Trump and the Infrastructure of Fascism

Gerald Epstein

Infrastructure investment: it’s that economic policy sweet spot that everyone loves to love.

Fixing bridges, building roads, modernizing airports, improving mass transportation, keeping lead out of our water: nearly everyone can relate to the need for it and can imagine how much better their lives would be with more of it.  For years, most people have faced crazy-making delays in traffic, long lines at airports, and have seen pictures of bridges collapsing. And the experts agree. Economists and engineers have warned us about the problem for decades.  The most recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+ on its infrastructure building and maintenance, which means that, overall, our infrastructure is in critical condition. These civil engineers estimate that over the next 10 years, the U.S. will have about a $1.2 trillion in infrastructure financing shortfall unless something dramatic is done. Studies have confirmed that, properly done, infrastructure investment can generate millions of jobs, create big time saving efficiencies, and keep people safer. These infrastructure shortfalls, fed by years of Republican austerity initiatives at the Federal and State levels, too often aided and abetted by Democratic bankers and other Democratic “deficit hawks,” are much in the everyday texture of American life.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump jumped on the bandwagon, decrying America’s “Third World” infrastructure and touting his ability to fix it in short order—as “demonstrated” by his “building prowess “in New York City and “around the world.” Trump promised to quickly fix the country’s decaying infrastructure and generate millions of good paying job with a $1 trillion program that will “Make America Great Again.”

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After Neoliberalism, What Next?

Jayati Ghosh

We may be living through one of those moments in history that future historians will look back on as a watershed, a period of flux that marked a transition to quite different economic and social arrangements. Unfortunately, in human history a ‘moment’ can be a very long time, so long that it could be decades before the final shape of the new arrangements are even evident; and in the interim, there could be many ‘dead cat bounces’ of the current system.

What is clear is that the established order – broadly defined as neoliberal globalised finance capitalism – is no longer capable of delivering on its promises of either growth or stability, even as it generates more inequality and insecurity across the world. In Marxist terms (as befitting the 150th anniversary of Das Kapital), the property relations under which production is organised have become fetters on the development of productive forces themselves, and generate more and more alienation. This may explain why, perhaps even more significantly, the system is also losing legitimacy in most countries, under attack from both right and left.

Whether we look at straws in the wind or green shoots in the ground, there is no doubt that there are incipient signs of change. But at this point there are many directions in which such change could go, and not all of them are progressive or even desirable. That is why it is important to get social and political traction for alternative trajectories that focus on more equitable, just, democratic and ecologically viable outcomes for most of humanity.

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Leadership Failure Perpetuates Stagnation

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

What kind of leadership does the world need now? US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership was undoubtedly extraordinary. His New Deal flew in the face of the contemporary economic orthodoxy, begun even before Keynes’ General Theory was published in 1936.

Roosevelt’s legacy also includes creating the United Nations in 1945, after acknowledging the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War. He also insisted on ‘inclusive multilateralism’ – which Churchill opposed, preferring a bilateral US-UK deal instead – by convening the 1944 United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs at Bretton Woods with many developing countries and the Soviet Union.

The international financial institutions created at Bretton Woods were set up to ensure, not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

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Transnational Capital and Transnational Labor

William K. Tabb

In this interview, economist William K. Tabb addresses questions on the causes and fallout of the global crisis, the emergence of a “transnational capitalist class,” and the possibilities of a new anti-capitalist politics on a world scale. Tabb is the author of The Restructuring of Capitalism in Our Time (Columbia University Press, 2012) and other books.

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An Empire Upside Down, Part 3

Christy Thornton

This is the final part of a three-part article on the United States and Latin America in the Trump era, originally published in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. Part 1 focused on Argentina, part 2 focused on Peru, and this part focuses on Colombia. Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of history and international studies at Rowan University.

Ramping up the Drug War

Beyond issues of trade, the White House visit this May from President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia reveals how the United States under Trump is poised to stymie important progressive changes led by Latin American governments—particularly when it comes to the drug war. Colombia has long been the United States’ staunchest ally in the region, as the Colombian ambassador reinforced before Santos’ trip, telling reporters, “There are very few countries that will come and tell that we love the United States, and we want to partner with the United States.” Colombia, he insisted, loves the United States. And Santos himself, who holds degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics, has long had a relationship with his counterparts in Washington: before becoming president in 2010, he was the country’s defense minister, working very closely with the U.S. on drug and security issues. The visit, then, appeared cordial, and both presidents issued statements reaffirming the close ties between their countries.

