As India is now completing 75 years after attaining independence from British rule and celebrating its 75th year of Independence on 15th August, a careful review of the scenario in 1947 and in the year 2022 in a holistic manner will certainly convince a discerning observer that India’s achievements and progress have been substantial, significant and praiseworthy.
In 1947, when India forced Britishers to give freedom, India was an underdeveloped country with a low literacy level, a high level of economic disparity and a large percentage of countrymen living below the poverty line.
All such deprived conditions have changed considerably in the last seventy-five years with significant industrial development, growth in agricultural production and productivity, significant improvement in literacy level and public health and reasonably good advancements in technology and particularly in digital media and information technology. The improved figures and data are well known and are in the public domain.
The question is that given India’s landscape, different climatic and soil conditions, irrigation potential, mineral deposits, long coastal belt and several other advantages, should one conclude that India should have done better than what it has achieved?
The best way of answering this query would be to compare India’s growth with a few other countries facing similar conditions in 1947.
Japan & Germany :
India attained independence in 1947 and during this period, Germany and Japan remained battered and virtually paralysed after facing defeat during the second world war.
Both these countries have made remarkable progress during the last seventy-five years and today remain as amongst the most developed countries in the world with a high level of prosperity index.
However, both Germany and Japan had a reasonably strong technology base before 1947 compared to India, as a result of which both these countries could take part in the second world war and they exhibited their technological and military capability of a high order.
While credit should be given to the governments and people of Germany and Japan for their remarkable progress subsequent to the second world war, India’s technological and industrial base in 1947 was at a much lower level. India had to virtually start from scratch.
Therefore, comparing the growth of Germany and Japan to that of India during the last seventy-five years may not be appropriate.
In 1947, both India and China were nearly on par as far as technology, industrial and agriculture base are concerned. In the last seventy-five years, China has grown phenomenally and is now claiming superpower status in the world.
China is only 15% of the global economy in size but now contributes 25 to 30% of global growth. Assuming that we don’t count the European Union as one economy, China is the second largest economy in the world. China’s share of world output has gone up from 6.3% in the year 1996 to 17.8%, in the year 2020. China contributed as much as around 70% of the growth in the share of developing economies in world GDP in the last two decades.
Today, the size of the Indian economy is much smaller than that of China. What is the reason for this sharp difference in the growth profile of India and China?
One can say that China is a totalitarian country and therefore, the Chinese government has been able to implement any project as it deems fit without resistance from any quarters. However, the mere totalitarian rule cannot be attributed as the reason for China’s success, since several other totalitarian countries have not progressed to any reasonable level.
The reason for China’s growth is the strong government and policy of the government to liberally cooperate with the developed countries in industrialisation and technology acquisition. Many multinational companies are now operating in China with large industrial capacities, substantially contributing to China’s technological growth and economy. Chinese companies have gained a lot by having joint ventures with multi-national companies in China.
The credit must be given to the Chinese government and the people of China for this phenomenal growth.
India could have done better in the last seventy-five years if the following issues have been tackled adequately.
India’s population in 1947 was around 347 million and the population is 1400 million at present. The mouths to be fed have multiplied several times and India’s economic growth, though impressive, has not been adequate enough to match the population growth. In the next year, India would emerge as the most populous country in the world. China too is a populous country but the Chinese government has admirably controlled the population growth by its one-child family policy, which India has not been able to do due to several reasons.
Unlike China, India is a democratic country with freedom of speech and personal freedom remaining at a very high level. As a result, several projects announced by the government have been criticised and resisted by a section of activists and several political parties with India emerging as the noisiest democracy in the world. Several well-meaning schemes could not be implemented and good projects have been forced to close down due to the protests by the so-called activists and some political parties. The latest example is that of the Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu. Due to the closure of this plant, India has become a net importer of copper, whereas India was a big exporter of copper when the Sterlite Copper plant was operating. Another example is the very important and technologically significant Neutrino project, which has been stopped by political groups. So many other examples can be readily pointed out.
Another major issue is the rapidly developing dynastic politics in India, where family groups are holding a vice-like grip over several political parties all over India. Except for BJP and communist parties, all other political parties in India today are dynastic parties under family control. In this scenario, due to the development of a situation where the family groups are ruling several states and with vested interests developing, administrative standards have deteriorated and in several states, political corruption has reached an unacceptable level. Committed people with proven competence are unable to win elections based on their merit. Such conditions have become a drag on the overall growth of the country.
What scenario for the coming years?
During the last eight years, Prime Minister Modi has elevated the quality of governance to a higher level and has introduced several imaginative schemes, keeping in view the requirement of the people at a lower economic level as well as the compulsive need to forge ahead in terms of technology and productivity. Even in the present post-COVID period where several countries in the world including developed countries are facing serious issues of inflation and recession, the Indian economy is doing much better. This fact has been recently confirmed by a report from International Monetary Fund (IMF)
Though several opposition political parties and some activists have been opposing and criticising Modi’s governance in severe terms, the overall view amongst the cross-section of the countrymen appear to be that Prime Minister Modi has done a reasonably good job and this trend should continue.
“When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open.
At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then I walked down to the river where the survivors still lived in shanties.
I met a man called Yukio, whose chest was etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped.
He described a huge flash over the city, “a bluish light, something like an electrical short”, after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. “I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead.”
Nine years later, I returned to look for him and he was dead from leukemia.
“No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin” said a New York Times headline on September 13, 1945, a classic of planted disinformation. “General Farrell,” reported William H. Lawrence, “denied categorically that [the atomic bomb] produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity.”
Only one reporter, Wilfred Burchett, an Australian, had braved the perilous journey to Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, in defiance of the Allied occupation authorities, which controlled the “press pack”.
“I write this as a warning to the world,” reported Burchett in the London Daily Express of September 5,1945. Sitting in the rubble with his Baby Hermes typewriter, he described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries who were dying from what he called “an atomic plague”.
For this, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared. His witness to the truth was never forgiven.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an act of premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. It was justified by lies that form the bedrock of America’s war propaganda in the 21st century, casting a new enemy, and target – China.
During the 75 years since Hiroshima, the most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and to save lives.
“Even without the atomic bombing attacks,” concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, “air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war [against Japan] and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
The National Archives in Washington contains documented Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the U.S. made clear the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including “capitulation even if the terms were hard”. Nothing was done.
The U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was “fearful” that the U.S. Air Force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show its strength”. Stimson later admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the [atomic] bomb”.
Stimson’s foreign policy colleagues — looking ahead to the post-war era they were then shaping “in our image”, as Cold War planner George Kennan famously put it — made clear they were eager “to browbeat the Russians with the [atomic] bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip”. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the atomic bomb, testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.”
The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Harry Truman voiced his satisfaction with the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment”.
The “experiment” continued long after the war was over. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States exploded 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific: the equivalent of more than one Hiroshima every day for 12 years.
The human and environmental consequences were catastrophic. During the filming of my documentary, The Coming War on China, I chartered a small aircraft and flew to Bikini Atoll in the Marshalls. It was here that the United States exploded the world’s first Hydrogen Bomb. It remains poisoned earth. My shoes registered “unsafe” on my Geiger counter. Palm trees stood in unworldly formations. There were no birds.
I trekked through the jungle to the concrete bunker where, at 6.45 on the morning of March 1, 1954, the button was pushed. The sun, which had risen, rose again and vaporised an entire island in the lagoon, leaving a vast black hole, which from the air is a menacing spectacle: a deathly void in a place of beauty.
The radioactive fall-out spread quickly and “unexpectedly”. The official history claims “the wind changed suddenly”. It was the first of many lies, as declassified documents and the victims’ testimony reveal.
Gene Curbow, a meteorologist assigned to monitor the test site, said, “They knew where the radioactive fall-out was going to go. Even on the day of the shot, they still had an opportunity to evacuate people, but [people] were not evacuated; I was not evacuated… The United States needed some guinea pigs to study what the effects of radiation would do.”
