Trump And The World
Alvaro Garcia Linera*
January 14, 2017
LA PAZ — The mad rush toward a world without borders and relentless squeezing of the nation-state in the name of liberating commerce is coming to an end. Before the gasps of the globalized elite, the near-religious conviction that all societies were bound to coalesce into a single economic, financial and cultural whole has collapsed.
Britain's decision to abandon the European Union, the most important state unification project of the past 100 years, coupled with Donald Trump's electoral victory that rode on vows to boost protectionism, build a monumental wall to stem migration, and ditch trade pacts have annihilated the biggest and most successful liberal dreams of our time. And when you think the protagonists of this historic reversal are the two principle countries that 35 years ago trumpeted the advent of global trade as humanity's salvation, we inevitably find ourselves in a world bereft of a dream that impelled it for a century.
Globalization, as an overarching discourse or ideological horizon able to move collective hopes toward a single destiny and vision of material welfare has shattered into a thousand pieces. And there is no "global" alternative for now as far as collective hopes are concerned. What we have is a fearful retreat behind borders and a return to political tribalism in what is now a "no-man's world."
Geopolitical measures of capitalism
Karl Marx was the first to examine capitalism's geographical dimensions. His 1847 debate with the economist Friedrich List on "national capitalism" and reflections on the impact of the discovery of California gold mines on trans-Pacific trading with Asia made him both a pioneering and a most eager student of globalizing processes under capitalism. His contribution is not in understanding the nature of the globalized commerce that began with the European invasion of America, but the inherently expansionist nature of capitalist production.
The various types of the formal and effective subjugation of work to capital, which Marx reveals as intrinsic to the extreme dynamism of capitalist production, entail an increasing subjection of the workforce, social intellect and land management to the logic of wealth accumulation. While its first 350 years of its life where confined within state boundaries, capitalism was bound to spread and acquire continental dimensions over the past 150 years before becoming its more recent global expansion.
Following the systemic-cycles models proposed by Italian sociologist Giovanni Arrighi, each cyclical phase of capitalist accumulation has been pushed by a hegemonic state: Genoa in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Netherlands in the 18th century, then Britain (19th century) and the United States (20th century). Each hegemon acted as a catalyst to globalization (firstly commercial, then productive, technological, cognitive and finally environmental) and to the territorial expansion of capitalist relations. Yet a distinctly recent development in this globalizing process is its construction as an ideological project or bid to unify the political beliefs and moral expectations of men and women worldwide.
End of history?
As an ideological proposition, globalization is just 35 years old. It began when U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proceeded to liquidate certain components of economic relations in place since the 1929 crash: the welfare state, public firms (privatized), trade unionism (nullified) and protected domestic markets (replaced with the free market).
Reagan and Thatcher in 1988 — Photo: Ronald Reagan Library
This was for sure the restoration and amplification of the economic liberalism of the 19th century, now with real-time market links, trade growth tied to global GDP and a key role for financial markets already existing in the 19th century. The difference between this and the 19th century cycle was that globalization now had an ideological, legitimizing role as the putative final destination of human aspirations.
And it wasn't just conservative politicians who joined the chorus of praise for the free market, but also media, universities, commentators and social leaders. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ideological transformation of socialists into rabid neoliberals, as Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci warned, marked the final, clinching stage of free trade's victory.
And who could expect otherwise? The Soviet Union, capitalism's nemesis, was abandoning the fight after all. And others who'd been fighting for a different world were now, openly or implicitly, reneging on their ideals and proclaiming globalization's superiority over state socialism. It seemed the perfect ending for a script as "natural" as life itself: the world's irreversible progression toward absolute business freedom.
The End of History coined by Francis Fukuyama had all the ingredients of a modern ideology, not to mention a Biblical prophecy: its universalism, opposition to another demonized, universal project (communism), its heroic victory (ending the Cold War) and final conversion of the unbelieving "hordes."
With history attaining its liberal objective, there were no opponents left to fight, nor a world to fight for. It was now about adjusting, administering and perfecting the present and only world. No struggle was worth its strategic trouble since all efforts to change would finally surrender to humanity's unshakeable fate: globalization. That produced the passive conformism that has engulfed all societies and classes, which have given their moral consent to the dominant discourse.
Today, as the last fireworks of the end-of-history party fizzle out, it seems the celebrating victor has died and left the world with neither triumph nor an alternative on the horizon. Trump is not the free market's executioner, but a coroner appointed to quietly confirm its demise.
Beyond inherited certainties
The first glitches in the globalization ideology appeared in Latin America in the first years of the 21st century. Workers, city proletarians and indigenous rebels ignored the end-of-class-war manual and joined to win state power. Combining parliamentary majorities with mass action, progressive and revolutionary governments implemented a range of post-neoliberal options that showed the free market to be an economic perversion liable to be replaced by economic management models that could more efficiently reduce poverty, and generate equality and economic growth.
Protests in Bolivia — Photo: Danielle Pereira
They began to make the End of History seem more like a planetary con job — setting the wheel of history, with its contradictions and multiple options, back into motion. In 2009 in the United States, President Barack Obama had to cart out the state — that vile, anti-business monster — to partially nationalize the finance sector and save private bankers from bankruptcy. The private sector's supposed efficacy in handling people's savings was left in a disgraceful heap.
The economy and global exports then began to slow. And now, a handful of years later, British and American voters have tipped the balance back toward the protectionist — not to mention fortified — state, and revealed the disgust of people around the world with global trading's devastation of productive economies and relentless blows to the middle class.
Today, globalization no longer represents the yearned-for paradise nor the supreme vision of family welfare, and those same countries and sectors that preached its wonders decades ago have become its chief detractors. We are seeing the demise of the biggest ideological trickery of recent centuries.
Yet, its moral cost and the social frustrations have themselves become an obstacle to finding immediate alternatives to globalization. As an ideology, globalization triumphed over the alternative of state socialism, or state control of means of production, a single ruling party and an economy planned from above. A single, triumphant path emerged, only to die today and leave humanity without direction or certainty. It is not so much the end of history as the end of "the end of history." Or simply, the void that follows a period of history.
Capitalist countries must today face pervasive disenchantment, inertia and doubts in a time when, as murmured by Macbeth: "what seem'd corporal melted as breath into the wind."
But necessarily, this is also a fertile time because the world will not be ordered with inherited certainties. New certainties must be created with the chaotic particles of the cosmic cloud emanating from the death of past discourses. Which future will mobilize social passions? Any is possible and none is certain for now, but the "common," the communal and the "communistic" provide possibilities hidden within the actions of people and their essential, metabolic relationship with nature.
No human society could rid itself of hope, nor humans, of a future horizon. Obliged to build one today, it is the shared and common traits of society that can lead us to design a destiny different from the erratic capitalism that has suddenly lost all faith in itself.
*Alvaro Garcia Linera has served as Vice President of Bolivia since 2006
America Economia is Latin America's leading business magazine, founded in 1986 by Elias Selman and Nils Strandberg. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, it features a region-wide monthly edition and regularly updated articles online, as well as country-specific editions in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.
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With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
October 18, 2021
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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