“Trump Feels A Kinship With Authoritarian Leaders”: Richard Falk On Turmoil In The Middle East


Prof.em. Richard Falk

Since Trump’s visit to the Middle East, the region is experiencing new forms of turmoil, with the boycott against Qatar by several Gulf countries and Egypt reflecting the manifestation of geopolitical rivalries encouraged by Trump’s support for dictatorial regimes in the region willing to join the US in the fight against terrorism. For the latest developments in the Middle East, Truthout spoke with Richard Falk, emeritus professor of international relations at Princeton University, who is now in the region for a series of public lectures.

C.J. Polychroniou: Richard, you are traveling and lecturing at the moment in the Middle East. How are the media in countries like Lebanon, Israel and Turkey treating Trump’s policies in the region, and what’s your reading of the mood on the ground among common folk?

Richard Falk: I have just arrived in Istanbul after spending several days in Beirut. While in Lebanon, in addition to giving a public lecture at the end of a cultural festival on the theme, “The rise of populism, Trumpism, and the decline of US leadership,” I had the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people. As far as Trump is concerned, there was virtual unanimity that he is worsening an already volatile situation in the region. His trip to Riyadh was viewed in Beirut as a stunning display of incompetence and bravado, topped off by succumbing to a Saudi/Israeli regional agenda focused on building a menacing anti-Iran coalition and misleading publicity surrounding a nominal commitment to join forces to combat ISIS (also known as Daesh). Trump was viewed as a leader who did not understand the region and was more interested in pushing destabilizing arms sales than in genuinely promoting stability and conflict resolution.

Why is Qatar singled out on terror when it is a well-known fact that Saudi Arabia has been a chief supporter of the most radical ideological version of Islam, and Turkey’s President Erdogan has been accused of aiding ISIS and other extremists against Kurds and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

The short answer is geopolitics. Saudi Arabia, like Israel, has a “special relationship” with the United States, meaning that in diplomatic practice, Washington adopts a subservient posture that includes seeing the world through a distorted optic provided by the Saudi monarchy. Trump did not initiate this American tendency to avert its eyes when it comes to the massive evidence of Saudi support for Islamic extremism, but he seems to be carrying further this form of geopolitical [ignorance].

When it comes to Turkey, the American attitude is ambivalent, regarding Turkey as a sufficiently important strategic partner via NATO, as well as the site of the important American Incirlik Air Base to justify looking the other way when it comes to indications of earlier Turkish support for ISIS in the context of implementing its anti-Assad Syrian policies. Of course, there is evidence of contradictions along similar lines with respect to pre-Trump US policies in Syria. All hands are dirty with regard to Syria. The Syrian people are continuing to pay a huge price for this mixture of internal struggle and a multilevel proxy war engaging regional and global actors.

Singling out Qatar is the strongest instance of the Saudi regional game. Saudi Arabia has long been bothered by the relative independence of Qatar in relation to a series of issues that have nothing to do with terrorism. These include the creation of Al Jazeera, a show of sympathy for the Arab Spring movements of 2011, asylum for the Muslim Brotherhood leadership after the Sisi coup of 2013, hosting Hamas leaders and tangible support for the Palestinian struggle — including aid to Gaza, and relatively friendly relations with Iran partly as a result of sharing a huge natural gas field.
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Myths Of Globalization: Noam Chomsky And Ha-Joon Chang In Conversation


Ha-Joon Chang Photo: Wikipedia

Since the late 1970s, the world’s economy and dominant nations have been marching to the tune of (neoliberal) globalization, whose impact and effects on average people’s livelihood and communities everywhere are generating great popular discontent, accompanied by a rising wave of nationalist and anti-elitist sentiments. But what exactly is driving globalization? And who really benefits from globalization? Are globalization and capitalism interwoven? How do we deal with the growing levels of inequality and massive economic insecurity? Should progressives and radicals rally behind the call for the introduction of a universal basic income? In the unique and exclusive interview below, two leading minds of our time, linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky and Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, share their views on these essential questions.

C. J. Polychroniou: Globalization is usually referred to as a process of interaction and integration among the economies and people of the world through international trade and foreign investment with the aid of information technology. Is globalization then simply a neutral, inevitable process of economic, social and technological interlinkages, or something of a more political nature in which state action produces global transformations (state-led globalization)?

Ha-Joon Chang: The biggest myth about globalization is that it is a process driven by technological progress. This has allowed the defenders of globalization to brand the critics as “modern Luddites” who are trying to turn back the clock against the relentless progress of science and technology.

