Book Review: War for Wealth


War for Wealth: The Truth About Globalization and Why the Flat World is Broken
by Gabor Steingart
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008

Capitalists are waging a global war for dominance and the white ones are losing, worries Gabor Steingart, business writer for Der Spiegel and various U.S. based publications. China, India, even Africa pose a huge threat to the predominance of the U.S. and what Steingart imagines to be its European cousins, and they are winning.

"Cooperation between the Americans and the Europeans could act as a counterforce to the new, rising economies [of China and India]," Steingart writes in a paranoid style resembling the white supremacist "race suicide" theorists of a century ago. In a new alliance of the U.S. and Europe, resembling a massive economic and political bloc where "Lisbon would border Boston," the "threat" of Asian hegemony could be held back.

Of course, Steingart doesn't couch his paranoia in overt supposedly biological racial ties between Europeans and Americans. Instead he voices the more familiar culturalism of today's racial codes. "Americans and Europeans do not live on the Mars and Venus xy. Instead, they reside on the two sides of a single moon. they breathe the same air, stand on the same geological subsoil and [like Christopher Columbus setting out on a voyage of discovery, ed.] look at other galaxies from the same distance." [emphasis added]

Steingart simply ignores the very basic fact that the U.S. isn't any more tied to Europe historically and culturally than it is to Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Instead, he claims, Americans and European share the same ancestors, "are brothers in spirit," defied communism together, established NATO (that peace-loving, democracy-building institution), and share a similar popular culture. They should unite to stave off the advancing darker-skinned peoples of the world. OK, the last part is my formulation, but how else could Steingart's claims be read?

Why would he not argue that the U.S. and China could forge a cooperative arrangement in which they integrate their economies, build cooperative social and cultural ties, work toward peaceful global economic and political development together? Such an arrangement is more logical given the existing ties between the U.S. and China and the potential for such an arrangement between the two superpowers. I mean, if we're fantasizing about massive economic and political blocs that would rule the world, why not a China-U.S. arrangement.

A quick perusal, for that is all the commitment to reading this I am willing to recommend unless you have something else at hand, reveals a deep level of fear and anxiety, the kind that turns rational political thinking into manifestoes waved by hawkish national security advisors and hoary hermits alike. In just the first few pages, he describes events in the world understandably and correctly as a "bitter struggle," a "war for wealth," but one that is taking place outside our direct field of visions" – in China and India. Both of those countries are erupting with "vitality" and brimming with "self-confidence" and creativity, while "the West is turning into a miniaturized version of itself." It's "population is both shrinking and aging." It's share of the pie is smaller, its "inventive spirit is diminishing."

Indeed, "America's biggest problem is America itself." We have become afraid to grab the reins of power and spread our political and economic seed, which Steingart apparently idealizes as the best the world has to offer, in the bid for global dominance. Simply put, Americans are afraid of domination, or to use an outmoded word, imperialism.

He does correctly note the rise of Asian economies has primarily depended on their ability to attract capital with a large and inexpensive workforce. He even further makes the credible judgment that in the U.S. the decline of labor unions and the social welfare state have undermined the standards of living of American working families and their confidence in capitalism. A restoration of both is in order, in his view.

What he fails to elucidate or apparently understand in his bid for "Western" resurgence, only thinly disguising the racial implications of his argument, is the multinational dimension of the capitalist actors involved. They do not regard themselves as tied to a state or patriots loyal to a country the way Steingart fantasizes they should. Wal-Mart, GM, Amway, McDonald's, Boeing, media giants, etc. don't see themselves as bound by borders the way most people imagine the boundaries of nation, community, or culture. They don't allow themselves to be subject to the whims of the governments of nations, but to the ways in which they seek to dominate markets, drive down labor costs, boosts the profit margin – the essence and logic of the capitalist system, regardless of its geographical location.

Unfortunately Steingart's fears are shared by many social forces in U.S. society. A new book, titled Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge from the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, urges renewed efforts to stave off the Asian challenge. The author of that book, however, offers little in the way of renewed economic develop and instead boasts about America's "software innovation," i.e. innovative ideas. Not having read this new book entirely yet, I hope it's safe to assume the author doesn't mean infomercials, Justin Bieber, and Facebook are going to surpass massive investments by China in its manufacturing sector, its clean energy sector, in information technology, health care and education.

The real question to be asked and answers found should not be which country or racial-cultural bloc will dominate the world, but which class, which majority of humans will have the greatest say in the direction of this planet? And I am not inclined to believe that once you get past the baloney, Steingart's answer is a democratic one.

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