During their joint press conference, however, Trump implicitly reprimanded his Colombian counterpart, drawing attention to the issue of coca growing in Colombia. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reported that coca production had reached record-high levels in the country in 2016. The increases came after the termination of a controversial aerial eradication program in which U.S. pilots sprayed suspected coca crops—and frequently the people, animals, and plants in their proximity—with glyphosate, a chemical that the World Health Organization (WHO) has linked to cancer. Ending the aerial spraying of the chemical put Colombia at odds with a crucial part of the United States’ counter-narcotics strategy in the country, though the Colombian government allowed on-the-ground eradication efforts to begin again this year. For many observers, this change marked a new willingness of Colombia to defy the United States.

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An Empire Upside Down, Part 2

Christy Thornton

This is the second part of a three-part article on the United States and Latin America in the Trump era, forthcoming in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. Part 1 focused on Argentina, this part focuses on Peru, and Part 3 will focus on Colombia. Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of history and international studies at Rowan University.

Trade and Multipolarity

When Peru’s newly elected President, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, arrived at the White House for a meeting with Trump, the narrative seemed to be one of continuity rather than change. During Kuczynski’s visit, Trump took the time to highlight to reporters his approval of the sale of military vehicles to Peru. The deal was for $668 million in reconditioned Stryker armored infantry carriers—mid-sized, rapidly deployable, armed people-movers, used by the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in urban areas. (Notably, they are manufactured and reconditioned by a General Dynamics subsidiary in Canada, not the United States.) During his White House press briefing with Kuczynski, Trump told reporters, “I understand they’re going to be buying quite a bit of our military—some of our military vehicles. And they are great vehicles. I just looked at it and we’re approving it.”

While Trump took credit for approving the agreement, the deal was actually worked out in December, under the Obama administration. That Trump’s administration decided to continue a policy of selling security-related materiel to a Latin American country was no surprise. Security aid and arms sales have long been a backbone of the relationship between the United States and Peru, which, according to the Stockholm Institute, has received more than $1 billion in arms sales since 1950.

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Imperialism in the 21st Century, Part 3

An Interview with Jayati Ghosh

This is the final part of a three-part interview with economist Jayati Ghosh, conducted by Lynn Fries of the Real News Network. (Parts 1 and 2 are available here and here, respectively.) Ghosh discusses the shape of imperialism in the 21st century, touching on themes also developed in her article “Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy” (previously published by Triple Crisis: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4). —Eds.

Originally published by the Real News Network.

Full text below the jump.

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Early Death in Russia

The Russian mortality crisis underscores the impact of stress on life expectancy.

Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The transition to market economy and democracy in the Russian Federation in the early 1990s dramatically increased mortality and shortened life expectancy. The steep upsurge in mortality and the decline in life expectancy in Russia are the largest ever recorded anywhere in peacetime in the absence of catastrophes such as war, plague or famine.

During 1987-1994, the Russian mortality rate increased by 60%, from 1.0% to 1.6%, while life expectancy went down from 70 to 64 years. Although life expectancy declined from 1987, when Mikhail Gorbachev was still in charge, its fall was sharpest during 1991-1994, i.e., during Boris Yeltsin’s early years.

In fact, mortality increased to levels never observed during the 1950s to the 1980s, i.e., for at least four decades. Even in the last years of Stalin’s rule (1950-1953), mortality rates were nearly half what they were in the first half of the 1990s.

Economic output fell by 45% during 1989-1998, while negative social indicators, such as the crime rate, murder rate, suicide rate and income inequalities, rose sharply as well, but even these alone cannot adequately explain the unprecedented mortality spike.

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An Empire Upside Down, Part 1

Christy Thornton

This is the first part of a three-part article on the United States and Latin America in the Trump era, forthcoming in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. This part focuses on Argentina, with the subsequent parts (which will be posted to Triple Crisis blog in the next two weeks) to focus on Peru and Colombia, respectively. Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of history and international studies at Rowan University.

