Equality, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Part 2

In this second part of a four-part interview, regular Triple Crisis contributor Jayati Ghosh summarizes some major themes in her work and thought, including the prospects for the transformation and revival of socialist movements, the transfiguration of the world capitalist economy and the reproduction of structures like the core-periphery division and landlord domination, new challenges of international labor solidarity and environmental sustainability, and the way forward towards egalitarian societies. (Part 1 of the series is available here.)

Jayati Ghosh

Change and Reproduction of Core and Periphery

D&S: A half century ago, the most influential radical view of economic “underdevelopment” focused on the dominance of industrial-manufacturing “core” economies over raw-materials-producing “periphery.” Has that story changed in the current era of neoliberal globalization, with many developing countries moving out of mineral and agricultural exports and into export-oriented manufacturing (often “offshored”)?

JG: Geographical and locational changes in productive structures do not negate the idea of “core” and “periphery” operating within capitalism. Global capitalism has, throughout its history, experienced such shifts.

First, despite the so-called shift in economic power between developed and “emerging” nations, the material differences between these countries remain very large. Second, the big engine of global manufacturing growth in the developing world, China, has emerged on the basis of a very different economic system, in which market forces have been shaped by the prevailing political and institutional relations, the control of a central party and the advantages of a broadly egalitarian system bequeathed by the Communist revolution. China’s engagement with global markets therefore was on very different terms, unlike those of most primary product exporters. This has certainly enabled some productive relocation—but the idea that all other developing countries can follow a similar trajectory is misplaced. Even insertion into global value chains at lower levels can have the effects of perpetuating the unequal relations that propelled such insertion in the first place. Third, the production of underdevelopment is unfortunately not a process that has ended—it still persists, though sometimes in unlikely and unexpected ways. The core and periphery within the eurozone provides a striking example.

D&S: Another major aspect of radical economists’ thinking about development in the “Third World” centered on the problem of the unequal distribution of wealth—especially the unequal ownership of agricultural land. Does the distribution of land remain a central issue in the global South? Has it declined in importance in more urbanized and non-agricultural regions?

JG: The idea that the distribution of wealth (including land) has become less important in contemporary capitalism is completely wrong. The talk of capitalism generating a new kind of productive system that relies on “knowledge” to transform material reality is similarly misleading. The rapacious exploitation of nature remains a central requirement of the capitalist system, and that in turn means that the need to control nature, to privatize it and make its ownership concentrated. This is actually true in all parts of the world, but in developing countries it is most directly evident.

Unequal control over land, water, and other resources is a huge impediment to real development for many reasons. Of course it has an adverse impact on agricultural productivity and the expansion of the home market, thereby impeding industrialization—but that is only one problem. It is significant that all the developing countries that have progressed in terms of industrial transformation, South Korea and China, for example, are those that experienced far-reaching land reforms including land redistribution at the start of the development project. Otherwise, landlordism creates not just economic obstacles but also socio-political impediments to industrialization and modernization, and allows the persistence of reactionary social features. India is a good example of this.

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