Marshall Islander Nerje Joseph with a photograph of her as a child soon after the H-Bomb exploded on March 1, 1954
Like Hiroshima, the secret of the Marshall Islands was a calculated experiment on the lives of large numbers of people. This was Project 4.1, which began as a scientific study of mice and became an experiment on “human beings exposed to the radiation of a nuclear weapon”.
The Marshall Islanders I met in 2015 — like the survivors of Hiroshima I interviewed in the 1960s and 70s — suffered from a range of cancers, commonly thyroid cancer; thousands had already died. Miscarriages and stillbirths were common; those babies who lived were often deformed horribly.
Unlike Bikini, nearby Rongelap atoll had not been evacuated during the H-Bomb test. Directly downwind of Bikini, Rongelap’s skies darkened and it rained what first appeared to be snowflakes. Food and water were contaminated; and the population fell victim to cancers. That is still true today.
I met Nerje Joseph, who showed me a photograph of herself as a child on Rongelap. She had terrible facial burns and much of her was hair missing. “We were bathing at the well on the day the bomb exploded,” she said. “White dust started falling from the sky. I reached to catch the powder. We used it as soap to wash our hair. A few days later, my hair started falling out.”
Lemoyo Abon said, “Some of us were in agony. Others had diarrhoea. We were terrified. We thought it must be the end of the world.”
U.S. official archive film I included in my film refers to the islanders as “amenable savages”. In the wake of the explosion, a U.S. Atomic Energy Agency official is seen boasting that Rongelap “is by far the most contaminated place on earth”, adding, “it will be interesting to get a measure of human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment.”
American scientists, including medical doctors, built distinguished careers studying the “human uptake”. There they are in flickering film, in their white coats, attentive with their clipboards. When an islander died in his teens, his family received a sympathy card from the scientist who studied him.
I have reported from five nuclear “ground zeros” throughout the world — in Japan, the Marshall Islands, Nevada, Polynesia and Maralinga in Australia. Even more than my experience as a war correspondent, this has taught me about the ruthlessness and immorality of great power: that is, imperial power, whose cynicism is the true enemy of humanity.
This struck me forcibly when I filmed at Taranaki Ground Zero at Maralinga in the Australian desert. In a dish-like crater was an obelisk on which was inscribed: “A British atomic weapon was test exploded here on 9 October 1957”. On the rim of the crater was this sign: WARNING: RADIATION HAZARD
Radiation levels for a few hundred metres around this point may be above those considered safe for permanent occupation.
For as far as the eye could see, and beyond, the ground was irradiated. Raw plutonium lay about, scattered like talcum powder: plutonium is so dangerous to humans that a third of a milligram gives a 50 percent chance of cancer.
The only people who might have seen the sign were Indigenous Australians, for whom there was no warning. According to an official account, if they were lucky “they were shooed off like rabbits”.
The Enduring Menace
Today, an unprecedented campaign of propaganda is shooing us all off like rabbits. We are not meant to question the daily torrent of anti-Chinese rhetoric, which is rapidly overtaking the torrent of anti-Russia rhetoric. Anything Chinese is bad, anathema, a threat: Wuhan …. Huawei. How confusing it is when “our” most reviled leader says so.
The current phase of this campaign began not with Trump but with Barack Obama, who in 2011 flew to Australia to declare the greatest build-up of U.S. naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region since World War Two. Suddenly, China was a “threat”. This was nonsense, of course. What was threatened was America’s unchallenged psychopathic view of itself as the richest, the most successful, the most “indispensable” nation.
What was never in dispute was its prowess as a bully — with more than 30 members of the United Nations suffering American sanctions of some kind and a trail of the blood running through defenceless countries bombed, their governments overthrown, their elections interfered with, their resources plundered.
Obama’s declaration became known as the “pivot to Asia”. One of its principal advocates was his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who, as WikiLeaks revealed, wanted to rename the Pacific Ocean “the American Sea”.
Whereas Clinton never concealed her warmongering, Obama was a maestro of marketing. “I state clearly and with conviction,” said the new president in 2009, “that America’s commitment is to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Obama increased spending on nuclear warheads faster than any president since the end of the Cold War. A “usable” nuclear weapon was developed. Known as the B61 Model 12, it means, according to General James Cartwright, former vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.
The target is China. Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one U.S. strategist told me, “the perfect noose”.
A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the infamous catch cry of its chief Cold War strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war.
Kahn’s apocalyptic view is shared by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical fanatic who believes in the “rapture of the End”. He is perhaps the most dangerous man alive. “I was CIA director,” he boasted, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses.” Pompeo’s obsession is China.
The endgame of Pompeo’s extremism is rarely if ever discussed in the Anglo-American media, where the myths and fabrications about China are standard fare, as were the lies about Iraq. A virulent racism is the sub-text of this propaganda. Classified “yellow” even though they were white, the Chinese are the only ethnic group to have been banned by an “exclusion act” from entering the United States, because they were Chinese. Popular culture declared them sinister, untrustworthy, “sneaky”, depraved, diseased, immoral.
An Australian magazine, The Bulletin, was devoted to promoting fear of the “yellow peril” as if all of Asia was about to fall down on the whites-only colony by the force of gravity.
As the historian Martin Powers writes, acknowledging China’s modernism, its secular morality and “contributions to liberal thought threatened European face, so it became necessary to suppress China’s role in the Enlightenment debate …. For centuries, China’s threat to the myth of Western superiority has made it an easy target for race-baiting.”
In the Sydney Morning Herald, tireless China-basher Peter Hartcher described those who spread Chinese influence in Australia as “rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows”. Hartcher, who favourably quotes the American demagogue Steve Bannon, likes to interpret the “dreams” of the current Chinese elite, to which he is apparently privy. These are inspired by yearnings for the “Mandate of Heaven” of 2,000 years ago. Ad nausea.
To combat this “mandate”, the Australian government of Scott Morrison has committed one of the most secure countries on earth, whose major trading partner is China, to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles that can be fired at China.
The trickledown is already evident. In a country historically scarred by violent racism towards Asians, Australians of Chinese descent have formed a vigilante group to protect delivery riders. Phone videos show a delivery rider punched in the face and a Chinese couple racially abused in a supermarket. Between April and June, there were almost 400 racist attacks on Asian-Australians.
“We are not your enemy,” a high-ranking strategist in China told me, “but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.” China’s arsenal is small compared with America’s, but it is growing fast, especially the development of maritime missiles designed to destroy fleets of ships.
“For the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack… This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy…”
In Washington, I met Amitai Etzioni, distinguished professor of international affairs at George Washington University, who wrote that a “blinding attack on China” was planned, “with strikes that could be mistakenly perceived [by the Chinese] as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma [that would] lead to nuclear war.”
In 2019, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War, much of it in high secrecy. An armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB – blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
It is fear of such a blockade that has seen China develop its Belt and Road Initiative along the old Silk Road to Europe and urgently build strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands.
In Shanghai, I met Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist and novelist, typical of a new class of outspoken mavericks. Her best-selling book has the ironic title Socialism Is Great! Having grown up in the chaotic, brutal Cultural Revolution, she has travelled and lived in the U.S. and Europe. “Many Americans imagine,” she said, “that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.”
Modern China’s epic achievements, its defeat of mass poverty, and the pride and contentment of its people (measured forensically by American pollsters such as Pew) are wilfully unknown or misunderstood in the West. This alone is a commentary on the lamentable state of Western journalism and the abandonment of honest reporting.
China’s repressive dark side and what we like to call its “authoritarianism” are the facade we are allowed to see almost exclusively. It is as if we are fed unending tales of the evil super-villain Dr. Fu Manchu. And it is time we asked why: before it is too late to stop the next Hiroshima.
The Canadian psychologist and alt-right media fixture Jordan Peterson recently stumbled onto an important insight. In a podcast episode titled “Russia vs. Ukraine or Civil War in the West?,” he recognized a link between the war in Europe and the conflict between the liberal mainstream and the new populist right in North America and Europe.
