Post-Liberalism: Age of Uncertainty

One of the most difficult tasks for the ordinary citizen in the post-liberal age is making sense of world affairs on an everyday basis, for the modern world is both simple to understand and complex in its mysteries.

This age is one of the most elusive eras in human history to understand and locate from the vantage point of one’s personal self interest-(the “what’s in this for me question”)-for it goes unnamed by most commentators on world economy.

With the demise of neo-liberalism post-liberalism was born.

This era registers a strange feature for one whose thinking was shaped by the Cold War era of East-West conflict and the simplistic “us” and “them” separatism it promoted: it has no master template by which human understanding can be guided and state affairs managed. Capitalism is no longer fighting against socialism and socialism is no longer fighting against itself for all are friends shaking hands in the global marketplace and seeking the blessings of the money-making god of modern economics-Foreign Direct Investment, which the West has a lot of and everyone else less, if any.

Take the resource nationalist events of recent times: who would have believed that a right wing Canadian Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) would see eye to eye politically with nationalists Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), and all three drink from the same cup of post-liberal opportunity as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard whose country is a card carrying member of the free market society.

According to the ideological framing of the Cold War era these politicians existed on opposite sides of the imperial divide, Canada and Australia loyal partisans of the American-Anglo compact; Zimbabwe and Venezuela, its enemies. Yet in the post-liberal era they all share the same policy attitude to multinational mining companies and their dominant ownership of their nation’s natural resources: they want their nation’s natural resources to be owned by their states in the interest of their peoples or to tax and levy financial obligations on these companies such income so earned can be used for infrastructural development.

This “turn” from pro-capital policies to pro-state policies can be seen in the official responses of political leaders in this post-liberal era where multinational resource corporations have had to accept state involvement in their income streams as the political price they have to pay to operate in a given country, a far cry from their neo-liberal heydays where and when governments globally had to give them free reign to get access to World Bank and IMF funding for fiscal deficts.

Take the case of Zimbabwe where ZANU-PF under the aegis of its leader President, Robert Mugabe, and Minister for Indigenization and Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere, who has held major corporations in the country to account, in accordance the Law of Indigenization, to relinquish 51% control of their assets to indigenous Zimbabweans, to correct the peoples long history of racist exclusion from ownership positions in their economy.

Mugabe’s nationalism was disliked by the American-Anglo compact that levied sanctions on his administration in the aftermath of land reform initiatives 2000-2004 and hotly contested elections between his party and that of its rival Movement for Democratic Change.Yet Canadian, Chinese, Australian and South African mining companies prevail in the Zimbabwean mining landscape even though sanctions exist; and, given stock market quotations many of these mining companies have ownership relations with investors from the compact.Go figure?

Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, prevented BHP Billiton’s $40 billion hostile takeover bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., the world’s largest fertilizer company in 2010. This from a free marketeering officer of the state who remains committed to foreign investment and foreign takeovers of Canadian assets, though not those in the Knowledge economy like BlackBerry.

Prime Julia Gillard, of Australia, has levied higher taxes on mining companies in Australia citing the need for investment in infrastructure to maintain the country’s high standard of living and well developed human resources infrastructure. This against the backdrop of massive profits which mining companies have made over the past 20-30 years with little of its monetary benefits coming to Australians care of their government because of the neo-liberal consensus which said the government was not to be involved in private economic activities since corporations did so best.

President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, has sought to redistribute wealth by using income from the country’s oil industry to finance housing development, building medical care facilities, schools, roads, bridges, water supply and dental and eye care facilities to the people for the first time in their lives.

In the major corridors of global power such social initiatives in the Cold War era were defined as socialist and inefficient in the allocation of resources since they do not obey the profit motive and competitive free markets, they are, today, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial meltdown, in the post-liberal era, tolerated, since they serve the interests of global business by bringing more people to the global market for the products it has on offer: cell phones, smart phones, computers, cars, housing materials, foods, clothing, media products, and financial products to name but a few-all of which are produced and sold by the major corporations of the Western world and Japan. Go figure?

It is this paradox of circumstances in the post-liberal age which contributes to making this era so difficult to understand and to “choose sides” on global issues for we no longer have clear cut enemies nor clear-cut friends, a feature of the era best expressed with the neologisms, “frenemy” and “edutainment”. The lines of definition are increasingly blurred though interconnected.

In addition, governments are finding that their only friend is their self interest because the pivotal global player, namely the USA, because of domestic fiscal deficits and trade imbalances with major competitors, is no longer able to shape world affairs with the same single mindedness of purpose it once was able to during the neo-liberal era, since its financial means are “difficult” after the longer than expected wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which it has had to give a leading hand in financing.

America’s central role in organizing the global economy was based upon its willingness to sacrifice its domestic manufacturing economy on the altar of global competition in order to co-opt the support of powerful socialist countries like China and Russia and stop their continued support for socialist economic policies substituting them with free-market profit driven options. This sacrifice has succeeded, perhaps even more than expected with unforeseen consequences that are proving problematic and irresolvable to policy makers.

The global economy has intensified global competition for markets and natural resources converting former friends into potential enemies-think, China and America; and, China and America in Africa. Was this outcome scenario mapped by Washington governmental and New York corporate policy officials? Such a question from such a source of circumstances is the datum of the post-liberal age: uncertainty is king in the imperial palace of global authority.

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Charles Simon-Aaron: Mugabe: Land Wars, Resource Nationalism and Empire (Forthcoming); Class Ideology and African Political Theory (Edwin Mellen, 2011)

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