, and structure—and an “open space” where a variety of social actors--activists, policy experts, students, intellectuals, journalists, and artists—from around the world can meet, exchange ideas, participate in multi-cultural events, and coordinate actions. The WSF is open to all those opposed to neoliberal globalization, but excludes groups advocating armed resistance. The WSF has inspired the spread of hundreds of local, national, regional, and thematic social forums.

 


The Next Three Futures

We are going to discuss the major structural alternatives for the trajectory of the world-system during the twenty-first century by positing three basic scenarios (and then discussing possible combinations and changing sequences):

1.                                          Another round of U. S. economic hegemony based on comparative advantage in new lead industries and another round of U.S. political hegemony (instead of supremacy).

2.                                          Collapse: further U.S. hegemonic decline and the emergence of hegemonic rivalry among core states and with rising semiperipheral states. Deglobalization, financial collapse, economic collapse, ecological disaster, resource wars and deadly epidemic diseases.

3.                                          Capable, democratic, multilateral and legitimate global governance strongly supported by progressive transnational social movements and global parties, semiperipheral democratic socialist regimes, and important movements and parties in the core and the periphery. This new global polity accomplishes environmental restoration and the reduction of global inequalities.

Future Scenario #1:A Second U. S. Hegemony

            Modelski and Thompson (1994) contend that there were two British hegemonies, one in the 18th century and another one in 19th century. They contend that under some circumstances a hegemon can succeed itself. The logic of sclerosis can be overcome if new internal interest groups who are partisans of new industries can overcome the power of the vested interests of the old industries. Normally this is not possible within the confines of a single national polity and this explains why hegemony usually moves on and why uneven development is geographically mobile.  If this were typical regions with a comparative advantage would last for millennia rather than centuries and Mesopotamia (Iraq) might still be at the leading edge of human socio-cultural evolution.  But even if something is atypical, it might happen under unusual circumstances.

            The most explicit argument for the likelihood of another round of U.S. hegemony is made by Joachim Rennstich (2001, 2004). Rennstich contends that the U.S. has developed a powerful capability by which newly rising industries can escape the clutches of old vested interests and flourish. He notes that high tech firms who felt that they were being sidelined at the New York Stock Exchange were able to form their own stock market, the NASDAQ. Part of this is due to the culture of the U.S., which genuinely supports innovation and independence, and an anti-monopoly tradition in the U.S. federal government that occasionally gets trotted out by political entrepreneurs who go after firms that appear to be too greedy at the expense of the consuming public.

            Rennstich also notes that U.S. culture is somewhat unusually open to social and economic change relative to other national cultures in both the core and the non-core. Europeans worry about genetically modified foods, whereas consumers in the U.S. apparently do not care enough to even require notification when they are having “frankenfoods” for breakfast. Rennstich’s point is that this is a very flexible culture that is open to change, and that this characteristic is probably an advantage in future competition over new lead industries (especially biotechnology).

            It is well-known that the U.S. has a comparative advantage in higher education, especially in research universities that develop advances in both pure and applied sciences. This advantage should lead to an advantage in the commercialization of new technological advances and, in principal, could be the basis of a restoration of U.S. economic hegemony that is profitable enough to continue to support those aspects of hegemony that are less profitable.  Information technology has probably already run the course of the product cycle from technological rents to competition over production costs. There will undoubtedly be a few new gadgets and profitable Internet services that will redound to U.S. firms such as Apple and Google, but this is not likely to be the basis of a new growth industry in which returns are concentrated within the U.S.

            Biotechnology and nanotechnology have greater possibilities. And green technology that allows more efficient use of natural resources is also a possibility.  A new political regime with a strong industrial policy of renewal that was willing to husband resources and invest in education and product development, and that could overcome the internal resistance to new taxes by mobilizing a popular constituency to support these projects might have a chance of success.