Although Peterson initially condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression, his stance gradually morphs into a kind of metaphysical defense of Russia. Referencing Dostoevsky’s Diaries, he suggests that Western European hedonist individualism is far inferior to Russian collective spirituality, before duly endorsing the Kremlin’s designation of contemporary Western liberal civilization as “degenerate.” He describes postmodernism as a transformation of Marxism that seeks to destroy the foundations of Christian civilization. Viewed in this light, the war in Ukraine is a contest between traditional Christian values and a new form of communist degeneracy.
This language will be familiar to anyone familiar with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime, or with the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. As CNN’s John Blake put it, that day “marked the first time many Americans realized the US is facing a burgeoning White Christian nationalist movement,” which “uses Christian language to cloak sexism and hostility to Black people and non-White immigrants in its quest to create a White Christian America.” This worldview has now “infiltrated the religious mainstream so thoroughly that virtually any conservative Christian pastor who tries to challenge its ideology risks their career.”
The fact that Peterson has assumed a pro-Russian, anti-communist position is indicative of a broader trend. In the United States, many Republican Party lawmakers have refused to support Ukraine. J.D. Vance, a Donald Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate from Ohio, finds it “insulting and strategically stupid to devote billions of resources to Ukraine while ignoring the problems in our own country.” And Matt Gaetz, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida, is committed to ending US support for Ukraine if his party wins control of the chamber this November.
But does accepting Peterson’s premise that Russia’s war and the alt-right in the US are platoons of the same global movement mean that leftists should simply take the opposite side? Here, the situation gets more complicated. Although Peterson claims to oppose communism, he is attacking a major consequence of global capitalism. As Marx and Engels wrote more than 150 years ago in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto:
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. … All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
This observation is studiously ignored by leftist cultural theorists who still focus their critique on patriarchal ideology and practice. Yet surely the critique of patriarchy has reached its apotheosis at precisely the historical moment when patriarchy has lost its hegemonic role – that is, when market individualism has swept it away. After all, what becomes of patriarchal family values when a child can sue her parents for neglect and abuse (implying that parenthood is just another temporary and dissolvable contract between utility-maximizing individuals)?
Of course, such “leftists” are sheep in wolves’ clothing, telling themselves that they are radical revolutionaries as they defend the reigning establishment. Today, the melting away of pre-modern social relations and forms has already gone much further than Marx could have imagined. All facets of human identity are now becoming a matter of choice; nature is becoming more and more an object of technological manipulation.
The “civil war” that Peterson sees in the developed West is thus a chimera, a conflict between two versions of the same global capitalist system: unrestrained liberal individualism versus neo-fascist conservativism, which seeks to unite capitalist dynamism with traditional values and hierarchies.
There is a double paradox here. Western political correctness (“wokeness”) has displaced class struggle, producing a liberal elite that claims to protect threatened racial and sexual minorities in order to divert attention from its members’ own economic and political power. At the same time, this lie allows alt-right populists to present themselves as defenders of “real” people against corporate and “deep state” elites, even though they, too, occupy positions at the commanding heights of economic and political power.
Ultimately, both sides are fighting over the spoils of a system in which they are wholly complicit. Neither side really stands up for the exploited or has any interest in working-class solidarity. The implication is not that “left” and “right” are outdated notions – as one often hears – but rather that culture wars have displaced class struggle as the engine of politics.
Where does that leave Europe? The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall paints a bleak but accurate picture:
“Putin’s aim is the immiseration of Europe. By weaponising energy, food, refugees and information, Russia’s leader spreads the economic and political pain, creating wartime conditions for all. A long, cold, calamity-filled European winter of power shortages and turmoil looms. … Freezing pensioners, hungry children, empty supermarket shelves, unaffordable cost of living increases, devalued wages, strikes and street protests point to Sri Lanka-style meltdowns. An exaggeration? Not really.”
To prevent a total collapse into disorder, the state apparatus, in close coordination with other states and relying on local mobilizations of people, will have to regulate the distribution of energy and food, perhaps resorting to administration by the armed forces. Europe thus has a unique chance to leave behind its charmed life of isolated welfare, a bubble in which gas and electricity prices were the biggest worries. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently told Vogue, “Just try to imagine what I’m talking about happening to your home, to your country. Would you still be thinking about gas prices or electricity prices?”
He’s right. Europe is under attack, and it needs to mobilize, not just militarily but socially and economically as well. We should use the crisis to change our way of life, adopting values that will spare us from an ecological catastrophe in the coming decades. This may be our only chance.
The world is now facing a man-made food catastrophe. It is reaching crisis levels.
Current policies in many parts of the world place a priority on climate change for realizing a green new deal. Meanwhile, such policies will contribute to children dying from severe malnutrition due to broken food systems, with shortages of food and water, stress, anxiety, fear, and dangerous chemical exposure.
More negative pressure on farmers and the food system is asking for a catastrophe. The immune system of many people, especially children, has lost its resilience and has weakened too far with high risks for intoxication, infections, non-communicable and infectious diseases, deaths and infertility.
Dutch farmers, of whom many will face a cost of living crisis after 2030, have drawn the line. They are supported by an increasing number of farmers and citizens worldwide.
It’s not the farmers who are the most heavy polluters of the environment, but industries who make the products needed for a technocracy revolution to green energy, data mining, and Artificial Intelligence. As more of the WEF plans are rolled out by politicians, inequalities grow, and conflicts are rising all over the world.
The strong farmers’ revolt in the Netherlands is a call for an urgent transition to a people-oriented, free and healthy world with nutritious food cultivated and harvested in respect to natural processes. The cooperation of ordinary people worldwide is on the rise to prevent a mass famine catastrophe caused by the plan of scientism and technocracy to rule and control the world by unelected scientists and elites.
Enough food, access to food is the problem
Farmers around the world normally grow enough calories (2,800) per person (while 2,100 calories/day would be sufficient) to support a population of nine to ten billion people worldwide. But still over 828 million people have too little to eat each day. The problem is not always food; it is access. The UN which wrote in 2015 in the Sustainable Development Goals goal 2: No hunger and malnutrition for all in 2030 will not be reached.
Throughout history many times natural or manmade disasters led to food insecurities for longer periods of time, resulting in hunger, malnutrition (undernourishment) and mortality. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. Since the global pandemic began, access to food estimates show that food insecurity has likely doubled, if not tripled in some places around the world.
Moreover, during the pandemic, global hunger rose to 150 million and is now affecting 828 million people, with 46 million at the brink of starvation facing emergency levels of hunger or worse. In the hardest hit places, this means famine or famine-like conditions. At least 45 million children are suffering from wasting, which is the most visible and severe form of malnutrition, and potentially life-threatening.
With global prices of food and fertilizers already reaching worrying highs, the continuing impacts of the pandemic, the political forces to realize climate change goals and the Russia-Ukraine war raise serious concerns for food security both in the short and the long term.
The world is facing a further spike in food shortages, pushing more families worldwide at risk for severe malnutrition. Those communities which survived former crises are left more vulnerable to a new shock than before and will accumulate the effects, diving into famine (acute starvation and a sharp increase in mortality).
Furthermore, growth of economies and development of nations are currently slowing down due to a lack of workforce due to a sharp decrease in well-being and higher mortality rates.
In the wake of new nitrogen limits that require farmers to radically curb their nitrogen emissions by up to 70 percent in the next eight years, tens of thousands of Dutch farmers have risen in protest against the government.
Farmers will be forced to use less fertilizer and even to reduce the number of their livestock, in some cases up to 95%. For smaller family-owned farms it will be impossible to reach these goals. Many will be forced to shutter, including people whose families have been farming for up to eight generations.
Moreover, a significant decrease and limitations of Dutch farmers will have huge repercussions for the global food supply chain. The Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after the United States. Still, the Dutch government pursues their agenda on Climate Change while there is currently no law to support the implementation, while they will not change much in the planet’s major air pollution. Models used to arrive at the decision of the Dutch government are debated by acknowledged scientists.
In no communication have Dutch politicians considered the effects of their decision on breaking a most important goal in the UN agreement: ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all in 2030.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka, a country whose political leader introduced zero Nitrogen and CO2 emissions policy, is now facing economic problems, severe hunger, and difficulties to access food upon a political decision that farmers were not allowed to use fertilizers and pesticides. Still, politicians responsible for Nitrogen emissions/climate change in other countries pursue the same green policy.
