The notion of capitalism has been closely connected with America in both academic research and media. Moreover, these words are often used interchangeably. This wordplay has not been groundless since there is a common stereotype of America as a capitalist empire on the global scale. In their book The Making of Global Capitalism, Panitch and Gindin take account of this relationship and attempt to gain a deep insight into its essence. As the authors explicate in the first pages, “The American state has played an exceptional role in the creation of a fully global capitalism and in coordinating and management, as well as recruiting other states to these ends”. On the other hand, some scholars criticize this opinion, doubt its relevance in the present days, and indicate shortcomings that have not been fully clarified by the researchers. For instance, there exists an opinion that the US is a hegemonic state under transnational capitalism rather than an empire. Therefore, the paper aims to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Panitch and Gindin’s arguments about the political economy of American empire.
Primarily, the strength of the perspective drawn by the scholars stems from the fact that the book has traced the evolution of the US as a capitalist empire from a historical perspective. In particular, Panitch and Gindin follow the growth of the capitalist potential of America starting from (a) the origin of the state with the constant capture of the lands from the Native Americans as a part of the pre-capitalist movement, (b) creation of a regulated state that designated the process of development of an empire, to (c) the most recent financial uncertainty and crisis within the international arena. Indeed, the book provides clear evidence that capitalism-centered expansion and exploitation started within the US borders and lead to the US transnational influence and superpower position. The scholars clearly assert that America was able to instantly and dynamically develop through the ages in an endeavor to gain global significance and superiority as part of its national DNA and in opposition to domestic pressure or contradictions. The book explains that “uniquely dynamic nature of the American capitalist development” has had a substantial basis and opportunities for nurturing. To illustrate, such factors as “abundant land and resources, an access to large foreign pools of British capital and European labor” “privileged” the US to develop in “distinctive class relations, first in the independent commodity-producing farm economy and then in the modern corporate economy”. In this way, the book clearly showed the roots of the capitalist economy of the country and its long-lasting struggle to survive, which gives a great validity to the argument.
At the same time, the authors have aptly specified a new form of imperialism that the American political economy has managed to develop and practice across the years and distances. With a reference to Polaniy, the book characterizes the mechanism of power exertion through the lens of “a judicial system disembedding the market as far as possible from ties of custom, tradition of solidarity, whose very abstraction from them latter proved – American firms like American films – exportable and reportable across the world, in a way that no other competitor could quite match”. Since the imperialism entails control of several states by a single nation to exploit their multiple resources in its favor, the US has been adaptable to external conditions and able to secure its authoritativeness in this way. In order to reach this goal through threatening with a war or its likelihood, the state has developed war bases across the world, engaged in agreements on access to the territories and engaged in some other forms of war presence and cooperation. Nonetheless, apart from positioning itself as a potential powerful war threat, the US has supported the less developed states by concluding partnership agreements and business deals. Hence, the imperialism is indeed evident from the American capitalist expansion. With this method, the US made the countries financially and politically dependent, which can also be viewed as a form of exploitation relevant for an empire.
Thus, in contrast to a commonly accepted notion of empire as a violent authority, the US has been a permanent role changer, which ensured its long-term dominance in the world politics as well as relations and favored its exploitative interests and practices. Based on the authors’ arguments, this approach has become a winning option for the American statecraft that allowed its survival in the long run. In this respect, at one point of its history, the US has been a direct invader into foreign states and their affairs. Thus, the wars in Iraq and Vietnam are vivid illustrations of American invasion. On the other hand, the country has positioned itself as one of the most superior actors in the reasonable regulation of global capitalism. This role has been performed not only directly by the US authorities but also by multinational institutions which the country initiated or had substantial influence on their decision-making. Moreover, the process has been continuous and traceable from both historical and contemporary standpoints. For instance, the scholars have clearly identified implications of policies in the New Deal, Bretton-Woods, and the launching of the international trade and other organizations, to list a few. With these approaches, the USA has been successful in securing its status of a global superpower and informal capitalist empire, as Panitch and Gindin assert.
