Book Review: The Necessary Revolution
Book review: the necessary revolution
In her latest book “Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy”, Saskia Sassen presents a serious critique of economic restructuring.
The inclusion of all sectors of the global society is one of the key concepts of the post-2015 process. The range of extensive consultations taking place is evidence that governments around the world seem to be investing effort into fulfilling the “to leave no one behind” slogan. In her latest book, sociologist Saskia Sassen argues that we are in need of new policies for achieving this goal.
“More and more people are dropped from the global economy and remain unseen, unheard."
While a lot of the talk about the future references the concept of “inclusion”, Sassen takes the opposite perspective and describes a phenomenon she calls “expulsions”. More and more people are dropped from the global economy and remain unseen, unheard. This process is not just happening in poor countries from the South, but also at the heart of the world’s economic centres. In addition to expulsions of people, the environment – land and water – is ruined and expelled from any productive use as well.
A lot of these expulsions happen locally and the circumstances differ according to the respective situation. Nevertheless, Sassen identifies mutual underlying tendencies in all of them. In distinct chapters she analyses four key tendencies. Her first conclusion is that a shift from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism has been underway since the 1980s. New economic growth is no longer based on incorporating more and more people into the economy; instead the new tendency is to oust a great number of people – from economic life as well as from society. She supports this conclusion by focusing on phenomena like refugees and prisoners - sectors of society that have disappeared from the formal economy.
“The opening of land markets all around the world has ruined small-holder economies, leading to poverty and insufficient food supplies."
The next phenomenon Sassen discusses is the global land market. The opening of land markets all around the world has ruined small-holder economies, leading to poverty and insufficient food supplies. Sassen empirically describes the process of violent land grabbing and criticizes weak national governments for not standing up to global economic interests.
In a separate chapter on finance, Sassen lays out how the way finance defines prosperity does not automatically lead to solid economic outcomes for those who participate in the real economy. Focusing on the housing market, she explains how the underlying value of an asset (a house) is decoupled from the value of the interest payments. Adding to financial value does not then result in more houses or more people being able to live in a house. But Sassen also gives examples of the productive potential that finance can have, such as when it is invested in material economies like infrastructure or manufacturing. According to Sassen, in the case of China, finance has lifted countless people out of poverty.
The last expulsion Sassen analyses is the expulsion of land and water. Economies have always damaged the biosphere, but in the past land and water have been able to recover in many cases. Nowadays increasing stretches of dead land and water are appearing that will never recover. Sassen offers a variety of examples from India and Russia to the United States where companies have done great damage to local biosystems. Newer technologies will not stop this trend, as they are often just a different approach, as is the case with fracking.
“Water and land grabbing looks different in the North, but it is happening there as well."
Expulsions is a strong critique of the development of global economic structures. Not every aspect of her argument is new – the consequences of the fall of Keynesianism have been debated for quite a while now – but Sassen draws new connections between distinct phenomena. As a renowned sociologist, she uses extensive empirical evidence to support her arguments. Interestingly, a lot of her case studies are from industrialised countries. Water and land grabbing looks different in the North, but it is happening there as well. While she sees a rise in complexity in global production, this complexity often leads to open, simple brutality. This is one of the key arguments Sassen delivers. In order to prevent this simple brutality we need to understand the complex processes that lead to conflicts and poverty first. This book is one attempt to shed some light on the intricacies of global economic restructuring.
Despite her bleak outlook, Sassen sees signs of hope as she writes: “The triple crisis we confront should become an opportunity to reorient our enormous capacities to make capital and produce what is urgently needed in both the Global South and the Global North.” The Post-2015 Agenda might be a chance to discuss new concepts and solutions. Find out more about Sassen's views in our DDD Interview.
Photo: Emmanuel Huybrechts (cc licence flickr)