Furthermore, experts are warning that heat, flooding, drought, wildfires, and other disasters have been wreaking economic havoc, with worse to come. Food and water shortages have been in the media.
On top of that, Australian experts announce a risk for an outbreak of a viral disease in cattle. This could cause an A$80 billion hit to the Australian economy and even more real supply chain issues. Countless businesses and producers go bankrupt. The emotional toll they are facing to euthanize their healthy herds is immense and hardly bearable. It is pushing more farmers to end their life.
Hopefully, the need for the Danish government to apologize, as an investigative report on the cull of more than 15 million minks in November 2020 criticized the action that led to the misleading of mink breeders and the public and the clearly illegal instructions to authorities, will help politicians to reconsider such drastic measures on farmers.
Worldwide, farmers’ protests are rising, supported by more and more citizens who stand up against the expensive mandates for changes to “green policies” that already brought massive miseries and instability.
At a ministerial conference for food security on June 29 2022, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that worsening food shortages could lead to a global “catastrophe”.
Malnutrition responsible for more ill health than any other cause
The increased risk of food and water shortages the world is facing now will bring humanity to the edge. Hunger is a many-headed monster. For decades conquering world hunger has become a political issue in a way that it could not have been in the past. The use of authoritarian political power led to disastrous government policies, making it impossible for millions of people to earn a living. Chronic hunger and the recurrence of virulent famines must be seen as being morally outrageous and politically unacceptable, says Dreze and Sen in Hunger and Public Action, published in 1991.
“For those at the high end of the social ladder, ending hunger in the world would be a disaster. For those who need availability of cheap labor, hunger is the foundation of their wealth, it is an asset,” wrote Dr. George Kent in 2008 in the essay “The Benefits of World Hunger.”
Malnutrition is not only influenced by food and water shortage, but also to exposures of extreme stress, fear, insecurity of safety and food, social factors, chemicals, microplastics, toxins, and over-medicalization. No country in the world can afford to overlook this disaster in all its forms, which affects mostly children and women in reproductive age. Globally more than 3 billion people cannot afford healthy diets. And this is in contradiction to what many people think is just a low-income country problem.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic began, about 8% of the population in North America and Europe lacked regular access to nutritious and sufficient food. A third of reproductive-age women are anemic, while 39% of the world’s adults are overweight or obese. Each year around 20 million babies are born underweight. In 2016 9.6% of the women were underweight. Globally in 2017, 22.2% of the children under the age of five were stunting, while undernutrition explains around 45% of deaths among children under five.
As stated by Lawrence Haddad, the co-chair of the Global Nutrition Report independent Expert Group, “We now live in a world where being malnourished is the new normal. It is a world we must all claim as totally unacceptable.” While malnutrition is the leading driver of disease with nearly 50% of deaths caused by nutrition related non-communicable diseases in 2014, only $50 million of donor funding was given.
Malnutrition in all its forms imposes unacceptably high costs – direct and indirect – on individuals, families and nations. The estimated impact on the global economy of the chronic undernourishment of 800 million people could be as high as $3,5 trillion per year, as was stated in a Global Nutrition Report in 2018. While child deaths, premature adult mortality and malnutrition-related infectious and non-communicable diseases are preventable with the right nutrition.
This will be much more at this precious moment, as the population sharply increases in excess mortality and non-communicable diseases among the working age people as recently shown by insurance companies.
Famines cause transgenerational effects
Famine is a widespread condition in which a large percentage of people in a country or region have little or no access to adequate food supplies. Europe and other developed parts of the world have mostly eliminated famine, though widespread famines that killed thousands and millions of people are known from history, like the Dutch Potato famine from 1846-1847, The Dutch Hunger winter 1944-1945 and a Chinese famine of 1959-1961.
The latter was the most severe famine both in terms of duration and number of people affected (600 million and around 30 million deaths) and led to a widespread undernutrition of the Chinese population in the period from 1959-1961. Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa and Yemen are countries with recognized famine.
Unfortunately, global destabilization, starvation and mass migration are increasing fast with more famines to be expected if we do not act today.
Epidemiological studies of Barker and later of Hales showed a relation between the availability of nutrition in various stages of pregnancy and the first years of life and diseases later in life. Their studies demonstrated that people with metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases were often small at birth. More and more research proves the role of nutrition-related mechanisms influencing gene expression. Even the period prior to pregnancy might influence a later risk for insulin resistance or other complications of the fetus.
As demonstrated in a study with 3,000 participants in Northern China, prenatal exposure to famine significantly increased hyperglycemia in adulthood in two consecutive generations. Severity of famine during prenatal development is related to the risk for Type 2 diabetes. These findings are consistent with animal models that have shown the impact of prenatal nutritional status on neuro-endocrine changes that affect metabolism and can be programmed to transmit physiologically across multiple generations through both male and female generations. Early life Health shock conditions can cause epigenetic changes in humans that persist throughout life, affect old age mortality and have multigenerational effects. Depending on which trimester the fetus is exposed to food deprivation or even stress alone a related disease later in life may vary from schizophrenia, ADHD to renal failure and hypertension among others. Other studies of famine exposure in people have produced evidence of changes in the endocrine system and to prenatal gene expression in reproductive systems.
The effects of periods of famine or undernutrition have predominantly been seen in people with low social economic income. However, 1 in 3 persons in the world suffered from some form of malnutrition in 2016. Women and children are 70% of the hungry. There is no doubt that undernutrition increased further during the past six years. Stunting and wasting increased in the most vulnerable. Two out of three children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop to their full potential.
The hungry people in countries like Sri Lanka, Haiti, Armenia ,and Panama are the tip of the iceberg, opening the eyes of many citizens worldwide to a fast-growing problem as a result of the lockdowns, mandates and coercive policies in climate change, drought and the Ukraine war.
Citizens of the world have been facing for years: excess mortality, a fast decline in infertility and childbirth with a threat to human rights for women and more diseases.
Shocking reports of the UN and WHO acknowledged the health of people and environment is declining. The world is moving backwards on eliminating hunger and malnutrition. The real danger is that these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead.
The truth is that food innovation hubs, food flats (vertical farming), artificial meats and gene and mind manipulations will not be able to tackle the depressing state humanity is facing.
Zero-Covid policy has brought humanity at risk in its existence. Covid-19 vaccines with a risk for harmhave been rolled out even for children under five years, hardly at risk for a severe disease, but undernourishment that greatly increases susceptibility to major human infectious diseases has not been taken care of.
Conflicts are growing worldwide, increasing instability. Citizens will no longer accept policies without a clear harm-cost benefit analysis.
We need to act now to decrease food and fuel prices immediately by supporting farmers and effective food systems for nutritious food to heal the most malnourished (children and females at childbearing age) in the population.
Let us hope for a return of Hippocrates’ principle: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
The Atacama salt flat in northern Chile, which stretches 1,200 square miles, is the largest source of lithium in the world. We are standing on a bluff, looking over la gran fosa, the great pit that sits at the southern end of the flat, which is shielded from public view. It is where the major Chilean corporations have set up shop to extract lithium and export it—largely unprocessed—into the global market. “Do you know whose son-in-law is the lithium king of Chile?” asks Loreto, who took us to the salt flat to view these white sands from a vantage point. His response is not so shocking; it is Julio Ponce Lerou, who is the largest stakeholder in the lithium mining company Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) and the former son-in-law of the late military dictator Augusto Pinochet (who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990).
SQM and Albemarle, the two major Chilean mining companies, dominate the Atacama salt flat. It is impossible to get a permit to visit the southern end of the flats, where the large corporations have set up their operations. The companies extract the lithium by pumping brine from beneath the salt flat and then letting it evaporate for months before carrying out the extraction. “SQM steals our water to extract lithium,” said the former president of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Atacameño, Ana Ramos, in 2018, according to Deutsche Welle. The concentrate left behind after evaporation is turned into lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, which are then exported, and form key raw materials used in the production of lithium-ion batteries. About a third of the world’s lithium comes from Chile. According to Goldman Sachs, “lithium is the new gasoline.”