Therefore, another important point emphasized by the researchers is the ideological flexibility of the US political elite in the quest for the global capitalism-mediated dominance. The verified tool of the statecraft in this context has long been neoliberalism, which is positioned as the most valuable and appropriate ideological background for all states to follow in their growth and improvement. The US tended to ignore peculiarities of domestic states in formulating their development paths. On the other hand, the nation has long been concerned about “the successful promotion of a liberal international order, with increasingly open borders in terms of foreign direct investment”. As a result, there is an immense number of American businesses within the transnational borders. Moreover, the US is substantially involved in the transnational neoliberal doctrine, to which the US way of life and mindset are the key concepts. In any case, the US has been flexible in different aspects to ensure its instant growth as a capitalist superpower and prevent a shift or decline of its influence.
This view is also strengthened by a deeper insight into the root causes of such endeavors for capitalism-centered global expansion and exploitation. For example, as David Harvey explains in The New Imperialism, the utmost desire of the US was to gain access and control extraction of ‘black gold’, namely oil from the global perspective. By contrast, Panitch and Gindin have been more focused on the political mechanisms and tools in the development and securing the US status of an informal capitalist empire. Nevertheless, Harvey’s point allows broadening the scope of understanding the reasons and intentions of the state in this respect. Indeed, referring to the sanctions on Iran or Iraq invasion, the assumption about oil-focused capitalist imperialism of America should not be underestimated. For this reason, the argument by Panitch and Gindin seems more than valid, though not fully explained in this regard.
Apart from strengths, some weaknesses can be identified in the argument. Specifically, Panitch and Gindin failed to focus on the possible opposition to exploitative ventures of the US empire from the standpoint of other nation-states who extend their power on both local and global arenas. In this context, Kiely (2014) explicated that there is a need to distinguish such notions as “progressive” and “anti-West”. Rather than focusing on the US alone, the authors should have at least briefly asserted on the importance of resistance and inequality that exist in terms of perception of the ideology and political influence of the US on the national and global scale. Such one-sided perspective undermines validity of the position taken by the authors and reveals their shortcoming in considering the phenomenon of the US empire. To provide an example, “financialization” and “consumerization” along with a “decline in collective action” in light of neoliberal views showed a certain degree of opposition among other nation-states. However, these implications about the American capitalism are still clearly traceable across the world, making the statement regarding its imperialist expansion or functioning more than valid. Moreover, it is a typical phenomenon in the international relations that a regime that is based on oppression and exploitation of others encounters opposition from the exploited nations in the form of ideological, political or other forms of struggle. Thus, one can assume that there should be another form of US adaptation to the changed historical circumstances rather than completely reject a suggestion about that the American economy is a capitalist empire.
In addition, Kiely’s critique of The Making of Global Capitalism identifies one more weakness of the authors’ argument. This weakness relates to the fact that the authors should not have confined imperialism of the US to class hierarchies and inequality, even from the global perspective. Drawing upon the reviewer, the international context of political economy relations is far more complex. Thus, this phenomenon cannot be considered as “a simple convergence between countries” or “capitalist diffusion among core capitalist states”. Nevertheless, these two points have slight drawbacks in the rationalization of the scholars’ argument and thus are unable to completely reject trustworthiness and reliability of Panitch and Gindin’standpoint.
Summarizing analysis findings, it is evident that Panitch and Gindin have provided more strengths than weaknesses in arguing for understanding the American statecraft as a capitalist empire. Primarily, the authors have drawn a case from the historical development of the country, showing that the scope and extent of its capitalist nature has broadened with time. Moreover, the scholars have demonstrated that the US, which is an inherently capitalism-driven nation, has been dynamic and flexible in adapting its domestic and international policies and strategies to the external circumstances as well as internal needs and aspirations. The authors have clearly traced this factor within the political, financial and ideological domains among other aspects, which has become another contribution to the validity of the claims made by the authors. On the other hand, the book has at least two weaknesses. Specifically, such shortcomings concern referring to the American empire from the perspective of a single state, giving brief account of anti-West standpoints, and failure to precisely analyze the complexity of international relations by limiting the discussion to class-centered hierarchies. Nevertheless, these flaws can facilitate further analysis rather than undermine the depth and quality of the argument.