However, if technology is what determines the degree of globalization, how can you explain that the world was far more globalized in the late 19th and the early 20th century than in the mid-20th century? During the first Liberal era, roughly between 1870 and 1914, we relied upon steamships and wired telegraphy, but the world economy was on almost all accounts more globalized than during the far less liberal period in the mid-20th century (roughly between 1945 and 1973), when we had all the technologies of transportation and communications that we have today, except for the internet and cellular phones, albeit in less efficient forms.

The reason why the world was much less globalized in the latter period is that, during the period, most countries imposed rather significant restrictions on the movements of goods, services, capital and people, and liberalized them only gradually. What is notable is that, despite [its] lower degree of globalization … this period is when capitalism has done the best: the fastest growth, the lowest degree of inequality, the highest degree of financial stability, and — in the case of the advanced capitalist economies — the lowest level of unemployment in the 250-year history of capitalism. This is why the period is often called “the Golden Age of Capitalism.”

Technology only sets the outer boundary of globalization — it was impossible for the world to reach a high degree of globalization with only sail ships. It is economic policy (or politics, if you like) that determines exactly how much globalization is achieved in what areas.

The current form of market-oriented and corporate-driven globalization is not the only — not to speak of being the best — possible form of globalization. A more equitable, more dynamic and more sustainable form of globalization is possible.

We know that globalization properly began in the 15th century, and that there have been different stages of globalization since, with each stage reflecting the underlying impact of imperial state power and of the transformations that were taking place in institutional forms, such as firms and the emergence of new technologies and communications. What distinguishes the current stage of globalization (1973-present) from previous ones?

Chang: The current stage of globalization is different from the previous ones in two important ways.

The first difference is that there is less open imperialism.

Before 1945, the advanced capitalist countries practised [overt] imperialism. They colonized weaker countries or imposed “unequal treaties” on them, which made them virtual colonies — for example, they occupied parts of territories through “leasing,” deprived them of the right to set tariffs, etc.

Since 1945, we have seen the emergence of a global system that rejects such naked imperialism. There has been a continuous process of de-colonialization and, once you get sovereignty, you became a member of the United Nations, which is based upon the principle of one-country-one-vote.
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The Single-Payer Breakthrough In California: Robert Pollin On The Economics Of Universal Care


On June 1, California senators voted to replace private health insurance with a single-payer system. Senate Bill 562, by State Senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, passed 23-14, and will now advance to the Assembly where the measure would require two-thirds vote in both chambers to become law.

Clearly, the June 1 vote by California senators is an initial step toward the adoption of a government-run universal health care system, but it already signifies a major political victory for progressives in this country, who have long advocated for a publicly funded health care system. The proposed measure, i.e., SB-562, was backed by an economic analysis undertaken by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Its lead author, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Co-Director of PERI Robert Pollin, introduced the study at a capitol news conference a day before the State Senate vote — and it was undeniably instrumental in the passing of SB-562. Now that the first hurdle toward the replacement of private health insurance in California with government-run health care has been cleared, we asked Pollin to weigh in on the bill’s financial implications and its future. In the exclusive interview below, Robert Pollin discusses why a transition to a truly universal health care system makes economic sense for the state of California — and the country.

C. J. Polychroniou: Bob, could you start by briefly outlining the key features of SB-562 and tell us how you and PERI got involved in providing the financial analysis for the proposed measure?

Robert Pollin: SB-562, in its essentials, proposes a classic single-payer, or Medicare-for-All, health care system for the State of California. That means basically two things: First, everyone in California is guaranteed access to decent health care, regardless of their income level, where they work or whether they have a job at all. This principle is quite straightforward. It is the equivalent to the principle on which we operate public schools in the US. It is also the principle that operates for Medicare right now, covering everyone 65 and over. And second, [the bill provides that] private insurance companies are no longer permitted to offer health care coverage for residents of California.

The way I got involved is also simple: I was asked to get involved by RoseAnn DeMoro, who is the longtime executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. In my view, the nurses’ union is the most progressive and innovative union in the US and probably the single most effective force for good in US mainstream politics today. So, when they asked me to get involved, it would have been very hard to say “no.” On top of that, I have worked with them for years now, on the issue of taxing Wall Street — i.e., the “Robin Hood Tax.” In all of my previous work with them, they have had total respect for my independence as a researcher. That is critical. They knew that, if I took this commission, I was doing it to produce a serious piece of analytic work. I was not about to just do cheerleading for them.

One of the major objections launched against SB-562 was that it would be financially unsustainable. However, the study that you and your colleagues undertook says providing universal coverage would increase overall system costs by about 10 percent, but the single-payer system could produce savings of about 18 percent. Can you elaborate a bit on this?

