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Global Police State Podcast Greg Wilpert talks to sociology Professor William I. Robinson about his just-released book, The Global Police State, in which he outlines the confluence of ...
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Greg Wilpert talks to sociology Professor William I. Robinson about his just-released book, The Global Police State, in which he outlines the confluence of interests between transnational capital, 21st-century fascism, and the general policing of society.
Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast. I'm your guest host, Greg Wilpert. I'm recording this podcast
episode a few days after a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests following a decision not to charge
the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Of course, as usual, there was plenty of repression against
the protests which took place across the United States. What the protests and the police repression
highlight is the extent to which inequality, and resistance to inequality and injustice, and the repression
against the resistance fit together.
One sociologist who has argued that this is part of a worldwide trend is William I. Robinson. As it
happens, he just released a book on this topic called "The Global Police State," published this month by
Pluto Press. Will Robinson joins me today to discuss his book. He's a professor of sociology at the
University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author of numerous books on the topic of
globalization. Thanks for joining me today, Bill.
Pleasure to be with you.
So your book actually covers a lot of ground, including your larger theory of globalization and global
capitalism. But let's start with the issue at hand, the global police state. Why has it become a global
phenomenon at this point, and how does it express itself?
Yes, well, the starting point for any discussion of the global police state has to be the crisis of global
capitalism. Of course, I finished this book in October of 2019 so I could not see the pandemic coming,
but the system was already in an acute crisis, and I'm going to suggest really the most acute crisis of its
500 years, that is world capitalism well before the pandemic. And the only thing the pandemic did is to
aggravate this crisis and aggravate everything, pushing us towards an intensification of global police
And certainly, the crisis that we're in is multidimensional. There is the ecological dimension, which
makes it an existential crisis. And then there's the social dimension of the crisis in the sense that billions
of people around the world cannot survive. But that only becomes a crisis, the social dimension, until
and unless these billions of people rise up, and that's taking place now. But I think we need to focus on
two other dimensions of the crisis. One is what we call the structural dimension, and that is that the
global economy has been increasingly stagnant.
And in the face of that stagnation, the building up of a global police state is a way of continuing to throw
firewood on the dying embers and stagnant embers of a global economy, and I'll get into this in a little
more detail in a little while. But this structural dimension of the crisis is driving global police state, and
then global capitalism is facing a deep political crisis of legitimacy and of hegemony. And global police
state is a response to this multidimensional crisis of global capitalism.
I would say that we're in a moment of inflection, an extremely dangerous moment. We are slipping into
the threat of fascism. But also, this moment opens up tremendous opportunities for emancipatory
projects. The capitalist states have been unable to cope with the crisis and with the pandemic, which has
exposed them as instruments of wealth and of corruption. And it has pushed these states, since the
pandemic got underway, to intensify global police state. You mentioned the Black Lives Matter uprising
in the United States, but here the global police state is on full display around the anti-racist protests.
But I want to suggest that the concept of global police state is really essential to understanding where
we're at in September 2020, and the nature of global capitalism and its crisis. It's really an analytical and
theoretical framework is helps us understand everything unfolding now, including the anti-racist
uprising in the United States. You know, and I'll summarize my response to your question by saying for
me, there are three dimensions of global police state. The first is the extension and intensification of
transnational systems of repression, and social control, and warfare.
And this is to contain the actual and the potential rebellion of what I call surplus humanity, the several
billions of people that are marginalized, and the global working class in the face of unprecedented
inequalities. Such inequalities in global society require extreme repression, and that's the first function
of global police state. But secondly, building up systems of warfare worldwide and deploying those
systems of transnational repression and of social control, all of this is immensely profitable, and it has
helped keep the global economy going in the face of stagnation.
And the third dimension of global police state is this move towards political systems that increasingly we
can characterize as 21st-century fascism. Now, these three dimensions of global police state; again, this
extension of repressive systems around the world, the making profit through warfare and repression,
and the move towards fascism. Each one individually is not necessarily new, but they can't be separated
from one another. And we need to see how they are intertwined in a new way that signals this
extremely dangerous phase in global capitalism, with this crisis as the backdrop.
Now, I guess what I want to start with is in, terms of this crisis I mean, you outlined a number of
different crisis points. But one of the ones that people who don't follow global economics so closely
might be puzzled about is your comment that there's been a stagnation. Now, is does that stagnation
about, and how does it manifest itself? Because after all, just before the pandemic hit, we had a 4%
unemployment rate, and the stock market was booming.
In what ways does this global stagnation really manifest itself?
Sure. So we have to start that response by talking about global inequalities. And many of the listeners
are going to be familiar with the data that one percent of humanity now controls more than 50 percent
of the world's wealth. But the next piece of data is the more significant one. 20% of humanity, that
portion of humanity that can still consume within global capitalism, controls 95% of the world's wealth.
That means that 80% of humanity has just five percent of the world's wealth, and this intensified
inequality is a result of capitalist globalization in recent decades, starting in the late 20th century.
