Review of Mapping a New World Order. The Rest beyond the West

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This book is mandatory reading for whoever deals with the politics of economy and development. What is convergence and what is the role of the Catching-Up-Model? What can we learn from China and East Asia? These are the questions that the anthology published by the economists Vladimir Popov of the Central Economics and Mathematics Institute in Moscow and Piotr Dutkiewicz of the Department for Political Science at the Canadian Carleton University focuses on.

An article by Popov und Sundaram deals with Convergence Theory and the Catching-Up-Model. Basically, the “West vs. Rest” paradigm consists of three elements: first, we live in an “Age of Convergence”, by which the authors mean the global transformation of the economic system and the increasingly interwoven economic relations; second, the relations between state and market have come under strain, which, according to the authors’, leads to a theoretical debate about the dualism of neoliberalism and structuralism (the theory exploring basic structures); third, there is a need for a stronger focus on social inequality within the debate outside of the Western world.

The two authors maintain that in the second half of the 20th century the efforts to catch up, economically, with Western nations were successful. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea successfully managed to eliminate the lag in relation to the “West”, while the “global South” (sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, former USSR) was unable to achieve the same. The others assume that after WWII and the subsequent increase in global income inequality, the gap between the West and the “rest” again begins to narrow. Why?
The USSR, they argue, was not the first non-Western country which, during the decades 1930 to 1960, achieved to shorten the lag to the “West.” Nevertheless, the gap increased anew after the crash of the Soviet Empire 1990/91 and the resulting economic crisis. Latin America, Africa and the Middle East had experienced a growth period until the 1980s, when the debt crisis broke the momentum. In Latin America that period is seen as the “lost decade”, in Africa as years of stagnation.

Both scientists underline the importance of China’s rise and of the Far East in general as it marks a turning point in the world economic system. Based on a non-Western, indigenous economic model China has been successfully conducting an export-oriented foreign economic policy in order to achieve great power status in a multipolar world.
A weakness of the book is the way it deals with global inequality. Apart from Prabhat Patnaik, the authors do not or only inadequately deal with the many dimensions of social inequality. For an analysis, at least material prosperity, power, prestige and education should have been taken into account. As a consequence, at least on this field the anthology lacks differentiation and analytical sharpness.

A remarkable contribution by the Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik offers an insight into the economic and societal system of his country. In India, Western capitalism is seen as a revolutionary and modernizing power that is able to crack open traditional societies. On the other hand, neoliberal politics, in Patnaiks view, are obstructive to the democratic revolution. Indian society is permeated by the institutional inequalities caused by the caste system, i.e., hierarchical stratas separating people into different groups (marriage, food, division of labour). Two different movements, both originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shed light on the dilemma of the democratic revolution: the “social reform movement” identified the socio-economic inequalities as biggest threat for the constitution and took position against the repressive caste system. At the same time, the “anti-colonial struggle movement” defended the caste system. Patnaik’s conclusion is that the revolution was as much anti-feudal as anti-imperialist, and warns against a combination of Hindu fascism and capitalism at the present time.

– Majd El-Safadi

(Elgar Publishing, 2017)
Originally published in Welt Trends, December 2017
Translated from the German. Copyright Welt Trends.