What Necessity Does
Ownership over the salt flat is contested among the state, Chile’s Indigenous communities, and private entities. But, as one member of the Lickanantay community—the Indigenous people who call the Atacama salt flat their home—told us, most of the owners of the land do not live in the area any longer. Juan, who raises horses and whose family were herders, tells us that people “live off the rents from the land. They do not care what happens to the area.” However, Juan knows that these rents are minuscule. “What they pay us as they mine our land is practically a tip,” he says. “It is nothing compared to what they earn. But it is still a lot of money.” For most Lickanantay people, Juan says, “lithium is not an issue because although it is known to damage the environment, it is providing [us with] money.” “Necessity drives people to do a lot of things,” he adds.
The negative environmental impacts of mining lithium have been widely studied by scientists and observed by tourist guides in Chile. Angelo, a guide, tells us that he worries about the water supplies getting polluted due to mining activities and the impact it has on the Atacama Desert animals, including the pink flamingos. “Every once in a while, we see a dead pink flamingo,” he says. Cristina Inés Dorador, who participated in writing Chile’s new proposed constitution, is a scientist with a PhD in natural sciences who has published about the decline of the pink flamingo population in the salt flat. However, Dorador has also said that new technologies could be used to prevent the widespread negative environmental impact. Ingrid Garcés Millas, who has a PhD in earth sciences from the University of Zaragoza and is a researcher at the University of Antofagasta, pointed out that the currently used of lithium extraction has led to the deterioration of the “ways of life of [the] Andean peoples” in an article for Le Monde Diplomatique. An example she provided was that while the underground water supply is used by the lithium industry, the “communities are supplied [with water] by cistern trucks.”
According to a report by MiningWatch Canada and the Environmental Justice Atlas, “to produce one ton of lithium in the salt flats in Atacama (Chile), 2,000 tons of water are evaporated, causing significant harm to both the availability of water and the quality of underground fresh water reserves.”
Meanwhile, there is no pressing debate in the Atacama region over the extraction of lithium. Most people seem to have accepted that lithium mining is here to stay. Among the activists, there are disagreements over how to approach the question of lithium. More radical activists believe that lithium should not be extracted, while others debate about who should benefit from the wealth generated by the mining of lithium. Still others, such as Angelo and Loreto, believe that Chile’s willingness to export the unprocessed lithium denies the country the possibility of exploring the benefits that might come from processing the metal within the country.
Before the presidential election in Chile in November 2021, we went to see Giorgio Jackson, now one of the closest advisers to Chile’s President Gabriel Boric. He told us then that Chile’s new government would look at the possibility of the nationalization of key resources, such as copper and lithium. This no longer seems to be on the government’s agenda, despite the expectation that the high prices for copper and lithium would pay for the much-needed pension reforms and the modernization of the country’s infrastructure.
The idea of nationalization was floated around the constitutional convention but did not find its way into the text of the proposed constitution, which will be put to vote on September 4. Instead, the proposed constitution builds on Article 19 of the 1980 constitution, which provides for “the right to live in an environment free from contamination.” The new constitution is expected to lay out the natural commons under which the state “has a special duty of custody, in order to ensure the rights of nature and the interest of present and future generations.”
In the waning days of the government of former President Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s Mining Ministry awarded two companies—BYD Chile SpA and Servicios y Operaciones Mineras del Norte S.A.—extraction rights for 80,000 tons of lithium each for 20 years. An appeals court in Copiapó heard a petition from the governor of Copiapó, Miguel Vargas, and from various Indigenous communities. In January 2022, the court suspended the deal; that suspension was upheld in June by the Supreme Court. This does not imply that Chile will roll back the exploitation of lithium by the major corporations, but it does suggest that a new appetite is developing against the widespread exploitation of natural resources in the country.
Until 2016, Chile produced 37 percent of the global market share of lithium, making the country the world’s largest producer of the metal. When Chile’s government increased royalty rates on the miners, several of them curtailed production and some increased their stake in Argentina (SQM, for instance, entered a joint venture with Lithium Americas Corporation to work on a project in Argentina). Chile is behind Australia in terms of lithium production in the world market presently, falling from 37 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2019 (with an expectation that Chile’s share will fall further to 17 percent by 2030).
Juan’s observation that “necessity drives people to do a lot of things” captures the mood among the Atacameños. The needs of the people of the region seem to only come after the needs of the large corporations. Relatives of the old dictators accumulate wealth off of the land, while the owners of the land—out of necessity—sell their land for a propina, a tip.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Paper presented on July 11, 2022 to The Ninth South-South Forum on Sustainability.
The greatest challenge facing societies has always been how to conduct trade and credit without letting merchants and creditors make money by exploiting their customers and debtors. All antiquity recognized that the drive to acquire money is addictive and indeed tends to be exploitative and hence socially injurious. The moral values of most societies opposed selfishness, above all in the form of avarice and wealth addiction, which the Greeks called philarguria – love of money, silver-mania. Individuals and families indulging in conspicuous consumption tended to be ostracized, because it was recognized that wealth often was obtained at the expense of others, especially the weak.
The Greek concept of hubris involved egotistic behavior causing injury to others. Avarice and greed were to be punished by the justice goddess Nemesis, who had many Near Eastern antecedents, such as Nanshe of Lagash in Sumer, protecting the weak against the powerful, the debtor against the creditor.
That protection is what rulers were expected to provide in serving the gods. That is why rulers were imbued with enough power to protect the population from being reduced to debt dependency and clientage. Chieftains, kings and temples were in charge of allocating credit and crop-land to enable smallholders to serve in the army and provide corvée labor. Rulers who behaved selfishly were liable to be unseated, or their subjects might run away, or support rebel leaders or foreign attackers promising to cancel debts and redistribute land more equitably.
The most basic function of Near Eastern kingship was to proclaim “economic order,” misharum and andurarum clean slate debt cancellations, echoed in Judaism’s Jubilee Year. There was no “democracy” in the sense of citizens electing their leaders and administrators, but “divine kingship” was obliged to achieve the implicit economic aim of democracy: “protecting the weak from the powerful.”
Royal power was backed by temples and ethical or religious systems. The major religions that emerged in the mid-first millennium BC, those of Buddha, Lao-Tzu and Zoroaster, held that personal drives should be subordinate to the promotion of overall welfare and mutual aid.
What did not seem likely 2500 years ago was that a warlord aristocracy would conquer the Western world. In creating what became the Roman Empire, an oligarchy took control of the land and, in due course, the political system. It abolished royal or civic authority, shifted the fiscal burden onto the lower classes, and ran the population and industry into debt.
This was done on a purely opportunistic basis. There was no attempt to defend this ideologically. There was no hint of an archaic Milton Friedman emerging to popularize a radical new moral order celebrating avarice by claiming that greed is what drives economies forward, not backward, convincing society to leave the distribution of land and money to “the market” controlled by private corporations and money-lenders instead of communalistic regulation by palace rulers and temples – or by extension, today’s socialism. Palaces, temples and civic governments were creditors. They were not forced to borrow to function, and so were not subjected to the policy demands of a private creditor class.
But running the population, industry and even governments into debt to an oligarchic elite is precisely what has occurred in the West, which is now trying to impose the modern variant of this debt-based economic regime – U.S.-centered neoliberal finance capitalism – on the entire world. That is what today’s New Cold War is all about.
By the traditional morality of early societies, the West – starting in classical Greece and Italy around the 8th century BC – was barbarian. The West was indeed on the periphery of the ancient world when Syrian and Phoenician traders brought the idea of interest-bearing debt from the Near East to societies that had no royal tradition of periodic debt cancellations. The absence of a strong palace power and temple administration enabled creditor oligarchies to emerge throughout the Mediterranean world.
Greece ended up being conquered first by oligarchic Sparta, then by Macedonia and finally by Rome. It is the latter’s avaricious pro-creditor legal system that has shaped subsequent Western civilization. Today, a financialized system of oligarchic control whose roots lead back to Rome is being supported and indeed imposed by U.S. New Cold War diplomacy, military force and economic sanctions on countries seeking to resist it.