            A restoration of U.S. economic hegemony would provide the resources for a potential restoration of U.S. political hegemony. Of course the new regime would have to distance itself from the kind of unilateral adventurism displayed in the second Iraq war, and would have to respect the existing institutions of multilateral global governance that the U.S. championed after World War II.  A new respect for global equality and effort to understand peoples who are culturally different could go a long way toward undoing the damage done by the neoconservatives during the Bush administration from 2000 to 2008.

            One advantage of such a development that might find support from abroad is that the current unipolar structure of the global military apparatus could be maintained, thus obviating any likelihood of future war among powerful national states. This should relieve those who fear that another round of hegemonic rivalry might descend into world war, as it always has in the past.  Such a unipolar structure of military power could also be made more legitimate by bringing it under the auspices of the United Nations or of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And if this were combined with a larger disarmament of national forces, the size and expense of the global military apparatus could be reduced.

Future Scenario #2: Collapse -- Rivalry, Ecocatastrophe and Deglobalization

The second structural scenario is that of continued U.S. hegemonic decline and resultant economic and political/military restructuring of the world-system. Here the scenario bears a strong likeness to what happened during the decline of British hegemony at the end of the 19th century, but with a few important differences. We have already seen some developments that are strongly reminiscent of the British hegemonic decline. The neoliberal “globalization project” was mainly a crisis-management response to a profit squeeze in manufacturing when Japan and Germany caught up with the U.S. after recovering from World War II. The rise of the neoconservatives and unilateral “imperial over-reach” was again crisis management in response to the obviously untenable position of the U.S. balance of trade that emerged after 1990. These and the rise of new economic competitors such as China and India are strong similarities to the earlier period of hegemonic decline.  We have also mentioned the expansion of finance capital that was an important characteristic of the last phase of both British hegemony and of U.S. hegemony.

 Regarding differences, we have already mentioned that British decline and the inter-regnum between the British and U.S. hegemonies occurred during a period of transition from the coal to the oil energy regime in which the cost of energy was falling.  This time around hegemony is declining during a period of generally rising costs of non-renewable resources. Another difference already mentioned is the much greater size of the U.S. economy and military supremacy compared with that of the British.

This energy cost differences probably slants the system toward chaos. It is well-known that the rise of greater centralization and state-formation in the long run is tied to the ability of complex systems to capture free energy. Hierarchies and further differentiation are expensive in energy terms. Reductions in the availability of free energy have often been associated with the collapse of hierarchies and of complex divisions of labor (Tainter 1988). The peaks of renewable resources probably also raise the probability of future resource wars, especially in the absence of a strong and legitimate hegemon or a legitimate global state.

The size difference probably slants against a fast collapse. Even the economic challengers have a vested interested in the current U.S.-centered financial system and are unlikely to do anything that will undermine it. They own too many U.S. bonds and they depend too much on the ability of buyers in the U.S. to purchase their products.

 And though U.S. military capability will undoubtedly decline as the ability of the U.S. economy to support it wanes, this could take a long time, just as it will take time for new economic centers to develop their military capabilities. The military and economic size factors do not preclude hegemonic decline but they do slow it down and also put off the onset of strong hegemonic rivalries.

Global environmental catastrophes are likely due to industrialization and population growth overshoots and overconsumption in the core. Global warming may be slowed down by reducing the production of greenhouse gases now that the new U.S. administration has signaled strong support, though getting universal adoption and implementation should not be taken for granted even now. The pressures to use coal as oil prices rise may overcome the all the good intentions and international treaties.  Environmental catastrophe will destabilize both the economy and the existing political arrangements. Fragile states will be challenged by internal resource wars (such as the “blood diamond” wars in Africa) and whole countries will be increasingly tempted to use armed force to protect or gain access to natural resources. The collapse of fisheries, the arrival of peak water, deforestation, and pollution of the streams, ground water and seas, will add to economic problems and exacerbate population pressures. The environmental dimension of the current situation could conceivably make a positive contribution to global governance if the response encourages the formation of international institutions that can organize a cooperative approach to solving the problems. But they could also make such a solution less likely by increasing competition over increasingly scarce natural resources. In the collapse scenario competition and conflict overwhelm cooperation and institution-building.