At present, the total cost of health care in California — including everything — is roughly $370 billion. But even with this level of spending — about 14 percent of total GDP in California — there is still about 7.5 percent of California’s population (2.7 million people) who have no health insurance, and another 36 percent of the population (about 12 million people) who are underinsured, i.e., they have limited access to health care because their insurance premiums, deductibles and/or co-payments are extremely high relative to their income levels. My co-authors James Heintz, Peter Arno and Jeannette Wicks-Lim and I estimated that to provide good health care to all those who are presently either uninsured or underinsured would raise total system costs to about $400 billion, assuming that the health care system remained intact otherwise. We then estimated that, with the single-payer system, we could extract about 18 percent in total cost savings. We get those savings through reducing excessive administration, controlling pharmaceutical prices, fixing fees for doctors and hospitals at Medicare rates, and reducing the high degree of waste in the present system of service provision (such as doctors ordering excessive procedures).

Through these cost-control measures, we estimate that the single-payer system can provide everyone in California with decent health care at a total cost of $330 billion, i.e., a savings of about 8 percent relative to the current system while still delivering universal coverage.
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Will California Show The Way To The Rest Of The US On Health Care?


Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the news coming out of the US are gloomy and pessimistic. Yet, resistance to Trumpism is growing across the country, and there are even highly encouraging developments at the state level, such as the effort to introduce a universal health care system in the state of California.

Indeed, on June 1, California senators voted to replace private health insurance with a single-payer system. Senate Bill 562, by senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, passed 23-14, and will now advance to the Assembly where the measure would require two-thirds vote in both chambers to become law.

Clearly, the June 1 vote by California senators is an initial step towards the adoption of a government-run universal health care system, but it already signifies a major political victory for progressives in the United States, who have long advocated for a publicly-funded health care system. The proposed measure, i.e., SB-562, was backed by an economic analysis undertaken by The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It’s lead author, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Co-Director of PERI Robert Pollin, introduced the study at a Capitol news conference a day before the State Senate vote — a move that was undeniably instrumental in the passing of SB-562 which cleared the first huddle towards the replacement of private health insurance in California with government-run health care. The full content of the aforementioned study can be downloaded at the link below.

Link: PollinZetZalZECONOMICZANALYSISZOFZCAZSINGLE-PAYERZPROPOSAL—5-31-17 (1)

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Caught Between Scylla And Charybdis: The Effects Of Greece’s Loss Of Sovereignty


Photo: occupy.com

For the last several months, Greece’s international creditors – the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – had been at a standoff over debt relief, budget targets and various reforms, including taxes and pensions, thereby delaying the completion of a long overdue bailout review that should have been done in October 2016. The standoff added extra pressures to an economy that has been in recession for eight straight years, and even revived fears of a “Grexit” as bank runs had returned in full steam. In the meantime, the Syriza-led government of Alexis Tsipras was playing the role of a mere observer in a tug-of-war between two institutions that are in full control of the country’s finances, and merely trying to accommodate the demands of both sides.

Since the start of the current financial and economic crisis in Greece, which goes back to 2008 (although the actual outbreak of the debt crisis occurs in early 2010), the country’s GDP has shrunk by about 26 percent. Unemployment jumped to as high as 28 percent in 2013, and has now stabilized at 23 percent, but more than 42 percent of the population has “dropped below the poverty threshold of 2005.”

This harsh reality is the price the country is paying for its fiscal derailment as a member of a currency union (the euro) and the imposition of three consecutive bailout programs by the EU and the IMF. These bailouts have been accompanied by draconian measures of fiscal consolidation (austerity) and a radical neoliberal agenda which includes sharp cuts in wages, salaries and pensions, liberalization of the labor market and blanket privatization.

From the beginning, the bailout plans were never intended to rescue the Greek economy, but rather to avoid a financial meltdown on the continent, as several European banks had recklessly loaned to the public sector since Greece adopted the euro in 2001. Indeed, virtually all of the funds that have been provided to Greece since 2010 have gone towards the repayment of international loans – first to the European banks, and then to the country’s official creditors – rather than towards the economy.

But let’s return to the present: the standoff between EU and IMF over the “best way” to deal with Greece’s current financial and economic catastrophe, which finally came to an end a couple of weeks ago, with the Greek government agreeing to a new round of austerity measures which amount, essentially, to a fourth memorandum.

Spreading False Hopes About Recovery and Vague Promises About Debt Relief

Having grossly miscalculated the impact of the fiscal policies it proposed on the Greek economy, the IMF has been extremely reluctant to join in the third bailout program (agreed to and signed by the pseudo-leftist Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras), sensing that Greece will never be able to repay its loans. The country is essentially bankrupt, and the prospects for a return to the private credit markets any time soon are not very promising, as there are no signs of recovery on the horizon. At some point, small rates of growth will inevitably be registered solely because of the economy having hit rock bottom, but this is not the case at present.