Classical antiquity’s oligarchic takeover
In order to understand how Western Civilization developed in a way that contained the fatal seeds of its own economic polarization, decline and fall, it is necessary to recognize that when classical Greece and Rome appear in the historical record a Dark Age had disrupted economic life from the Near East to the eastern Mediterranean from 1200 to about 750 BC. Climate change apparently caused severe depopulation, ending Greece’s Linear B palace economies, and life reverted to the local level during this period.
Some families created mafia-like autocracies by monopolizing the land and tying labor to it by various forms of coercive clientage and debt. Above all was the problem of interest-bearing debt that the Near Eastern traders had brought to the Aegean and Mediterranean lands – without the corresponding check of royal debt cancellations.
Out of this situation Greek reformer-“tyrants” arose in the 7th and 6th centuries BC from Sparta to Corinth, Athens and Greek islands. The Cypselid dynasty in Corinth and similar new leaders in other cities are reported to have cancelled the debts that held clients in bondage on the land, redistributed this land to the citizenry, and undertaken public infrastructure spending to build up commerce, opening the way for civic development and the rudiments of democracy. Sparta enacted austere “Lycurgan” reforms against conspicuous consumption and luxury. The poetry of Archilochus on the island of Paros and Solon of Athens denounced the drive for personal wealth as addictive, leading to hubris injuring others – to be punished by the justice goddess Nemesis. The spirit was similar to Babylonian, Judaic and other moral religions.
Rome had a legendary seven kings (753-509 BC), who are said to have attracted immigrants and prevented an oligarchy from exploiting them. But wealthy families overthrew the last king. There was no religious leader to check their power, as the leading aristocratic families controlled the priesthood. There were no leaders who combined domestic economic reform with a religious school, and there was no Western tradition of debt cancellations such as Jesus would advocate in trying to restore the Jubilee Year to Judaic practice. There were many Stoic philosophers, and religious amphictyonic sites such as Delphi and Delos expressed a religion of personal morality to avoid hubris.
Rome’s aristocrats created an anti-democratic constitution and Senate, and laws that made debt bondage – and the consequent loss of land – irreversible. Although the “politically correct” ethic was to avoid engaging in commerce and moneylending, this ethic did not prevent an oligarchy from emerging to take over the land and reduce much of the population to bondage. By the 2nd century BC Rome conquered the entire Mediterranean region and Asia Minor, and the largest corporations were the publican tax collectors, who are reported to have looted Rome’s provinces.
There always have been ways for the wealthy to act sanctimoniously in harmony with altruistic ethics eschewing commercial greed while enriching themselves. Western antiquity’s wealthy were able to come to terms with such ethics by avoiding direct lending and trading themselves, assigning this “dirty work” to their slaves or freemen, and by spending the revenue from such activities on conspicuous philanthropy (which became an expected show in Rome’s election campaigns). And after Christianity became the Roman religion in the 4th century AD, money was able to buy absolution by suitably generous donations to the Church.
Rome’s legacy and the West’s financial imperialism
What distinguishes Western economies from earlier Near Eastern and most Asian societies is the absence of debt relief to restore economy-wide balance. Every Western nation has inherited from Rome the pro-creditor sanctity of debt principles that prioritize the claims of creditors and legitimize the permanent transfer to creditors of the property of defaulting debtors. From ancient Rome to Habsburg Spain, imperial Britain and the United States, Western oligarchies have appropriated the income and land of debtors, while shifting taxes off themselves onto labor and industry. This has caused domestic austerity and led oligarchies to seek prosperity through foreign conquest, to gain from foreigners what is not being produced by domestic economies driven into debt and subject to pro-creditor legal principles transferring land and other property to a rentier class.
Spain in the 16th century looted vast shiploads of silver and gold from the New World, but this wealth flowed through its hands, dissipated on war instead of being invested in domestic industry. Left with a steeply unequal and polarized economy deeply in debt, the Habsburgs lost their former possession, the Dutch Republic, which thrived as the less oligarchic society and one deriving more power as a creditor than as a debtor.
Britain followed a similar rise and fall. World War I left it with heavy arms debts owed to its own former colony, the United States. Imposing anti-labor austerity at home in seeking to pay these debts, Britain’s sterling area subsequently became a satellite of the U.S. dollar under the terms of American Lend-Lease in World War II and the 1946 British Loan. The neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair sharply increased the cost of living by privatizing and monopolizing public housing and infrastructure, wiping out Britain’s former industrial competitiveness by raising the cost of living and hence wage levels.
The United States has followed a similar trajectory of imperial overreaching at the cost of its domestic economy. Its overseas military spending from 1950 onwards forced the dollar off gold in 1971. That shift had the unanticipated benefit of ushering in a “dollar standard” that has enabled the U.S. economy and its military diplomacy to get a free ride from the rest of the world, by running up dollar debt to other nation’s central banks without any practical constraint.
The financial colonization of the post-Soviet Union in the 1990s by the “shock therapy” of privatization giveaways, followed by China’s admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001 – with the expectation that China would, like Yeltsin’s Russia, become a U.S. financial colony – led America’s economy to deindustrialize by shifting employment to Asia. Trying to force submission to U.S. control by inaugurating today’s New Cold War has led Russia, China and other countries to break away from the dollarized trade and investment system, leaving the United States and NATO Europe to suffer austerity and deepening wealth inequality as debt ratios are soaring for individuals, corporations and government bodies.
It was only a decade ago that Senator John McCain and President Barack Obama characterized Russia as merely a gas station with atom bombs. That could now just as well be said of the United States, basing its world economic power on control of the West’s oil trade, while its main export surpluses are agricultural crops and arms. The combination of financial debt leveraging and privatization has made America a high-cost economy, losing its former industrial leadership, much like Britain did. The United States is now attempting to live mainly off financial gains (interest, profits on foreign investment and central bank credit creation to inflate capital gains) instead of creating wealth through its own labor and industry. Its Western allies seek to do the same. They euphemize this U.S.-dominated system as “globalization,” but it is simply a financial form of colonialism – backed with the usual military threat of force and covert “regime change” to prevent countries from withdrawing from the system.
This U.S. and NATO-based imperial system seeks to indebt weaker countries and force them to turn control over their policies to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Obeying the neoliberal anti-labor “advice” of these institutions leads to a debt crisis that forces the debtor country’s foreign-exchange rate to depreciate. The IMF then “rescues” them from insolvency on the “conditionality” that they sell off the public domain and shift taxes off the wealthy (especially foreign investors) onto labor.
Oligarchy and debt are the defining characteristics of Western economies. America’s foreign military spending and nearly constant wars have left its own Treasury deeply indebted to foreign governments and their central banks. The United States is thus following the same path by which Spain’s imperialism left the Habsburg dynasty in debt to European bankers, and Britain’s participation in two world wars in hope of maintaining its dominant world position left it in debt and ended its former industrial advantage. America’s rising foreign debt has been sustained by its “key currency” privilege of issuing its own dollar-debt under the “dollar standard” without other countries having any reasonable expectation of ever being paid – except in yet more “paper dollars.”
This monetary affluence has enabled Wall Street’s managerial elite to increase America’s rentier overhead by financialization and privatization, increasing the cost of living and doing business, much as occurred in Britain under the neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Industrial companies have responded by shifting their factories to low-wage economies to maximize profits. But as America deindustrializes with rising import dependency on Asia, U.S. diplomacy is pursuing a New Cold War that is driving the world’s most productive economies to decouple from the U.S. economic orbit.
Rising debt destroys economies when it is not being used to finance new capital investment in means of production. Most Western credit today is created to inflate stock, bond and real estate prices, not to restore industrial ability. As a result of this debt-without-production approach, the U.S. domestic economy has been overwhelmed by debt owed to its own financial oligarchy. Despite America’s economy’s free lunch in the form of the continued run-up of its official debt to foreign central banks – with no visible prospect of either its international or domestic debt being paid – its debt continues to expand and the economy has become even more debt-leveraged. America has polarized with extreme wealth concentrated at the top while most of the economy is driven deeply into debt.