In the early months of the Trump administration, high-profile White House visits from foreign leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East garnered headlines about the changing role of the United States in the world. In the context of political and economic upheaval around the globe, observers worry that, under Trump, the United States is abandoning the global leadership role it has played for decades. But the Trump administration’s response to various crises—Brexit, North Korea, Syria—paints a chaotic and often incoherent picture. Looking instead to a region long assumed to be firmly in the grasp of U.S. hegemony—Latin America—can help us understand the contours of the changes underway. It’s true that Latin America has generally been a low priority for the new president: he did recently move to roll back Obama-era changes in the relationship with Cuba, but while he made Mexico a central focus of his campaign, promising to build a border wall and tear up NAFTA, there has been little action on either front. Despite the relative disinterest in the region, however, White House visits by three Latin American heads of state—Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, Peru’s Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos—reveal three broad ways in which U.S empire is being reconfigured under Trump.

First, where Trump has a personal financial interest—such as in Argentina—his transactional deal-making instincts have marked a return to the “dollar diplomacy” of the early 20th century. Trump, however, has given the traditional exercise of U.S. political and military might in service of U.S. capital a particularly venal, personalist twist, looking to line his own pockets, even at the expense of other U.S. business interests.

Second, where the broader issue of free-trade agreements dominates the agenda—as in Peru—Trump’s disavowal is affecting those countries’ international economic strategies. Trump’s vigorous campaigning against such agreements is leading those countries to seek closer economic ties with other partners, such as China.

And, third, in those places—like Colombia—where leaders are seeking new solutions to the failed drug war, the Trump administration has pushed back, determined to re-escalate and remilitarize U.S. strategy. Meanwhile, U.S. non-military foreign aid to such countries is on the chopping block.

These changes come even with a resurgent pro-business right wing coming to power in various countries across the region—which might have portended even closer ties to the United States. Instead, Trump may be pushing Latin America further out of the United States’ shadow—with consequences good and bad.

Trump’s Personal Dollar Diplomacy

In the context of Donald Trump’s foreign-policy belligerence—trying to point aircraft carriers toward North Korea, dropping massive bombs on Afghanistan, announcing $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia—it’s easy to overlook a few Argentine lemons. But the recent deal to allow citrus imports from Argentina for the first time since 2001, made after the visit of Argentine president Maurcio Macri to Washington, reveals much about the nature of Trump’s intentions in Latin America, where the Washington Consensus is giving way to the “art of the deal.” Macri is the wealthy businessman who won Argentina’s presidency in late 2015, ending the rule of the Justicialist (Peronist) party of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The Kirchners’ party had been in power for 12 years, and was an important part of Latin America’s “pink tide” of center-left leaders. Macri’s election, therefore, signaled a broader regional shift toward the right, and he made clear his intention to bring Argentina back into the good graces of the United States.

But Macri was already a known quantity to Trump—and the two had a tense personal relationship. The massive Trump Place development on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—where residents notably rallied to remove Trump’s name from their buildings after the U.S. election—stands on land Trump bought in 1985 from an Argentine real estate magnate: Francisco Macri, the current president’s father. The deal was acrimonious, and Trump developed a strained relationship with the elder Macri, one of Argentina’s richest men. Francisco Macri told journalist Wayne Barrett that, on a golf trip in Argentina during the early 1980s, Trump spoke to him condescendingly, as if he were “a South American banana farmer” (leaving one to wonder how Macri himself might speak to such a farmer). And the rancor extended to his son Mauricio: when the younger Macri beat Trump during a later round of golf, Trump reportedly snapped his clubs in frustration. Perhaps this personal history was part of the reason that the Argentine president openly supported Hillary Clinton, a strong proponent of the neoliberal consensus to which Macri hoped to return, during the U.S. presidential campaign.

