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Multiple Crises of Global Capitalism and Threats to Life: Financial and Economic Crisis

This paper was presented by Prof. Pamela K Brubaker, Professor Emerita of Religion from the California Lutheran University, in time for 3rd People’s Forum on Peace for Life held last October 26-27, 2013 in Jeju Island, South Korea.


Multiple Crises of Global Capitalism and Threats to Life: Financial and Economic Crisis

Pamela K. Brubaker (USA)

“A Global Ecumenical Conference on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture” was convened in October of 2012 by the WCC, WCRC and Council for World Mission (CWM)to engage the proponents of diverse proposals and solutions, set criteria and a framework and develop a plan of action towards constructing just, caring and sustainable global financial and economic structures. These organization share a deep commitment to promoting justice in the economy and the Earth and recognising the need to work together to have a meaningful impact. Three paragraphs from the conference’s Sao Paulo Statement: International Financial Transformation for the Economy of Life(2012)[i]are the “texts” for my presentation:

“The 2008 global financial and economic crash increased poverty and unemployment among millions in the global North and worsened and deepened poverty, hunger and malnutrition among even larger numbers in the global South, already experiencing decades of poverty and deprivation caused by injustices in international financial and economic relations. A system of speculation, competition and inadequate regulation has failed to serve the people and instead has denied a decent standard of life to the majority of the world’s population. The situation is urgent.

Modernity has brought with it an economic model based on profit and self-interest disconnected from faith and ethics. This has led to the ideological justification of colonialism, the despair of poverty and inequality, and the violence of economic and ecological devastation as well as the reluctance of some churches to discern the signs of the times and to engage with the realities of a dehumanising dominant world order that continually discriminates and oppresses those with whom God sides: the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and the oppressed.

Therefore we reject Empire and our complicity with all systems of death, including militarism, and affirm movements of social concern and other radical traditions that are a rejection of Empire and seek to build life in community outside the logic of hierarchy and discrimination.”

A footnote explains that “In using the term ‘empire’ we mean the coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power that constitutes a system of domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own interests,” quoting from the Accra Confession.”Clearly the logic and practices of these systems are threats to life!

Neither the Sao Paulo Statement nor the Accra Confession specifically identify “the powerful nations” whose power constitutes a system of domination. I am one of many U.S. citizens who acknowledge  (with deep regret) that the United States is the primary actor among these powerful nations. I appreciate Peace for Life’s clear statement that “empire-building, led by the United States” is “the single, most formidable force today impeding the realization of fundamental ethical values of justice, equality, human dignity, human rights and integrity of creation.”

My passion for peace and justice continues to be fueled by my participation in the 2ndPeace for Life People’s Forumin Bogota and the Solidarity Mission to the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia which followed (March 2009).This experience brought to life the reality of threats of life from displacement of people, struggles over land and resources, extrajudicial killings, and significant U.S. military involvement to ensure access to natural resources, markets, and geopolitical interests. The Magdalena Medio region, population of under one million, had experienced around 2000 extrajudicial killings during the previous ten years.During the mission (organized by Denise Nadeau), a small delegation of women and one manfrom Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Philippines, and the U.S. accompaniedthe Christian Peacemaker Team there on visits to several local groups and communities.

One day we traveled upriver an hour or so to the small community of San Pablo, where thirty of the approximately 80 extrajudicial killings in the region had occurred in the previous few months. OFP (Popular Organization of Women) had requested our presence, since an international delegation would indicate that this had not gone unnoticed. (When OFP began speaking out against armed violence and war in Colombia early in the 2000s, two of its leaders were assassinated, but the organization has persisted in its work.) We visited a small community of displaced women and their children. Some of these women were single mothers; the husbands of others had stayed on their land in hopes of tilling it.At the end of our visit, they said to us: “We are women ignored by the state, the municipality, abused physically, emotionally, yet we are strong women and hope we will not be forgotten by you.”

Though formally demobilized in 2006, new paramilitary formations in Colombia continued the practice of land grabbing, given the profit to be made as palm oil production is being greatly expanded to serve as a bio-fuel.Colombia remains the country with the highest number of IDPs in the world, with a total of between 4.9 and 5.5 million, according to the IDMC.[ii]Land grabs are all too common in other countries, with rising demand for bio-fuels, agricultural exports,mining, oil and gas production, military bases, etc. Oxfam has documented violent land grabs in Brazil, Cambodia, Mali, Zambia and Malawi by sugar mills and plantations. Their current campaign calls on Coca-Cola (a face of the soft power of US empire), PepsiCo and Associated British Foods to commit to zero tolerance of land grabs throughout their supply chains.[iii]

My discussion of the financial and economic crisis of global capitalism will focus on the role of the U.S., mainly from the context of the U.S. pivot to Asia. (NinanKoshy’s paper, The Imperial ‘Pivot’ to Asia-Pacific and the New Cold War” and the remarks of Chandra Muzaffar, reported in the June-July issue of PfL’s newsletter were particularly helpful in thinking about this pivot.)