The failure of oligarchic democracies to protect the indebted population at large
What has made the Western economies oligarchic is their failure to protect the citizenry from being driven into dependency on a creditor property-owning class. These economies have retained Rome’s creditor-based laws of debt, most notably the priority of creditor claims over the property of debtors. The creditor One Percent has become a politically powerful oligarchy despite nominal democratic political reforms expanding voting rights. Government regulatory agencies have been captured and taxing power has been made regressive, leaving economic control and planning in the hands of a rentier elite.
Rome never was a democracy. And in any case, Aristotle recognized democracies as evolving more or less naturally into oligarchies – which claim to be democratic for public-relations purposes while pretending that their increasingly top-heavy concentration of wealth is all for the best. Today’s trickle-down rhetoric depicts banks and financial managers as steering savings in the most efficient way to produce prosperity for the entire economy, not just for themselves.
President Biden and his State Department neoliberals accuse China and any other country seeking to maintain its economic independence and self-reliance of being “autocratic.” Their rhetorical sleight of hand juxtaposes democracy to autocracy. What they call “autocracy” is a government strong enough to prevent a Western-oriented financial oligarchy from indebting the population to itself – and then prying away its land and other property into its own hands and those of its American and other foreign backers.
The Orwellian Doublethink of calling oligarchies “democracies” is followed by defining a free market as one that is free for financial rent-seeking. U.S.-backed diplomacy has indebted countries, forcing them to sell control of their public infrastructure and turn their economy’s “commanding heights” into opportunities to extract monopoly rent.
This autocracy vs. democracy rhetoric is similar to the rhetoric that Greek and Roman oligarchies used when they accused democratic reformers of seeking “tyranny” (in Greece) or “kingship” (in Rome). It was the Greek “tyrants” who overthrow mafia-like autocracies in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, paving the way for the economic and proto-democratic takeoffs of Sparta, Corinth and Athens. And it was Rome’s kings who built up their city-state by offering self-support land tenure for citizens. That policy attracted immigrants from neighboring Italian city-states whose populations were being forced into debt bondage.
The problem is that Western democracies have not proved adept at preventing oligarchies from emerging and polarizing the distribution of income and wealth. Ever since Rome, oligarchic “democracies” have not protected their citizens from creditors seeking to appropriate land, its rental yield and the public domain for themselves.
If we ask just who today is enacting and enforcing policies that seek to check oligarchy in order to protect the livelihood of citizens, the answer is that this is done by socialist states. Only a strong state has the power to check a financial and rent-seeking oligarchy. The Chinese embassy in America demonstrated this in its reply to President Biden’s description of China as an autocracy:
Clinging to a Cold War mentality and the hegemon’s logic, the US pursues bloc politics, concocts the “democracy versus authoritarianism” narrative … and ramps up bilateral military alliances, in a clear attempt at countering China.
Guided by a people-centered philosophy, since the day when it was founded … the Party has been working tirelessly for the interest of the people, and has dedicated itself to realizing people’s aspirations for a better life. China has been advancing whole-process people’s democracy, promoting legal safeguard for human rights, and upholding social equity and justice. The Chinese people now enjoy fuller and more extensive and comprehensive democratic rights.
Nearly all early non-Western societies had protections against the emergence of mercantile and rentier oligarchies. That is why it is so important to recognize that what has become Western civilization represents a break from the Near East, South and East Asia. Each of these regions had its own system of public administration to save its social balance from commercial and monetary wealth that threatened to destroy economic balance if left unchecked. But the West’s economic character was shaped by rentier oligarchies. Rome’s Republic enriched its oligarchy by stripping the wealth of the regions it conquered, leaving them impoverished. That remains the extractive strategy of subsequent European colonialism and, most recently, U.S.-centered neoliberal globalization. The aim always has been to “free” oligarchies from constraints on their self-seeking.
The great question is, “freedom” and “liberty” for whom? Classical political economy defined a free market as one free from unearned income, headed by land rent and other natural-resource rent, monopoly rent, financial interest and related creditor privileges. But by the end of the 19th century the rentier oligarchy sponsored a fiscal and ideological counter-revolution, re-defining a free market as one free for rentiers to extract economic rent – unearned income.
This rejection of the classical critique of rentier income has been accompanied by re-defining “democracy” to require having a “free market” of the anti-classical oligarchic rentier variety. Instead of the government being the economic regulator in the public interest, public regulation of credit and monopolies is dismantled. That lets companies charge whatever they want for the credit they supply and the products they sell. Privatizing the privilege of creating credit-money lets the financial sector take over the role of allocating property ownership.
The result has been to centralize economic planning in Wall Street, the City of London, the Paris Bourse and other imperial financial centers. That is what today’s New Cold War is all about: protecting this system of U.S.-centered neoliberal financial capitalism, by wrecking or isolating the alternative systems of China, Russia and their allies, while seeking to further financialize the former colonialist system sponsoring creditor power instead of protecting debtors, imposing debt-ridden austerity instead of growth, and making the loss of property through foreclosure or forced sale irreversible.
Is Western civilization a long detour from where antiquity seemed to be headed?
What is so important in Rome’s economic polarization and collapse that resulted from the dynamics of interest-bearing debt in the rapacious hands of its creditor class is how radically its oligarchic pro-creditor legal system differed from the laws of earlier societies that checked creditors and the proliferation of debt. The rise of a creditor oligarchy that used its wealth to monopolize the land and take over the government and courts (not hesitating to use force and targeted political assassination against would-be reformers) had been prevented for thousands of years throughout the Near East and other Asian lands. But the Aegean and Mediterranean periphery lacked the economic checks and balances that had provided resilience elsewhere in the Near East. What has distinguished the West from the outset has been its lack of a government strong enough to check the emergence and dominance of a creditor oligarchy.
All ancient economies operated on credit, running up crop debts during the agricultural year. Warfare, droughts or floods, disease and other disruptions often prevented the accrual of debts from being paid. But Near Eastern rulers cancelled debts under these conditions. That saved their citizen-soldiers and corvée-workers from losing their self-support land to creditors, who were recognized as being a potential rival power to the palace. By the mid-first millennium BC debt bondage had shrunk to only a marginal phenomenon in Babylonia, Persia and other Near Eastern realms. But Greece and Rome were in the midst of a half-millennium of popular revolts demanding debt cancellation and liberty from debt bondage and loss of self-support land.
It was only Roman kings and Greek tyrants who, for a while, were able to protect their subjects from debt bondage. But they ultimately lost to warlord creditor oligarchies. The lesson of history is thus that a strong government regulatory power is required to prevent oligarchies from emerging and using creditor claims and land grabbing to turn the citizenry into debtors, renters, clients and ultimately serfs.
The rise of creditor control over modern governments
Palaces and temples throughout the ancient world were creditors. Only in the West did a private creditor class emerge. A millennium after the fall of Rome, a new banking class obliged medieval kingdoms to run into debt. International banking families used their creditor power to gain control of public monopolies and natural resources, much as creditors had gained control of individual land in classical antiquity.
World War I saw the Western economies reach an unprecedented crisis as a result of Inter-Ally debts and German reparations. Trade broke down and the Western economies fell into depression. What pulled them out was World War II, and this time no reparations were imposed after the war ended. In place of war debts, England simply was obliged to open up its Sterling Area to U.S. exporters and refrain from reviving its industrial markets by devaluing sterling, under the terms of Lend-Lease and the 1946 British Loan as noted above.
The West emerged from World War II relatively free of private debt – and thoroughly under U.S. dominance. But since 1945 the volume of debt has expanded exponentially, reaching crisis proportions in 2008 as the junk-mortgage bubble, massive bank fraud and financial debt pyramiding exploded, overburdening the U.S. as well as the European and Global South economies.
The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank monetized $8 trillion to save the financial elite’s holdings of stocks, bonds and packaged real estate mortgages instead of rescuing the victims of junk mortgages and over-indebted foreign countries. The European Central Bank did much the same thing to save the wealthiest Europeans from losing the market value of their financial wealth.