Deglobalization  means less international trade, less international investment and the reemergence of greater local and national self-reliance for the production of goods and services.  The rise of transportation costs because of rising energy prices is one factor that should reduce international trade. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions may will also involve greater regulation of long distance transportation by air, ship and truck and this will encourage a return to more local and regional circuits of production and consumption.  International investment will decline if there is greater international conflict because the risks associated with investments in distant locations will increase.

Greater local self-reliance will be good for manufacturing and for farmers in places where imports have been driving locals out of business. But the cost of some goods will go up. Services may continue to be supplied internationally if the global communications grid is maintained.  It is expensive to maintain the satellites and cables, but this may be a good investment because long-distance communication can increasingly substitute for long-distance transportation. International business and political meetings can be held in cyberspace rather than by flying people from continent to continent. The carbon footprint of transoceanic communication is considerably smaller than the carbon footprint of transportation because information is lighter than people.  But the infrastructure of global communication also relies on international cooperation, and so the rise of conflict might make communications less reliable or the big grid might even come down.

Future Scenario #3: A Global Democratic and Sustainable Commonwealth

 Eventually the human species will probably escape from the spiral of population pressure and ecological degradation that has driven human socio-cultural evolution since the Stone Age. If the demographic transition continues its march through the Global South this is likely to occur by the year 2100 or so. After the total human population ceases to rise it will still take time to become adjusted to the economic, environmental and political problems that will result from a global population of 8, 10 or 12 million people. And even then history will not end because human institutional structures will continue to evolve and to generate new challenges.

But the focus of this essay is the next several decades. Many observers of human socio-cultural evolution predict the emergence of a single Earth-wide state based on the long term trend of polities to get larger (Lawrence 2009). Projecting from historical trends, Raoul Narroll forecasts the probability of a world state emerging by 2125 of .40, and .95 by 2750; his student, Louis Marano, predicted a world empire around 3500 C.E. Robert Carneiro (2004) projects the decline in autonomous political units from 600,000 in 1500 B.C.E. to a single global government in 2300 C.E.

The problem raised by the analysis above is that the existing institutions of global governance are in crisis and a new structure that is both legitimate and capable needs to emerge to enable the humans to deal with the problems that we have created for ourselves. But what could speed global state formation up such that an effective and democratic global government could be formed by the middle of the 21st century? This is the third scenario that we will imagine as a possible middle-run future.

First recall that in our understanding of the evolution of global governance world state formation has been occuring since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The Concert of Europe was a multilateral international organization with explicit political intent – the prevention of future revolutions of the type that emerged in France in 1789 and the prevention of future Napoleonic projects. The Concert of Europe was fragile and eventually foundered on the differences between the rigid conservatism of the Austro-Hungarian Empire led by Prince Metternich, and the somewhat more enlightened conservatism of the British, led by Lord Castlereigh. But the emergence of a proto-world state was tried again in the guise of the League of Nations and once again as the United Nations Organization. We can notice that the big efforts have followed world wars. And we should also mention that the United Nations is a very long way from being a true world state in Weberian sense of a monopoly of legitimate violence.

All the previous advances in global state formation have taken place after a hegemon has declined and challengers have been defeated in a world war among hegemonic rivals. Recall that in Warren Wagar’s (1999) future scenario discussed above a global socialist state is able to emerge only after a huge war among core states in which two thirds of the world’s population are killed – a similar scenario is also suggested by Patomäki. The idea here is that major organizational changes emerge after huge catastrophes when the existing global governance institutions are in disarray and need to be rebuilt. But using a global war as a deus ex machina  in a science fiction novel is quite different from planning and implementing a real strategy that relies on a huge disaster in order to bring about change – “disaster socialism,” to borrow a phrase suggested by Naomi Klein’s (2007) discussion of how neoliberal globalizers have been able to make hay out of tragedies. Obviously political actors who seek to promote the emergence of an effective and democratic global state must also do all that they can to try to prevent another war among the great powers. Humanistic morality must trump the possibility of strategic advantage.