Muzzafar identified some of the US’s military and economic strategies for maintaining its global dominance: maintenance of bases, weaponization of space, and surveillance using new technology as recently exposed by Edward Snowden; the highly-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the maintenance of the US dollar as the world’s main currency. I will analyze the U.S. military-industrial complex and the TPPA as interrelated aspects of global capitalism, and its threats to life.

But, first a comment about the US dollar: during the debate on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, concern was expressed in the press that a debt default would seriously threaten the dominance of the US dollar.  I personally support the recommendation of the Sao Paulo Statement that “There is a need to design a newmulticurrency reserve asset…”The dominance of the U.S. dollar “creates enormous advantages for the US economy as, contrary to other countries. … No other country in the world would survive with a level of current account deficits as high and as persistent as those of the US.” What the statement describes is a form of financial hegemony, an aspect of the “new imperialism” discussed by David Harvey in his analysis of two logics of power and their intertwining.

Two logics of power.I continue to find David Harvey’s analyses of imperialism and capitalism insightful. In his 2010 book, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism, he elaborates on a distinction between two logics of power. The first logic of power – a territorial logic, is driven by territorial imperatives and political interests, captive … in part “to expressions of popular will (such as nationalism) in the public sphere” and refers to “the political, diplomatic, economic and military strategies deployed by the state apparatus in its own interest.” The second – capitalist logic – “arises from the accumulation of money power in the private and corporate hands searching for endless growth through profit-making.”Harvey contends that theselogics “are not reducible to each other but they are closely intertwined.” His description of the “new imperialism” illustrates this: it is “the struggle for hegemony – financial hegemony, in particular, though the military dimension continues to be of great importance.”[iv]This seems an apt description of the “US pivot to Asia.”

This is the latest stage in what critics call “militarized globalization,” which seeks to impose US hegemony and neo-liberal capitalism around the world. This regime is religiously legitimated through certain interpretations of Christianity – that the US is God’s chosen people, innocent and exceptional – ritually expressed in the “God bless America” at the end of presidential addresses. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a more secular version of this view in a November 2011 article in Foreign Policy entitled ‘America’s Pacific Century:’ The Asia-Pacific’s “remarkable economic growth… and potential for continued growth,” she wrote, “depends on the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the US military” whose presence has to be further strengthened. As you know, the establishment of a navalbase on Jeju Island to be used by the Pentagon for nuclear submarines and Aegis destroyers is a crucial component of the military dimension of this project.

Territorial Logic: The Military-Industrial Complex

During the post-World War II era, the US developed immense financial, economic and military power; it was the only one of the Allies whose country and economy were not ravaged by the war, although there was a significant loss of life by US armed forces. Its major military buildup had stimulated the economy, ending the Great Depression. Its atomic weapons, used to project US force against the Soviet Union, added to its military strength.  It had also prevailed over John Maynard Keynes during the Bretton Woods conference, to enhance the US role in the IMF and World Bank and to scuttle the proposed trade organization opposed by U.S. businesses.

In his 1961 Farewell Address, President Eisenhower warned that the US military industrial complexthreatened to dominate politics through its pervasive influence and to pursue its own narrow interests by exaggerating threats and manipulating external crises so as to construct a permanent war economy that would  renders it even more powerful. With its massive spending budget, the US has long been the principle determinant of world military expenditures, which is estimated to have reached $1.756 trillion in 2012. This is higher than any year between the end of World War II and 2010; 2.5 % of global GDP, or about $249 for each person in the world.  Military spending is concentrated in North American, Europe, and increasingly in Asia. However, the US share is 39% of the total, a slight drop from 40% the prior year, due to the effects of the financial crisis and post Iraq/Afghanistan military operations.

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have estimated the total cost of the Iraq war as $6 trillion, which contributed to a dramatic increase in US debt. Even more significant and unjust, is the loss of life by 500,000 Iraqis, nearly all civilian and including many children, and the negative impact on regional stability. The biggest beneficiary of this war wasUS defense contractors, the largest army of “private contractors” ever deployed in a war. In 2007, “some in Congress estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war goes to corporate war contractors.” At that time, “the United States spent about $2 billion a week on its Iraq operations.”[v]“CEOs at the top defense contractors had seen annual pay raises of 200 to 688% since 9/11/2001. The average annual salary for a CEO at a top defense contracting firm was more than $12 million.” Some earn more than twice that amount, including Halliburton’s CEO.[vi]

Economist Ismael Hossein-zadeh contends that there are two important differences between the market-driven behavior of military and nonmilitary industries in the US. In contrast to most civilian industries, the profits of military contractors are usually guaranteed. “These profits also tend (on average) to be higher than those of their civilian counterparts – especially during times of war and international conflicts.”  The second difference is “that the quality of arms manufacturers’ products is measured in terms of death and destruction.” This serves as an incentive for contractors to develop more efficient instruments of death and destruction.”[vii]

