Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Money, Freedom and Security in 2007 - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

As 2007 draws to a close, the last few days of the year are marred by familiar scenes that no longer attract attention: simultaneous bloody bombings in Iraq and Algeria, grave political crises in Pakistan and Lebanon, parliamentary elections in Russia that have only strengthened the dominance of President Putin and his party, the continuing decline of the dollar’s value, the rise in the price of crude oil and finally the upheaval of hunger in Africa as a result of the increasing prices of basic foodstuffs.

What is the common factor between these successive scenes that differ in terms of contexts and arenas?

There seems to be no common factor between these events, however, one can say that there are three substantial crises in which the world has been severely embroiled since the beginning of the new millennium. The current year that is about to end has been a milestone in the dynamics that can be summarized in: the crisis of the global financial system, the crisis of the international security system and the crisis of universal democratic expansion.

The first crisis, which is symbolized by the collapse of the monetary unit of the global capitalist economy, namely the dollar, in reality, exceeds being an important indicator and reflects a deep structural deadlock that has plagued the capitalist system from within. A set of successive studies had elaborated upon the magnitude of the threat that endangers the world economy. These studies include distinguished French economist Patrick Artus’ book ‘Le capitalisme est en train de s’autodétruire’ [Capitalism will Destruct Itself] and ‘Les Incendiaires’ as well as works by American economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

As former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard once stressed, these strong criticisms hurled against capitalism did not come from the revolutionary left and the crushed social classes as usual but in fact were made by senior economists who are integrated into the capitalist system itself.

Rocard believes that the world today is on the brink of a crisis that would be worse than the crisis of 1929. Some of the indicators of this include: the rise of American debt to a rate of 230% of the Gross National Product, the financial collapse caused by the separation of financial liquidity from economic activity (the first signs of which appeared in the terrible experiences of Latin America in the eighties and in Asia in the nineties) as well as the simultaneous rise in the prices of oil and food that leads banks to raise interest rates, in addition to serious social ramifications.

Rocard believes that the three mechanisms that allowed capitalism to contain its internal crises over the past sixty years are no longer effective. These three mechanisms include the social security system, the policy of monetary intervention that was developed by [John Maynard] Keynes to absorb external shocks and the policy of intensifying consumption by raising the wages of workers that was developed by the American Industrialist Ford.

As for the security crisis, it seems evident on three distinct levels, which are:

– The strategic impasse that was generated by the failure of traditional mechanisms to administer the international system and the inability to replace these mechanisms with effective ones so as to control new international relations that are no longer determined by the logic of the balance of power and the dualism of ally versus enemy.

– The failure of the strategy used in combating terrorism, which formed the theoretical and normative framework of the American vision that was aimed at combating the so-called balanced conflicts, in other words the structural link between religious extremism, rogue regimes and weapons of mass destruction.

– The international failure to contain internal conflicts that now form the most dangerous security challenge in most parts of the world. These conflicts have an obvious disastrous impact upon the nature of national entities and the relationship within nationalities, cultures and sects in a way that allows for discussion on the growing threat of “universal civil conflict”.

As for the crisis of democratic expansion, this is evident through the failure of various attempts of transformation and political openness that once appeared to be promising in the post-Cold War era, which was widely considered the era of democracy’s triumph and the defeat of tyranny and totalitarian regimes.

What we are clearly witnessing today is the emergence of new models of governance that use the mechanisms of free elections and open media to tighten the unilateral grip on power by focusing upon the wealth brought in from revenues from raw materials and oil, as is the case in Putin’s regime in Russia and Chavez’s regime in Venezuela. These regimes may also depend upon security-financial networks that establish new forms of oligarchic regimes which in turn are not impeded by the democracy’s formal mechanism of transformation of power, as is the case with a number of regimes in Eastern Europe and Africa. Such transformation poses fundamental questions over the efficacy of the procedural dimension of democracy in ensuring public freedoms outside the context of liberal environments. This in turn could result in the emergence of patterns of “soft” dictatorships as expressed by great French philosopher Jacques Derrida who asserted upon the automatic tendency of democracy to deconstruct.