But when Mauricio Macri arrived at the White House, Trump was already eager to turn over a new leaf with his fellow real-estate scion. In fact, the path had already been cleared for a reconciliation: the Argentine newpaper La Nación reported that Felipe Yaryura, the main Argentine investor in a Trump office building in downtown Buenos Aires, was at Trump’s victory party in Manhattan on election night, posting celebratory selfies with Trump’s son Eric and having breakfast with the Trump children the next day. Then, just days later, after Macri made a congratulatory phone call to the president-elect, long-stalled permits for the Buenos Aires project were suddenly granted. Trump and Macri denied that the permits had been a subject of their conversation, but with Yayura in constant contact with the Trump children, the content of the short phone call between the two presidents was largely irrelevant. Trump’s business interests in Argentina would proceed as he had planned.

And then came the lemons. “I know all about the lemons,” Trump told reporters during his meeting with Macri in April. “One of the reasons he’s here is about lemons.” And indeed, the lemon issue was an important piece of Macri’s broader agenda. One of the touchstones of the Macri administration—besides rolling back the advances won by activists and human rights groups to confront the horrifying legacy of the country’s military dictatorship—has been what he calls the “normalization” of the Argentine economy. To him, that includes lifting currency controls, cutting public subsidies, dismantling trade barriers like the 35% tariff on electronic goods, and negotiating a deal with the intransigent “vulture funds” that scooped up Argentine public debt after the financial crisis of 2001. All of this is intended to open the Argentine economy back up to world markets. So reversing the United States’ 15-year ban on the import of lemons from Argentina was a part of this strategy. The Kirchner adminstrations had been unsuccessfully battling the restriction through the World Trade Organization (WTO) for years, but after Macri was elected, the Obama administration indicated a willingness to reconsider the ban. Trump, however, announced immediately upon taking office that he would block any further consideration of the Obama plans for 60 days—thereby convincing U.S. citrus growers that their lobbying for the continued ban would pay off. After he extended the ban again, it seemed that Trump intended to heed domestic producers’ concerns not only about any diseases the fruit might carry, but, more importantly, about competition, and that “America First” would win the day.

While citrus makes up only about half a percent of of Argentina’s foreign sales, which are dominated by $18 billion a year in soy exports, “normalizing” access to U.S. markets is especially important to the Macri administration. What’s more, Argentina produces nearly three times the volume of lemons that the United States does, making it one of the world’s leading suppliers.  In fact, a USDA analysis showed that even a small influx of Argentine lemons—20,000 metric tons, a tiny proportion of their overall production—would result in a 4% drop in prices in the United States, something domestic growers feared. Allowing Argentine lemons back in the country would hurt U.S. industry, growers argued. So when the Department of Agriculture suddenly lifted it the lemon ban in May, after Macri’s visit, citrus growers were shocked: the “America first” promise had been broken, and U.S. producers were left in the lurch.

This seemingly small deal reveals the first important Trump-era change to the way that U.S.-Latin American economic relations have worked in recent decades. In some ways, the agreement itself is fairly typical: a neoliberal Latin American leader argues for lifting regulations in accord with a free-trade ideology, accruing benefits to agricultural producers who have consolidated landholdings and concentrated capital in fewer, larger, and more vertically integrated industrial agribusiness firms. This is consistent with the longer trajectory of trade integration that has marked the process of globalization. But it’s how this deal was arrived at, the quid pro quo on which Trump’s deal-making instinct depends, that makes Trump’s strategy toward Latin America look a bit less like the neoliberal consensus of the last thirty years, and more like the gangster capitalism of the early 20th century—only now the gangster sits in the Oval Office. That the reversal of Trump’s nationalist posturing on the Argentine lemon ban came after meeting with the leader of a country that had recently approved his business dealings demonstrates that when Trump himself stands to gain financially, he’s willing to make a deal that might contradict his America-first promises. The story of Argentine lemons, then, seems to portend a new and deeply venal kind of dollar diplomacy, where aid and trade will be dispensed as rewards for help lining Trump’s personal coffers.

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

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Imperialism in the 21st Century, Part 2

An Interview with Jayati Ghosh

This is Part 2 of a three-part interview with economist Jayati Ghosh, conducted by Lynn Fries of the Real News Network. (Part 1 is available here.) Ghosh discusses the shape of imperialism in the 21st century, touching on themes also developed in her article “Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy” (previously published by Triple Crisis: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4). —Eds.

Originally published by the Real News Network.

Full text below the jump.

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