Capitalism and the Third World: Development, Dependence and the World System

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Dependency theory

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Dependency Theory 101

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To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video. Imperialism is a historical as much as a theoretical category. The crises facing the system and human society as a whole are now so severe that they are creating new fissures in the state in both the advanced capitalist and emerging economies, with a rapid growth of protofascist and neofascist tendencies, on the one hand, and a revival of socialism, on the other. Recognizing the continuity with earlier phases of imperialism is as crucial to our understanding of the present as our awareness of the distinguishing characteristics of the current phase.

Each historical phase of imperialism relies on different means of exploitation and expropriation to feed accumulation on a world scale. Imperialist countries at the core of the system invariably attempt to restructure labor in the capitalist periphery or in the precapitalist external areas to reinforce power and accumulation at the center of the system. At the same time, the core imperial nations are often in competition with each other for global spheres of influence.

In the later, mid—nineteenth-century colonial era or stage of free competition under British hegemony, free trade operated in the core of the world economy, but this went hand in hand with colonialism in much of the world, where unequal exchange and outright robbery and plunder predominated. Nineteenth-century colonial capitalism evolved by the end of the century into what Lenin called the imperialist stage, characterized by the rise of monopoly capital in all the great powers, the decline of British hegemony, and rising tension over the division of the entire world among the core capitalist powers.

These conditions led to two world wars among the rival claimants to hegemony over economic territory. Following the Second World War, the United States emerged as the world hegemon within the capitalist world, in a context that also included a Cold War with the rival socialist-oriented world. While promoting an ideology of free trade and development, the U. This was accompanied by the siphoning off of much of the economic surplus of the global South.

By Noí«lle Burgi and Philip S. Golub

With the rise of monopoly-finance capital, the world has entered a new phase of imperialism, late imperialism, rather than a superseding of imperial relations. Late imperialism, as we have seen, represents an epoch in which the global contradictions of the system are revealed in ever starker forms and in which the entire planet as a place of human habitation is now at risk—with the catastrophic effects falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable of the world population.

None of this was a complete surprise for the more astute analysts of globalization. In , Magdoff wrote that,. Nor has the geographic spread of capital reduced the contradictions between the rich and poor nations. Although a handful of third world countries, benefiting from the globalization process, have made noteworthy progress in industrialization and trade, the overall gap between core and periphery nations has kept on widening.


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Nor has it aided the cause of either peace or prosperity. Indeed, there is something deeply ironic about the growing rejection of the theoretical critique of imperialism in the present global context. While a handful of developed capitalist nations increased their capacity to control, at least partially, the productive processes at a global level, the financialization of the international economy and the growing circulation of goods and services, the great majority of countries witnessed the growth of their external dependency and the widening of the gap that separated them from the centre.

Globalization, in short, consolidated the imperialist domination and deepened the submission of peripheral capitalisms, which became more and more incapable of controlling their domestic economic processes even marginally. The heightened imperialist controls of global finance and communications are inherent parts of this process without which the globalization of production would not be possible. Late imperialism can thus also be seen as the period in which economic stagnation, financialization, and the planetary ecological crisis all emerged as widening, irreversible fissures, inseparable from the system of monopoly-capitalist accumulation itself and finding its ideological justification in neoliberalism.

A distinguishing feature of globalized production and finance in the current century is the systematic exploitation of low unit labor costs in the South, a product of the fact that wages are kept at levels far below those of the North due to: 1 the enormous global reserve army located primarily in the South; 2 restrictions on the movement of labor between countries, and particularly from poor to rich countries; and 3 the force of imperialist pressures past and present. However, the divergence in average wages can nevertheless be surprising: not just 20 percent or 50 percent, but more like a factor of 2, 5, 10 or 20 between the richer countries and the poorer countries.

By Noí«lle Burgi and Philip S. Golub

Mainstream economic theory explains this—and justifies it—by arguing that workers in richer countries are more productive than in poorer ones, because the former are more educated and skilled, working with higher levels of technology. Yet this explanation does not sit well with the reality that many manufacturing employees in poor countries are employed, directly or indirectly, by major corporations, and working with technology that is often comparable to that in the richer country. Production by or contracted out by foreign multinationals in poor countries relies on the same or near to the same technology utilized in the rich economies, leading to comparable levels of productivity.

The result, combined with extremely low wages, is that unit labor costs in manufacturing in the so-called emerging economies of China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico in were only 46, 37, 62, and 43 percent, respectively, of U. Today, a large and rapidly growing portion of production is outsourced to the periphery in the form of arms-length contracting or what is known as the non-equity modes of production such as leasing, licensing, franchising, and management-service contracts , constituting a kind of middle ground between foreign direct investment by multinationals and actual trade.

Still, not all value-chain production exploiting low unit labor costs in the global South takes the form of subcontracting or the non-equity modes of production. Much of it occurs in the form of more traditional foreign direct investment by multinationals. In alone, U. This only accelerated problems of surplus capital absorption. Under these circumstances it is, of course, obvious that foreign investment aggravates rather than helps to solve the surplus absorption problem. In the words of Jason Hickel in The Divide :.

For example, imagine a nominal exchange rate between the US dollar and the Indian rupee of That would be a perfectly equal exchange. Or at least so it would appear. So the real exchange rate, in terms of purchasing power, is All sources of income, whether wages, profits, rent, or interest, arising from the enormous gross profit margins on Southern production are simply booked as value-added in the global North, contributing to Northern GDP.

The huge profits from outsourcing and other means of global value capture further exacerbate problems of surplus capital absorption. Much of this imperialist rent ends up in tax havens and becomes a means of amassing financial wealth concentrated in a small number of corporations and wealthy individuals, while largely disconnected from the ongoing and increasingly problematic process of production, investment, and growth in the United States and other imperialist nations.

Amin argued that imperialist rent had two distinct components. The first was the rent derived from the imperialist exploitation of Southern labor. The second was the draining of natural resources from the South and violations of its sovereignty in this respect by multinational corporations and imperialist states.

Imperialism engages in an enormous struggle for the control of strategic resources. It has been estimated that the U. Military hegemony plays a key role in all issues of securing economic territory and strategic resources. Multinational corporations are inextricably tied to the financial and political-military power of the particular states in which they are based, without which they could not exist for a moment, and on which their ability to engage effectively in international competition depends.


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In the case of the top hundred nonfinancial corporations in the world, three quarters have their home in just six countries: United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland. According to Norfield,. What distinguishes it is the backing it receives from a powerful nation-state in the world economy, and any advantages it gets because it is located in and identified with that imperialist state.

Imperialism today is more aggressive and boundless in its objectives than ever. Intercore conflicts within the triad continue to exist but are currently suppressed, not only due to the overwhelming force of U. In China and in Russia, for different but related historical reasons, global monopoly-finance capital lacks the dominant combination with the national capitalists within their political economies that is present in the other BRICS countries.

Capitalism and Underdevelopment | SpringerLink

Meanwhile, the European Union is in disarray, experiencing centrifugal, as opposed to centripetal tendencies, arising out of economic stagnation and the instability generated by imperial blowback emanating from adjacent regions, particularly the Middle East and North Africa. At the center of this interlocked, globalized world order is the unstable hegemony exercised by Fortress America over both Europe and Japan.

Anti-imperialist peace movements have waned in most of the capitalist core, even in the context of a revival of the left, raising once again the question of social imperialism.

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