Is the Empire without Emperor good or bad?

A few intelligent people asked this – assuming that something akin to the EwE described in this work is really what is developing in the world, then, is that good or bad? There are a lot of seemingly pessimistic predictions and assessments throughout the dissertation written in 1999 and published in this website. Particularly for “the people”, who “are no longer needed as producers or soldiers, but as consumers. (…) This means that the growing inequality in the core countries can be tolerated, and in fact used, because it leads to a breaking up of labour solidarity. The result is that the core-periphery world-wide division of labour is now ‘permeating’ the world system, that is, its benefits for accumulation of capital are being internalised back in the core.”

The new core-periphery structure entails an impoverishment of fairly large parts of the population of countries that we are used to called “developed” or even “rich”. This follows different paths in different places. In a semi-peripheral country like Portugal, the failure of the colonial project in the 1960s led, after a crisis, to the elites betting on joining Europe. The project was to join the first European division of wealth.  Even with a constant share of country revenue, the elites would improve their lot, together with the general population. This project has now failed, for several reasons that we may discuss later, but that are discussed already by many people in many places. The Portuguese had thought they had joined the first league, but that was on cheap credit, and now an abrupt return to the second European division is inevitable, with a global national impoverishment. The elite recognized this several years ago, and for years the project has become, first in stealth and now openly, to maintain its status by increasing its share of a decreasing cake. The population at large will have to live with a smaller slice of a smaller cake.

Something similar is happening in the first European league, let’s say, Germany. The new generations no longer easily get for-life well-paid jobs. Job security is gone, and the extraordinary salaries for proletarians in big industrial firms are mostly gone for new workers. Young people are making do with a lot less than their parents, and uncertainty is also the rule. Of course, on the whole, the standard of living is very high, and the decline is relative. It is, after all, the top of the first league. But it reminds us that even there things are changing. Since we postulate that the EwE is only the first half of a double cycle, there is much room for further deepening of the non-geographic core-periphery structure in the centre of Europe.

So, “bad” it is: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and there is nowhere to go to since it’s a global phenomenon.

Or is it? Let’s take a look at the other side – the old geographic periphery, the third world, or that part of the third world that is being able to absorb a bit of the core: Brazil, India, China, even Russia. If what we showed in Table III is even approximately true, the increase of people from those countries belonging to the core may be small in percentage, but it is an enormous amount of people who are being able to improve their situation. For each unemployed worker in Europe, there are 5 “good jobs” appearing in India. A “good job” there would not be “good” in Europe, it may be very long hours for what we would consider very little money, but it means people can buy a Tata, afford a better place to live, and generally improve their standard of living or even escape poverty. 100 million relatively impoverished Europeans means 500 or more million wealthier formerly third world inhabitants.

It used to be, 20 or 30 years ago, that even a stupid, lazy, and incompetent German would have a well-paid job. At the same time, an intelligent, diligent, hard-working Chinese would have little chance of escaping their little village in rural China. This has now changed. The hard-working person can have the privilege to work 16 hours a day 7 days a week, and thus have his diligence rewarded, while the lazy and mean European will have great trouble in escaping poverty. This is clearly good – for the Chinese guy at least, as well as for his bosses who can now exploit their fellow human beings and become bona fide millionaire capitalists.

The world has become, somehow, more democratic. More people around the world can sell their talent to improve their lives. And laziness will be punished in places where it was hitherto rewarded.

Nevertheless, for the old geographic core, this is bad news, since when 1/3 of the population join the non-geographic periphery, the rest of the non-elite population also necessarily suffers a decline in standards.

So, the world has become a more democratic place, we are on the losing side, and this is neither good nor bad, it is as it is.

One thought on “Is the Empire without Emperor good or bad?

  1. The world has become, somehow, more democratic.

    Not sure one can read that from the descriptions provided in your post. There is, overall, more equality, yes, I could agree with that (assuming local increases in inequality are more than compensated by a global shift towards equality). Maybe people are freer too, at least at the micro level, as more people can make personal choices concerning their careers and lifestyle. But as to the world having become more democratic… I am not so sure. Overall, there is just one standing model – the neo-liberal model – which moreover is no longer controlled by governments, let alone by the people. It is, somehow, the triumph of the corporate person (I do not mean the people who work for corporations, but of the corporation as a living organism) and sometimes it does feel like we have indeed reached the end of history 😉

    Or maybe not. You wrote about how environmental degradation may ultimately lead to the demise of capitalism (maybe you didn’t really say demise, but you get my drift). However, I suspect that before we arrive to such a scenario (something that make take several centuries), other important developments may come to challenge the foundations of human society, and thus capitalism. A likely candidate is artificial intelligence. Self-aware artificial intelligence will be a reality during the second half of this century. One hundred years from now, such beings may have reached cognitive capabilities orders of magnitude higher than our own. That’s bound to be a game changer. Sure, humans themselves will have their own abilities enhanced by technology (the ones who can afford it, that is), and the man-machine interface is going to become rather blurred. It will be a world as described in Masamune Shirow’s “Ghost in the Shell” 🙂 But, cyberpunk aside, I would like to hear your thoughts on the impact AI (or any other potentially disruptive technology) may end up having on the capitalist system.

    I like this sentence, though: “we are on the losing side, and this is neither good nor bad, it is as it is. ” 🙂


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