But what does it mean? It means that the global economy has the ability to produce and pour into the
global market. All of this wealth, all of this output. But the global market cannot absorb that output
because 80 percent of humanity cannot consume. So the deeper, the more extensive and deeper the
inequalities go, the more the global economy slips into stagnation. Now, you mentioned that there was
low unemployment and there is a positive levels of growth in the last few years.
But we have to see why. What has been driving that growth up until now, apart from global police state.
One, is unbelievable speculation in the global casino, financial speculation. So the real global economy
produces goods and services worth 75 trillion dollars every year. That is goods and services that people
want, and need, and can consume. But financial speculation is 1.4 quadrillion dollars. So what's going on
here is that the transnational corporations, what I call the transnational capitalist class, has accumulated
But those profits cannot find ways of investing, or they cannot find profitable outlets could continue to
invest, so that trillions of dollars in profits has gone into financial speculation. Also, growth has
continued forward through debt. Consumer debt in the United States is at its highest point ever. State
debt worldwide is now some 250 trillion dollars. It's the highest in the world, government debt
worldwide. So financial speculation, debt-driven growth, have been reaching their limits.
They can't continue. And so global police state becomes a third outlet, a new way for the incredible
profits accumulated by transnational corporations to find profitable investments outlets. I mean, the
examples are numerous, and this is what I call in the book, "Militarised Accumulation" or Accumulation
by repression, meaning that capital continues to accumulate, the global economy continues to move
forward through systems of warfare and repression. So just to give the listeners a few examples, the
Pentagon budget increased from 1998 to 2011.
And of course, 2001 is the key turning point here because it opens up a much more sweeping
militarization of global economy and society, it really brings us fully into a global war economy. But the
Pentagon budget increased 98% between 1998 and 2011, and worldwide military spending by states to
continue to fuel the global economy increased 50% just between 2006 and 2015. And this does not
include state secret budgets, police budgets, intelligence, homeland security budgets. I calculate that if
we combine all of the state spending, just the state spending alone is 5-6% of the global economy.
And this doesn't include private corporate spending, the rise of military, and private security, and
mercenary firms which are increasingly central to the whole global economy. Warfare and repression
are evermore privatized, and there's numerous examples we can we can talk about. But let me give you
an example of this link between fueling the global economy, and intensified systems of warfare,
repression, and social control. So the day after Trump won the elections in 2016, and this isn't particular
to Trump global police state, but the day after he won those elections, the stock value jumped 40% of
the Corrections Corporation of America, which is the largest corporation running private immigrant
detention centers, because Trump had promised to intensify the war on immigrants, and so capital
massively invested in private immigrant detention companies. In April of 2017, there was a U.S.
Tomahawk missile bombardment of Syria. Those Tomahawk missiles are produced by Raytheon. Literally
overnight, the bombardment took place in the evening U.S. time, by the next morning, Raytheon stock
had increased by one billion dollars. Also, Trump is making a lot out of this new military branch, the so-
called Space Force.
But this started way before Trump, and it has been the result of a massive lobbying by the aerospace
industry so that there would be new markets for its satellites and its other space systems. The global
market and so-called homeland security is now valued at 500 billion dollars. That means that
transnational corporations are making 500 billion dollars in profit by supplying the so-called homeland
security market. The military-industrial profits quadrupled from 2001 to 2011, and now the arms
industry worldwide employs three million workers worldwide.
And you have to add that to their families. An increasing number of workers worldwide are dependent
on this industry. But it's not just arms, making and selling arms. There's also been this incredible
proliferation of private military firms. They are now active on every continent. They are actually
subsidiaries of the major transnational corporations and banks, and they're cross-invested with one
another, meaning the banks and the global production corporations are in turn linked to global police
In Russia alone, after the Soviet Union collapsed, 10,000 new private security firms were created. And
these private military firms employ 15 million workers worldwide. Private police forces worldwide
employ 20 million workers. Now, in 1/2 of the countries in the world, there are more private police, that
is for-profit policing and that's the key point here, more private police than public police. And that
includes many cities in the United States, such as Detroit.
The biometric industry is worth now 35 billion dollars. And, of course, biometrics is used by states and
by private capital to monitor and control the movements of people through these biometrics. There's
also been a rapid increase in imprisonment worldwide. Of course, with the incredible inequality I was
talking about, there has to be mass repression, and part of that mass repression are systems of mass
incarceration. But here's the point, that private prisons worldwide, there are now 200, they are in every
continent, they're dramatically expanding, and they are for profit. So the corporations that create these
private prisons, just as with the immigrant detention centers, want to increase immigrants that are
being thrown into detention centers because that's profit, and want to criminalize populations that have
been outcast in order to throw them in private prisons and make profit that way. Here's another piece
of data. You know, we can go on and on. But let me just a couple more examples, because this shows
the extent to which the whole global economy and society has become militarized, a system of mass
repression and social control, and how it is immensely profitable.