Still, illusions of a recovery have been the hallmark of both the Syriza government and of the conservative government that preceded it. But this should not be surprising. Spreading false hopes to the citizens of a bankrupt nation that has lost its sovereignty is the last refuge of political scoundrels, of governments and their officials who have opted to become lackeys of the international elite rather than lead their people to resistance and to the overthrow of financial regimes imposing debt bondage.

Indeed, for the last few months, senior-level officials in the Syriza government, such as Minister of Economy and Development Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, were propounding that growth had made a comeback and that the crisis was over before the official statistics for the fourth quarter of 2016 were finally released in early March 2017. However, those figures showed the Greek economy had contracted again by 1.2 percent.
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Resistance In The Age Of Trumpism: An Interview With Gerald Epstein


Gerald Epstein is Professor of Economics and a founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

With Donald Trump in power, US society is likely to witness in the next four years a regression of social progress and environmental damage unlike anything the country has seen in the course of its modern history. In this context, progressives have their hands full and only massive resistance may halt the march to the precipice. But any effective strategy of resistance requires linking theory and praxis. It is imperative that we understand the dynamics in US society that brought Trump to power. It is imperative that we also understand what Trump actually represents and whether Trumpism is here to stay. Then we can think of the most effective ways to challenge the sort of political gestalt in Trump’s miasma.

In this exclusive interview, radical political economist Gerald Epstein addresses these issues and offers his insights on how we can resist Trumpism. Gerald Epstein is professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and author of scores of books and articles on the political economy of contemporary capitalism.

C.J. Polychroniou: The rise of Donald Trump to power took a lot of people by surprise, although there were strong indications for a long time now that the conditions in the United States were ripe for the emergence of an authoritarian leader. Still, the actual reasons for the rise of a fake populist in power remain rather puzzling, so I’d like to start by asking for your views on what led to Trump’s stunning victory.

Gerald Epstein: As you say, conditions of working people have been deteriorating in the US for many decades now, creating fertile ground for leaders outside the political establishment to offer anti-elitist explanations and offer apparent solutions for people desperate for them. This helps to explain both the Bernie [Sanders] and the Trump phenomena. But when you add on top of these the deep racist, sexist and xenophobic undercurrents that have always been present in American society and which are low-hanging fruit just waiting to be picked and utilized by a demagogue, you have Donald Trump…. In short, the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberalism, which continued with Hillary Clinton, is a big part of the story. Still, one should not forget the devastating roles that the Republican Party played in the last eight years as they gained more and more power — not just in Congress, but also in state and local governments in many parts of the country. They were able to do this by exploiting Democratic failures, but also by a money-fueled long-term strategy by extreme right-wing capitalists, such as the Koch brothers and others. Without this massive financial input and a long-term strategy, this victory would not have occurred. More specifically, their electoral strategy in the last four to eight years … was to incapacitate the government from helping poor and working-class people, while enriching the powerful and the elite — and then blame the Democrats for the fall out. Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, and Scott Brown, governor of Wisconsin, as well as the Republican Party in Congress in Washington, DC, pursued this seemingly kamikaze approach to governing. Amazingly, it succeeded. It shoved poor and working people more and more into the dirt as cuts were made to public investments, benefits, living standards. But rather than blaming the Republicans, many of these Americans voted against the Democrat — Hillary Clinton.

This means that only a very weak party (the Democrats), a very weak candidate (Hillary Clinton) and a huge amount of luck — the rise of Trump, [former] FBI Director James Comey’s last-minute attack on Clinton and an Electoral College system that delivered the presidency to Trump despite losing the vote by 3 million votes — could have ultimately ended in Trump’s victory. But the fact that he would have gotten so close even without these intervening factors underlines the deep rot in the system, including the Democratic Party’s neoliberalism and the role of massive amounts of right-wing money combined with a long-term, revolutionary political strategy.

But to see the real underlying causes of Trumpism, we have to dig a bit deeper. All of the above is taking place in a context of a 30- to 40-year transformation of the US’s place in the global economy — a transformation that would have required an economic policy directed toward managing it for the working classes and the poor, rather than for finance and the elite, which is what happened as I described earlier. The relative decline of the US as a site of production, the rise first of Japan, China, India and other countries in the developing world, and the intermittent competition with Europe and other countries meant that the economic institutions that the US relied on in the early post-World War II era could no longer deliver the goods to both working-class Americans and the capitalists. The Democrats and Republicans both went with the capitalists and a neoliberal faith in markets, rather than engaging in the reshaping of US institutions to thrive in a more competitive global environment. The mixture of financialization and subsidized support for US multinational corporations, and all kinds of free rides for elites, ultimately brought us to the age of Trumpism.
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