Decline of the American Empire? Global Configurations of Power, The Swindle Economy and the Criminal State
By Prof. James Petras
November 24, 2013
The world political economy is a mosaic of cross currents: Domestic decay and elite enrichment, new sources for greater profits and deepening political disenchantment, declining living standards for many and extravagant luxury for a few, military losses in some regions with imperial recovery in others. There are claims of a unipolar, a multi-polar and even a non-polar configuration of world power. Where, when, to what extent and under what contingencies do these claims have validity?
Bubbles and busts come and go – but let us talk of ‘beneficiaries’: Those who cause crashes, reap the greatest rewards while their victims have no say. The swindle economy and the criminal state prosper by promoting the perversion of culture and literacy. ‘Investigatory journalism’, or peephole reportage, is all the rage. The world of power spins out of control: As they decline, the leading powers declare “it’s our rule or everyone’s ruin!”
Global Configurations of Power
Power is a relationship between classes, states and military and ideological institutions. Any configuration of power is contingent on past and present struggles reflecting shifting correlations of forces. Structures and physical resources, concentrations of wealth, arms and the media matter greatly; they set the framework in which the principle power wielders are embedded. But strategies for retaining or gaining power depend on securing alliances, engaging in wars and negotiating peace. Above all, world power depends on the strength of domestic foundations. This requires a dynamic productive economy, an independent state free from prejudicial foreign entanglements and a leading class capable of harnessing global resources to ‘buy off’ domestic consent of the majority.
To examine the position of the United States in the global configuration of power it is necessary to analyze its changing economic and political relations on two levels: by region and by sphere of power. History does not move in a linear pattern or according to recurring cycles: military and political defeats in some regions may be accompanied by significant victories in others. Economic decline in some spheres and regions may be compensated by sharp advances in other economic sectors and regions.
In the final analysis, the question is not ‘keeping a scorecard’ or adding wins and subtracting losses, but translating regional and sectorial outcomes into an understanding of the direction and emerging structures of the global power configuration. We start by examining the legacy of recent wars on the global economic, military and political power of the United States .