So it is helping the capitalist system to respond to its crisis of stagnation. So the European Union border
security program was launched in 2005 and that spending increased on that program by 3688% between
2005 and 2016. And this is not government spending, this is governments giving private corporations
free reign to run these programs and make billions and billions in profits. And by the way, 40,000
immigrants and refugees died since then, trying to cross borders into Europe.
So, I mean, we can go on and on everywhere, you look at it. But there's another dimension that we can
talk if you'd like to go into that, which is the Silicon Valley global police state connection. But the point
here is that any and every sector now in the global economy is becoming more and more dependent
and integrated into accumulation of capital and profit-making through repression, through warfare,
through social control. So that is the economic dimension you were asking me about. That's the
economic dimension. There is, of course, the political dimension, in that the extreme levels of inequality
in global society require extreme repression. And that's what we're seeing, of course, in Portland, and all
around the United States with this uprising. But we're seeing it worldwide.
Mm-hmm. I just want to stay with the topic briefly of stagnation. And you also put it in the content in
the book, you put an emphasis on the fact that this is really also a constant problem of capitalism, the
over-accumulation of it cannot basically find markets for all the stuff that it produces. Now, clearly,
you're outlining here, when you're talking about the global police state, you're outlining a solution to
this crisis it seems, that is from the perspective of capital, that is to sell all the stuff, to make stuff for the
military-industrial complex basically, form the global police state, and sell it essentially to the state for it
to use, and to use it productively in the sense of repressing the population.
Now, isn't that a kind of potentially long term resolution for this, what you call a contradiction of over
Not in the long term, no, not in the long term. I'll explain why in just a moment. But I want to mention
that development of a global police state is a solution on two fronts. Economically, it's a temporary
solution to stagnation. How can the transnational capitalist class continue to make profits? Through
repression, through war, because they can't do so otherwise. So it's an economic solution in the short
term, but it's also a political solution in the sense that once again, when 80% of humanity is locked out,
when even that 20% is moving downward, and accelerated through the pandemic.
And we need to get into the discussion of technology here because the fourth industrial revolution of
technologies, which are being accelerated now in the face of the pandemic, is going to mean that a
significant portion, even of that 20%, is deskilled and downgraded, if not simply losing their jobs because
of the replacement of their labor by technology. So there's also, global police state offers the political
solution to how you control the mass of humanity, and how you suppress real and potential rebellions
And before I go back to the economic dimension, I just don't want to forget that there's this quote. I just
want to point this out, that the ruling groups worldwide are terrified by the prospects of an uprising of
the vast majority of humanity. And if you read the book, you know that there's some juicy quotes there
expressing this. So John Rupert is the CEO of the Cartier Jewelry, upscale jewelry company worldwide,
it's one of the biggest jewelers in the world.
And he famously said in an interview a couple of years ago that he can't sleep at night because the
prospects of the poor rising up keep him in jitters every single night. One of the quotes here, you and I
will get back to, you know, why this is not a long term economic solution, and it's also not a long term
political solution. But here's another quote. The editor of the London-based Financial Times, a very
important, you know, worldwide daily newspaper, was explaining that he was interviewing extremely
wealthy people in New York and in global cities.
And he wrote, "one thing I've heard from a lot of people, a lot of the very wealthy people these days,
since the election of 2016 of Donald Trump, is that they all have escape plans. Rich people are buying up
ranches in New Zealand, and creating bunkers in the Bahamas, or wherever they're going, thinking that
they're somehow going to be able to avoid the apocalypse when it comes. There's actually a business
that operates in New York. It's a boat that will come, you can apparently pre-buy tickets. If there's some
political crisis or some danger moments, then they'll come and pick you up, and whisk you up the
Hudson. So here you see on the political side the extreme fear that the ruling groups have of this
uprising from below. And of course, we're seeing the uprising unfolding. But at the same time, they turn
the need for repression to contain that uprising into profit-making. But this is not a viable long-term
I mean, there are eventually limits to how much you can simply turn the whole world into a
battleground in order to continue to sustain accumulation. This is what was known as military
Keynesianism previously. This is a much more intensified deep aversion, but the idea of military
Keynesianism is that the stagnation after the post-World War II boom of after 1945, post-World War II,
there was an economic boom. As that started petering out, the government states around the world, led
by the United States, started increasing military budgets.
And the idea was military Keynesianism is a way that those military budgets, military spending, will
And that created all kinds of distortions in global capitalism and capitalism.
I'm not going to go into particular detail, but it's not a long-term fix for stagnation. The only real long-
term fix, apart from overthrowing capitalism, within capitalism, is a massive project of redistribution of
wealth downward. Expansion, and inclusion, and integration of billions of people into the global
economy under new patterns of production and distribution. And that will only come from mass
struggle to bring it about.
But I'm wondering why, I'm still not sure if I completely understood why it's not a long-term solution
economically speaking, I can see certainly politically it might not be, because the resistance will be
overwhelming eventually, I think.
But still, economically speaking, it seems to be working out to some extent. But so far, the indicator is
that it's not going to work out?
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