This said, it is very likely that major calamities will occur in the coming decades regardless of the efforts of far-sighted citizens and social movements. That is why we have imagined the collapse scenario above. And it would make both tactical and strategic sense to have plans for how to move forward if indeed a perfect storm of calamities were to come about.

But let us imagine how an effective and democratic global government might emerge in the absence of a huge calamity. Instead we will suppose that a series of moderate-sized ecological, economic and political calamities that are somewhat spaced out in time can suffice to provide sufficient disruption of the existing world order and motivation for its reconstruction along more cooperative, effective and democratic lines. 

The scenario we have in mind involves a network of alliances among progressive social movements and political regimes of countries in the Global South along with some allies in the Global North. We are especially sanguine about the possibility of relatively powerful semiperipheral states coming to be controlled by democratic socialist regimes that can provide resources to progressive global parties and movements.  The long-term pattern of semiperipheral development that has operated in the socio-cultural evolution of world-systems at least since the rise of paramount chiefdoms suggests that the “advantages of backwardness” may again play an important role in the coming world revolution (Lawrence 2009; Chase-Dunn and Boswell 2009).

One scenario would involve a coalescent party-network of the new global Left that would emerge from the existing “movement of movements” participating in the World Social Forum process. Positive exemplars of what is possible have historically emerged as “globalizations from below” (della Porta et al. 2006). For example, the direct democracy of the various workers’ councils that have appeared, such as in the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973, and the Seattle General Strike of 1919. And these are still occurring in factory committees in Argentina and Venezuela and peasant councils in Brazil (Chase-Dunn and Lerro 2008). The past decades have seen the rise of transnational social movements (cf. Keck and Sikkink 1998; Bandy and Smith, eds. 2005; Moghadam 2005; Reitan 2007; Smith 2008; Tarrow 2005), including the anti-corporate globalization movements, as responses to the strength of transnational corporations (cf. Buttel and Gould 2006; Starr 2000) and, often related, environmental/environmental justice movements (cf. Curran 2006; Pellow 2007; Roberts and Parks 2007). The World Social Forums (WSF), established as an alternative to the World Economic Forum meetings, are remarkable attempts to build the foundation for a just and democratic world. The WSF events are open spaces of dialogue, where members of the global justice movement, the “movement of movements” and all who oppose neoliberal globalization can meet, discuss, debate, and coordinate actions (cf. Chase-Dunn et al. 2008b; Mertes 2004; Smith et al. 2008; Patomäki and Teivainen 2004b; Patomäki and Ulvila, eds. 2008). 

The first WSF, and its visions for an alternative style of governance, was initially organized by the Brazilian labor movement and the landless peasant movement, and the meetings have been held exclusively, with the exception of regional gatherings, in countries outside of the dominant western powers: Brazil, India, Kenya, Mali, and Venezuela. It should not be that surprising, then, that a country in Russia’s position would call for a more democratic world order. Russia is a former “second world” country that, while strengthening economically and politically, remains an outsider to the most powerful states, with the exception of military power, of course. (In fact, Russia hosted a conference earlier this year to foster alliances across the “BRIC” countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – an acronym coined by the investment bank Goldman Sachs to group the fast growing but still developing countries; Mortished 2008). Indeed, throughout history visions and actualized dramatic change in the hierarchal structure of world-systems have emerged from societies or regions not currently at the top of that order. For example, the recent rise of Leftist regimes in Latin America represent another challenge to the current capitalist hegemonic system (Robinson 2008).

