Sunday, August 9, 2020

Interview with Adam Tooze

I love this guy's work, but I had no idea he was truly a fanatical leftist, especially about this "climate change" stuff, but it's a compelling discussion.

At New York Mag, "A Historian of Economic Crisis on the World After COVID-19":

While we’re on the subject of the great powers’ mutual delirium: In a recent essay on the U.S.-China relationship, you suggest that the present tensions with China are fueled less by “social and economic interests” than by a long-standing ideological rivalry and its attendant national-security implications – and that, in fact, the rise of Communist China indicates that the Cold War never actually ended. But it seems to me that the ideological and national-security stakes of the U.S.-China conflict are much lower than those of the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. There aren’t many radicals launching insurgencies in South America in the name of Xi Jinping Thought or sympathizers of the CCP in the upper ranks of America’s labor unions. The Chinese regime is not calling for an international workers’ revolution; to the contrary, it wages vicious campaigns of suppression against domestic labor unions in order to maintain a grossly inequitable income distribution. So, I don’t see China posing a plausible threat to the American homeland or America’s capitalist regime. But it does threaten our share of global GDP and privileged position in international value chains.

So I would happily concede that the Chinese Communist Party, in its current form, is not the same as, say, the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union. But I think I would insist on three things. First, the leadership of that party emphatically interprets, presents, and thinks about (as far as we’re able to tell from the outside) its situation, problems, and strategies in terms of the continuous elaboration of the Marxist cannon. The historian Stephen Kotkin makes this argument about Stalin — that, while he was no one’s idea of a good Marxist, you really can’t understand him unless you understand the twisted, weird, stunted version of Marxism that made the guy tick. And I think that’s true about the current Chinese leadership, too.

It isn’t a global revolutionary movement anymore. But they are self-consciously the descendants of that project. And as such, their worldview is fundamentally alien to — and distinct from — that of Europe or the United States or anyone else participating in the liberal project. There is indeed a huge gap in our understanding of what the state is for, what the rule of law does — how it does and does not constrain things. And that is a difference that matters.

And then the third thing I would say is that, though it is true they are not a revolutionary project in the sense of Cuba in the 1970s — or China itself in the 1960s — the contemporary Chinese Communist Party is de facto more transformative of the circumstances of the global political economy than those revolutionary projects, and transformative in ways that America is quite right to perceive as threats to its hegemony.

Relatedly, while I recognize the force of the recasting you’ve just offered, I think you have to reckon with the autonomous significance of the American security state, which is separate from the general American interest in global GDP share or something like that.

There was a moment — and it didn’t happen under Trump; it happened when Hillary Clinton was secretary of State — when that part of the American government machine that thinks in terms of F-35s and atomic weapons and nuclear fleets shifted its focus toward China. And that constitutes a source of conflict that is not reducible to economics. It draws on the conception of the economy as a national resource base, and is of course entangled with particular companies in the military-industrial complex, but it is distinct nevertheless.

There are competing factions within the American state apparatus. And who gets to call the shots in a domain of policy at a given point of time can shift. And I would insist there’s been a decisive lurch toward the dominance of national security on China policy.

I think it’s quite reasonable to say that, coming out of World War II, American business was essentially integrated into the American government. It’s not fatuous to imagine that much of the Marshall Plan was directly organized around securing markets for certain sorts of American businesses, which were basically running the government at the time. But that’s an effect of a particular type of articulation, which comes and goes with time. With regard to China right now, there is a remarkable discrepancy between the corporate planning of the companies that dominate the S&P 500 and the American security Establishment...