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Immanuel Wallerstein's Worldview

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Immanuel Wallerstein's Worldview - by Stephen Lendman

Wallerstein is a Yale University Senior Research Scholar, former President of the International Sociological Associatiion (1994 - 1998), and chair of the international Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the the Social Sciences (1993 - 1995). His writing focuses on three domains of world systems analysis, the historical development of the modern world system, the structures of knowledge, and the contemporary crisis of the capitalist world economy.

His many books include "The Capitalist World Economy," "After Liberalism," "The End of the World As We Know It," and "The Decline of American Power," in which he wrote:

America "has been a fading global power since the 1970s, and the US response to the (9/11) terrorist attacks has accelerated this decline....the economic, political and military factors that contributed to US hegemony are the same factors that will inexorably produce the coming US decline."

Chalmers Johnson shares that view, notably in his books, "Sorrows of Empire" and "Nemesis," saying America is plagued by the same dynamic that doomed past empires - "isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy," combined with growing authoritarianism and loss of personal freedom.

Hence, the title "Nemesis," the goddess of vengeance and punisher of hubris and arrogance in Greek mythology. She's here among us, says Johnson, unseen and patiently stalking our way of life, awaiting her chosen moment to make her presence known. Johnson compares her to Wagner's Brunnhilde in Der Ring des Nibelungen, saying unlike Nemesis, she collects heros, not fools and hypocrites.

They both, however, announce themselves the same way, saying "Only the doomed see me," even though Nemesis' presence will have a profound real world effect.

Destructive policies aren't sustainable. Former Nixon Council of Economic Advisors chairman Herb Stein meant it by his "Herbert Stein's Law", saying "if something cannot go on forever, it will stop," or simply put, things that can't go on forever won't, especially ill-conceived overreaching ones.

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America's chaotic "capitalist world system" is one, says Wallerstein. A different future lies ahead in one of two forms - more progressive or hard line opposite, what neither Wallerstein nor anyone can know or time precisely. However, disruptive change is coming, ending America's global dominance. One or more other powers will supplant it under a new system, not today's.

Wallerstein believes the Soviet Union sustained US hegemony for a quarter century post-WW II by scaring Western Europe and other countries to America's side, and during the war diluting Hitler's power by his futile invasion. Afterwards, both countries struck a deal for sustainable world order, America controlling two-thirds, Moscow the rest, besides the specter of mutually assured destruction (MAD) deterring either side from declaring war on the other.

Plans often don't turn out as intended, the US/Soviet pact breaking down in East Asia with Mao's independence and Vietnam resisting colonial occupation. It bogged America down in an unwinnable war, much like Iraq and Afghanistan today, accelerating America's decline by thinking otherwise.

In the 1970s, it began, says Wallerstein, at first slowly, faster after the Soviet Union's dissolution, then further accelerated by post-9/11 events. Hard line neo-cons were empowered, believing brute force could solidify US dominance, when, in fact, it's done the opposite. Alliances opposed to US belligerence formed, including China and other rising powers strengthening their economies over America stressing military strength as a fist to maintain global hegemony whether or not other nations concur.

Still the world's dominant economic power, Wallerstein believes capitalism's demise will doom it, citing three negative long term trends weakening the ability to accumulate profits:

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(1) Rising wages that began declining around 1970, then accelerated during the current economic crisis, a trend likely to continue, not reverse quickly, but will longer term. It's anyone's guess when, but for now, lower pay, fewer benefits and high unemployment are deeply embedded in a sick global economy.

(2) Rising taxes that always squeeze profits, though again in today's economy, they're fixed or declining until conditions improve, besides not knowing the full impact of America's healthcare reform cost, an indirect tax. Most likely, workers will bear the main burden, not employers easily able to offload most of it.

(3) Higher input costs are ahead. Externalizing them by environmental contamination continues, but that ecological limit approaches, perhaps destructively enough to endanger human life.

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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