Wallerstein and Chase-Dunn are proponents of the belief in the possibility for the creation of a new system logic out of the ashes of the old. But for this advance in system complexity – a vertical and horizontal increase in interconnection – to come to fruition, it will be imperative for its base to be built on a new energy regime. It is possible, however, that the current systemic clashes over securing diminishing petroleum supplies, what Foster (2008a) calls “energy imperialism,” and Brown (2008) calls the “geopolitics of scarcity” will result in interstate war – one of Patomäki’s future scenarios. Indeed, as its economic and political power wanes, the U.S. can no longer obtain cheap energy; instead, it has resorted to military might, an imperial overreach that is a further sign of weakness (Harvey 2005; Mann 2003). While the historical trend is of war preceding changes in hegemony, it is an obviously undesirable scenario, particularly in the nuclear age.

Considering the options we face in a post-peak world, one result would see conflict over resources as a possible path. Another is the techno-fix, in which we rely upon innovation to rescue us, as Boserup once envisaged for food supply when facing population pressures (Boserup, 1965). While technology has clearly allowed for greater food production and also energy efficiencies, research has demonstrated the failed hope of ecological modernization theory’s “environmental Kuznet’s curve,” in which development reduces environmental impact (York and Rosa 2003). This is consistent with “Jevons Paradox” in which William Stanley Jevons observed that gains expected from the increased energy efficiency of the Watt coal-fired steam engine failed to materialize; in fact, more coal was consumed than before (Jevons 1965). Recently, Jevons’s Paradox appears in a study by the World Bank that revealed that increased carbon dioxide emissions of nations more than offset reductions from efficiency or other sources (World Bank, 2008). We might instead at least hope in the better choices are “cooperation, conservation, and sharing” and “community solidarity and preservation” that Heinberg has prescribed. He believes that current decision-making elites, the movements in opposition to the elites, and everyone else will need to choose from those options as we proceed (Heinberg, 2004: 14-15).

A new energy regime is necessary from a perspective championing the long-term sustainability of our bio- and geosphere. Moreover, we believe that the global collectivity should decide the direction forward and the best way to accomplish this is via a low-energy global state. A reduction in the overall complexity of the world-system is needed. We already have the framework of a proto-global state, with world-level institutions, such as the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the International Criminal Court. The global-level of governance must be strengthened. This can be accomplished by eliminating redundancies. For example, transferring security responsibility to a global institution could reduce the extensive military industrial complexes maintained by nation-states but also by NATO other groups. (We are hopeful that a global democratic and rational commonwealth would also need a much smaller military than extant throughout the world today). The legitimacy of world institutions has also been undermined; e.g., the United Nations Security Council or the World Trade Organization, are nowhere close to fully representative. A global democratic government must have the support of – at least – the majority of the world’s people. Legitimate and substantive democracy is difficult to develop, sustain, and has often been reversed (Tilly 2007). But it is what we must strive for. Ulrich Beck claims that globalization has increased cosmopolitanism, a recognition and appreciation of differences, and this is important if nationalistic and xenophobic divisiveness is to be eliminated (Beck, 2005). But we need more than a few enlightened cosmopolitans – we need a global movement.

Strengthening the local level of governance will also be important. A number of people have advocated self-governing local communities, with Lester Brown suggesting that we already are moving toward local energy and food production (Brown, 2008). Here, we prefer the line with taken by Wagar, who supports the idea of local communities but also a global-level community of communities and a world political party (Wager, 1999). Similarly, there are those that have called for a global peoples parliament and that inventions such as the Internet has made it easier to come together on multiple scales and imagine such a scenario (Hopkins 2008). Global meetings such as those held by the World Social Forum (WSF) involve intercontinental travel by large numbers of individuals who attend small meetings and large gatherings. These meetings are expensive in both money and carbon terms. A much cheaper and cleaner alternative to flying humans from continent to continent so that they may communicate face-to-face is emerging in 3-d interactive digital worlds such as in “Second Life.”

