Interview with Walden Bello

This is a transcript of the Die Tagezeitzung’s interview with Walden Bello.

Dr. Bello, what is is the impact of the current crisis on the global South? 

The current global crisis will definitely have a massive impact on the South.  It is especially those economies that globalized most fully and followed strategies of export-oriented industrialization that tied their growth to foreign markets that will suffer most.  Those countries that have globalized least, like many in Africa, will be much less affected.

Could you give examples?

Exports have declined precipitously throughout the East Asian region.  China has seen 20 million workers lose their jobs in the last few months, according to the Chinese government.  The value of the Korean won has fallen by over 30 per cent in the last few months.  Remittances are going to fall and laid off migrant workers are going to return in Indonesia and the Philippines.  Argentina and Brazil’s agricultural exports are in a freefall.

Are you afraid of a further worsening of the situation?

Yes, definitely.  We are just at the beginning of the global freefall and I really don’t know when we are going to hit rock bottom and once we reach it, how long the global economy will lie there.  The global economy is just like a German U-Boat that has been depthcharged, and it’s descending rapidly to the ocean bottom, and once it reaches the bottom, you don’t know how the crew is going to get the submarine back up.  Will the crew’s tortuous maneuvers get it back to the surface, as in the film Das Boot, or will it just stay at the bottom?  Will Keynesian methods of reflation work today?  We don’t know.

How do you assess the politics and economic program of US president Obama and his administration with respect to global matters?

I think that in terms of economic policies, the administration is turning inward, away from policies of globalization and free trade.  It talks about multilateralism and against protectionism, but this is largely words still.  I think Obama’s overwhelming priority is to stabilize the US economy and foreign economic policy can wait.  Will the US take a leading role in creating a global financial architecture, with strong regulatory controls at next month’s G 20 meeting in London?  I think rhetorically yes, but the focus of regulatory work in the US will be domestic.  Once the freefall of the US economy stops, then you will see Obama move on to international economic issues.

What about the European Union?

The EU is probably going to look inward too, but whether it will come out with viable region-wide policies or revert to national policies of stabilization remains to be seen.  I think that the support for multilateralism and globalist policies is going to erode in Europe.  You will see a similar turning inward, as in the United States.  I worry about what will happen to the migrant workers from the South and from the East under conditions of economic contraction.  Racism and ethnic prejudices might run riot.

What do you expect from the upcoming G20 summit in Londonwikth respect to calming the global economic turbulenc?

No.  I think the conditions are not there to create a new Bretton Woods system.  Everybody is still at the “every man for himself” stage.  There is little support for a reform of the IMF and bigger role for the World Bank.  There is little support for completing the Doha Round of the WTO because of distrust of globalization.  People also see the Basel process as having failed to come up with the necessary regulatory framework for the banks.  There will be a great deal of rhetoric about multilateralism but little reality.

What should urgently be done to avoid the deepening of deglobalisation and disintegration?

Deglobalization must not be equated with disintegration.  Given the excesses of globalization and the way it made economies so vulnerable to collapse because it integrated markets and production and did away with protective barriers between the domestic economy and the international economy, deglobalization accompanied by regionalization of economies and the strengthening of national economies is a good thing.  The problem with globalization is that it destroyed national economies.  The challenge for us now is how to create a global system where participation in the international economy strengthens the capacity of national economies rather than destroys them.

What would be the appropriate contribution by the politically and socially critical spectrum in the North to stop disintegration?

We must see this as an opportunity to create a deglobalized world, where there is more equality between and within countries, where countries can pursue economic policies that respond to their values, goals, and rhythms as societies instead of being crammed within a neoliberal one-shoe-fits-all-model, where diversity, as in nature, is seen as a strength, where there is space to pursue sustainable development policies that do not reproduce the high consumption model of the North.  I repeat: crisis spells opportunity.

What is your general assessment of the stand of the Left and the social movements in answering the crisis?

The Left has the theoretical tools to understand the crisis, and here the Marxist analysis of capitalism’s tendency to overaccumulation and overproduction, including the insights of Rosa Luxemburg, are very important.  Where the challenge lies is in building a mass movement globally and nationally to promote an anti-capitalist soution to the crisis, a solution that lies in democratizing the economy along with a fuller democratization of politics.  We must move fast, because it people are not persuaded to go left, they might be persuaded to go right, and we don’t want countries falling into a Germany-in-the-1930’s kind of scenario again.

What changes are now necessary?

The changes I’ve alluded to above.

Thank you very much for answering the questions. Is there an up-to-date photograph of yours available?

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