But it was too late to save the U.S. and European economies. The long post-1945 debt buildup has run its course. The U.S. economy has been deindustrialized, its infrastructure is collapsing and its population is so deeply indebted that little disposable income is left to support living standards. Much as occurred with Rome’s Empire, the American response is to try to maintain the prosperity of its own financial elite by exploiting foreign countries. That is aim of today’s New Cold War diplomacy. It involves extracting economic tribute by pushing foreign economies further into dollarized debt, to be paid by imposing depression and austerity on themselves.
This subjugation is depicted by mainstream economists as a law of nature and hence as an inevitable form of equilibrium, in which each nation’s economy receives “what it is worth.” Today’s mainstream economic models are based on the unrealistic assumption that all debts can be paid, without polarizing income and wealth. All economic problems are assumed to be self-curing by “the magic of the marketplace,” without any need for civic authority to intervene. Government regulation is deemed inefficient and ineffective, and hence unnecessary. That leaves creditors, land-grabbers and privatizers with a free hand to deprive others of their freedom. This is depicted as the ultimate destiny of today’s globalization, and of history itself.
The end of history? Or just of the West’s financialization and privatization?
The neoliberal pretense is that privatizing the public domain and letting the financial sector take over economic and social planning in targeted countries will bring mutually beneficial prosperity. That is supposed to make foreign submission to the U.S.-centered world order voluntary. But the actual effect of neoliberal policy has been to polarize Global South economies and subject them to debt-ridden austerity.
American neoliberalism claims that America’s privatization, financialization and shift of economic planning from government to Wall Street and other financial centers is the result of a Darwinian victory achieving such perfection that it is “the end of history.” It is as if the rest of the world has no alternative but to accept U.S. control of the global (that is, neo-colonial) financial system, trade and social organization. And just to make sure, U.S. diplomacy seeks to back its financial and diplomatic control by military force.
The irony is that U.S. diplomacy itself has helped accelerate an international response to neoliberalism by forcing together governments strong enough to pick up the long trend of history that sees governments empowered to prevent corrosive oligarchic dynamics from derailing the progress of civilization.
The 21st century began with American neoliberals imagining that their debt-leveraged financialization and privatization would cap the long upsweep of human history as the legacy of classical Greece and Rome. The neoliberal view of ancient history echoes that of antiquity’s oligarchies, denigrating Rome’s kings and Greece’s reformer-tyrants as threatening too strong a public intervention when they aimed at keeping citizens free of debt bondage and securing self-support land tenure. What is viewed as the decisive takeoff point is the oligarchy’s “security of contracts” giving creditors the right to expropriate debtors. This indeed has remained a defining characteristic of Western legal systems for the past two thousand years.
A real end of history would mean that reform stops in every country. That dream seemed close when U.S. neoliberals were given a free hand to reshape Russia and other post-Soviet states after the Soviet Union dissolved itself in 1991, starting with shock therapy privatizing natural resources and other public assets in the hands of Western-oriented kleptocrats registering public wealth in their own names – and cashing out by selling their takings to U.S. and other Western investors.
The end of the Soviet Union’s history was supposed to consolidate America’s End of History by showing how futile it would be for nations to try to create an alternative economic order based on public control of money and banking, public health, free education and other subsidies of basic needs, free from debt financing. China’s admission into the World Trade Organization in 2001 was viewed as confirming Margaret Thatcher’s claim that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to the new neoliberal order sponsored by U.S. diplomacy.
There is an economic alternative, of course. Looking over the sweep of ancient history, we can see that the main objective of ancient rulers from Babylonia to South Asia and East Asia was to prevent a mercantile and creditor oligarchy from reducing the population at large to clientage, debt bondage and serfdom. If the non-U.S. Eurasian world now follows this basic aim, it would be restoring the flow of history to its pre-Western course. That would not be the end of history, but it would return to the non-Western world’s basic ideals of economic balance, justice and equity.
Today, China, India, Iran and other Eurasian economies have taken the first step as a precondition for a multipolar world, by rejecting America’s insistence that they join the U.S. trade and financial sanctions against Russia. These countries realize that if the United States could destroy Russia’s economy and replace its government with U.S.-oriented Yeltsin-like proxies, the remaining countries of Eurasia would be next in line.
The only possible way for history really to end would be for the American military to destroy every nation seeking an alternative to neoliberal privatization and financialization. U.S. diplomacy insists that history must not take any path that would not culminate in its own financial empire ruling through client oligarchies. American diplomats hope that their military threats and support of proxy armies will force other countries to submit to neoliberal demands – to avoid being bombed, or suffering “color revolutions,” political assassinations and army takeovers, Pinochet-style. But the only real way to bring history to an end is by atomic war to end human life on this planet.
The New Cold War is dividing the world into two contrasting economic systems
NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine against Russia is the catalyst fracturing the world into two opposing spheres with incompatible economic philosophies. China, the country growing most rapidly, treats money and credit as a public utility allocated by government instead of letting the monopoly privilege of credit creation be privatized by banks, leading to them displacing government as economic and social planner. That monetary independence, relying on its own domestic money creation instead of borrowing U.S. electronic dollars, and denominating foreign trade and investment in its own currency instead of in dollars, is seen as an existential threat to America’s control of the global economy.
U.S. neoliberal doctrine calls for history to end by “freeing” the wealthy classes from a government strong enough to prevent the polarization of wealth, and ultimate decline and fall. Imposing trade and financial sanctions against Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other countries that resist U.S. diplomacy, and ultimately military confrontation, is how America intends to “spread democracy” by NATO from Ukraine to the China Seas.
The West, in its U.S. neoliberal iteration, seems to be repeating the pattern of Rome’s decline and fall. Concentrating wealth in the hands of the One Percent has always been the trajectory of Western civilization. It is a result of classical antiquity having taken a wrong track when Greece and Rome allowed the inexorable growth of debt, leading to the expropriation of much of the citizenry and reducing it to bondage to a land-owning creditor oligarchy. That is the dynamic built into the DNA of what is called the West and its “security of contracts” without any government oversight in the public interest. By stripping away prosperity at home, this dynamic requires a constant reaching out to extract an economic affluence (literally a “flowing in”) at the expense of colonies or debtor countries.
The United States through its New Cold War is aiming at securing precisely such economic tribute from other countries. The coming conflict may last for perhaps twenty years and will determine what kind of political and economic system the world will have. At issue is more than just U.S. hegemony and its dollarized control of international finance and money creation. Politically at issue is the idea of “democracy” that has become a euphemism for an aggressive financial oligarchy seeking to impose itself globally by predatory financial, economic and political control backed by military force.
As I have sought to emphasize, oligarchic control of government has been a major distinguishing feature of Western civilization ever since classical antiquity. And the key to this control has been opposition to strong government – that is, civil government strong enough to prevent a creditor oligarchy from emerging and monopolizing control of land and wealth, making itself into a hereditary aristocracy, a rentier class living off land rents, interest and monopoly privileges that reduce the population at large to austerity.
The unipolar U.S.-centered order hoping to “end history” reflected a basic economic and political dynamic that has been a characteristic of Western civilization ever since classical Greece and Rome set off along a different track from the Near Eastern matrix in the first millennium BC.
To save themselves from being swept into the whirlpool of economic destruction now engulfing the West, countries in the world’s rapidly growing Eurasian core are developing new economic institutions based on an alternative social and economic philosophy. With China being the largest and fastest growing economy in the region, its socialist policies are likely to be influential in shaping this emerging non-Western financial and trading system.
Instead of the West’s privatization of basic economic infrastructure to create private fortunes through monopoly rent extraction, China keeps this infrastructure in public hands. Its great advantage over the West is that it treats money and credit as a public utility, to be allocated by government instead of letting private banks create credit, with debt mounting up without expanding production to raise living standards. China also is keeping health and education, transportation and communications in public hands, to be provided as basic human rights.
China’s socialist policy is in many ways a return to basic ideas of resilience that characterized most civilization before classical Greece and Rome. It has created a state strong enough to resist the emergence of a financial oligarchy gaining control of the land and rent-yielding assets. In contrast, today’s Western economies are repeating precisely that oligarchic drive that polarized and destroyed the economies of classical Greece and Rome, with the United States serving as the modern analogue for Rome.