The new governance structure must also ensure a more equitable share in the costs and benefits of sharing the planet, including wealth distribution and resource use. For example, nearly a third of the world’s population does not have residential electricity at all (Smil 2008: 258-259). But we cannot afford to continue or expand core-like lifestyles. It is estimated that we need five earths for everyone in the world to live like the average person in the United States (Global Footprint Network 2008), which would require a five-fold increase in global energy use (Smil 2008). There are limits to growth and one of them is the unassimilatable pollution produced during the energy process. Of course, finding ways to dispose of waste generated from energy flow in ways that does not foul the sustainability of the environment is one of the challenges of the new millennium. We have already had such an impact in the last two hundred years that scientists are saying we have left the Holocene and are now in the Anthropocene (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997; Ponting 2007). We believe it is important to link the growth of global democracy with ecological sustainability and justice; they are inseparable. Like Vandana Shiva exhorts, we need an “Earth democracy,” or as others have suggested, an eco-socialist political economy (cf. Catton 1980; Shiva, 2006; Wallis 2008).

The semiperiphery is structurally advantaged to take the lead in this endeavor. From an energy/ecology standpoint, there are already impressive innovations. For example, Cuba has developed a massive organic farming and urban garden food system, and found ways to reduce its fuel use, particularly following the “Special Period” after the fall of the Soviet Union. Kenya’s Green Belt Movement plants trees to improve the environment and empower women. Venezuela has used its oil wealth to implement “petro-socialism.” Bolivia is attempting to return control over resources to the indigenous population. The cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre in Brazil, and the state of Kerala in India offer “islands of hope” for a sustainable and community based political economy. But the pathways taken by countries in the semiperiphery are uneven. Brazil leads the world in sugarcane-based ethanol production, followed by India, while Malaysia and Indonesia are major producers of palm oil, but the production of biofuels, including switchgrass, has potentially crippling impacts on the food system and the net energy/ecological gain is low or possibly negative in some cases (Brown 2008; Magdoff 2008). Countries such as Nicaragua and Russia have implemented structural adjustment programs as part of the increasing capitalist penetration that have increased inequality and devastated small farmers, while Cuba and China have taken a more measured approach with lower negative impacts (Enriquez, Forthcoming). But China is now the world’s largest polluter, although behind the U.S. on a per capita basis. Chase-Dunn (1998) found a rise in consumption of energy in the semiperiphery, as a percentage of the world’s share but without a corresponding rise in GDP, suggesting that the industrialization of many semiperipheral countries does not necessarily translate into efficient and profitable economic growth.

Conclusions

The world-system has been marked by waves of increasing democracy and global state formation. This should continue. The form that will best suited for the future, as envisioned in this chapter, is a global democratic and rational commonwealth. The source of that sweeping change is already emerging in the semiperiphery and the periphery, of the global hierarchy. Indeed, it is the semiperiphery that should be scrutinized for leadership in this transition to a new world-system. The most powerful challenges to capitalism in the 20th century came from semiperipheral Russia and China, and the strongest supporters of the contemporary global justice movement are semiperipheral countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. And waves of democracy have sprung from the semiperiphery. It is typically an unusually fertile location for the invention and implementation of new institutional structures. And semiperipheral societies are not constrained to the same degree as older core societies from having invested huge resources in doing things in the old way. So they are freer to implement new institutions, and many of those institutions have expanded and transformed many small systems into the particular kind of global system that we have today. This observation would not be possible without the conceptual apparatus of the comparative world-systems perspective.

The historically transformative role of the semiperiphery is expected to continue. The ways of the core are not sustainable. The semiperipheral way may not be either, but it is closer to where we need to go and provides a window into what a post peak system could look like. But regardless of the source of change, it is certain that the future world-system will look much different than it does today. While we have argued for the desirability of a collectively rational global democratic commonwealth, built from the bottom up, and a set of scenarios that demonstrate its need, it is not assumed to be the only or the best solution. It is only put forth in that hope that it will be considered in planning for a world-system that will be peaceful, equitable and just, while sustaining and improving the biosphere.

 

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[1] World Social Forum Charter http://wsf2007.org/process/wsf-charter