The international arms trade is another element of the military-industrial complex. David Harvey points out that “to survive economically, the defense industries needed a thriving export trade in arms. This came to have a fundamental role in US capital accumulation, but it also resulted in the excessive militarization of the rest of the world.”[viii]According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the U.S. continues to be the leading supplier of weapons to the rest of the world; 44% of the sales from 2004-11, worth over $220 billion with 2/3 of those sales to developing countries. In spite of the global financial and economic crises, a few developing nations (India and Saudi Arabia) continued to make major arms purchases.(SIPRI) also reported that the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military servicesin 2011; ten of those companies sold half of that ($208 billion). USA Today used the report to review these 10 companies, seven of which are U.S. based.  Northrop Grumman(NOC) is of particular interest since it produces aircraft, electronics, missiles, ships, and space equipment (total workforce: 72,500). Its 2011 arms sales (21.4 billion) comprised about 81% of total sales ($26.4 billion), even after a sharp decline in arms sales year over year. The company attributed the decline to reduced government spending on defense projects. Nevertheless, the company was more profitable than in the prior year ($2.1 billion). The chief financial officer recently indicated his company may sell its Global Hawk airplane to South Korea or Japan.[ix]

Interestingly, the arms industry is protected from WTO regulations, under the “security exception.” Article XXI of the GATT, the principle agreement of the WTO, states that a country cannot be prohibited from taking any action “it considers necessary for the protection of essential security interests … relating to the traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war and such traffic in goods and materials as is carried on directly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment (or) taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations.” According to Stephen Staples of the International Network on Disarmament and Globalization, “This clause is the most powerful exception in the WTO. It actually allows a government to define its own ‘essential security interests,’ a definition that can’t be questioned by WTO dispute panels.” Staples thinks it spurs government military spending, since it is free from WTO challenges.[x]

There are often exemptions for military spending deemed vital for national security from the demands for market liberalization in free trade and investment agreements negotiated by developed countries with other countries. (This seems to be true of the proposed TTPA.) Staples points out that “since only the wealthy countries can afford to devote billions on military spending, they will always be able to give their corporations hidden subsidies through defense contracts, and maintain a technologically advanced industrial capacity. US and European corporations receive enormous tax breaks and even lend money to other countries to purchase weapons from them. Therefore tax payers from these countries end up often unknowingly subsidizing arms sales. (This is a form of public financing, for private profits.) Who do these agreements benefit? Harm? In what ways do they contribute to economic and financial crisis?

Capitalist Logic: The Global Search for Endless Accumulation

Athena Peralta recently wrote that “We have put in place financial and economic arrangements which reward, enable, demand and presume the expression of greed on the part of individuals, groups and institutions, such that, according to Konrad Raiser, we can now speak of ‘structural greed’ or ‘institutionalised greed’ that is resulting in the “structural deprivation of the conditions of life in dignity for the majority of people.”[xi] It is important to note that it is not just personal greed or deprivation, but structural greed that results in structural deprivation of the conditions for a dignified life for the majority. What are the connections between these financial and economics arrangements and structural deprivation?

In The Politics of Money,Frances Hutchinson, Mary Mellor, and Wendy Olsen point out thatthe  logic of market capitalism is not satisfaction of human needs, but meeting of ‘effective demand’, that is, demand backed by money.” This is a primary factor in structural deprivation, and threats to life. These authors contend that “the institutions of capitalism have evolved as a means to create and consolidate elite powerover the resources of the natural world and society such that the majority of people are forced to participate in its structures of accumulation.” In this stage of evolution (financial capitalism), wealth is not created through trade; rather“money, and therefore wealth is created through the banking/credit system and its ability to leverage its capital.”They then pose the crucial question, which is deeply ethical: “The question is who gets that credit/money and how? How does the allocation of control over credit issue affect the processes of production, distribution of incomes and exchange?”[xii]

David Harvey rightly argues that the credit system is now “the major modern lever for the extraction of wealth by finance capital from the rest of the population.[xiii]”For example, predatory loans that targeted African Americans and Latinos, causing them to pay higher interest than similarly qualified whites, are an overlooked factor in the US housing crisis which helped spark the financial crisis. The United States first expressed interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a mechanism for expanding financial service agreements throughout the Pacific Rim, according to the Citizens Trade Campaign. “U.S. negotiators appear to be pushing for a financial services chapter that would not only provide Wall Street-based firms with greater access to financial service markets abroad, but also explicitly limit governments’ abilities to regulate banks, hedge funds and insurance companies,” – thus appearing to have neared nothing from the 2008 financial crash![xiv]

Who, then, benefits from the TPP? In an opinion piece entitled “Forging a Pacific future” published just last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry claims that the Trans-Pacific Partnership   “will drive growth and create jobs across the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S.” In particular, it “will support American jobs and investments by expanding access to markets for goods and services in a region of robust economic growth, setting high labor and environmental standards and protecting intellectual property rights.”[xv] Many Americans have become quite skeptical of such claims, given the significant loss of jobs after NAFTA (nearly 700,000 US jobs). In total, US free trade agreements over the past two decades have netted a loss of nearly five million. A study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that the TPP will cause wages for 90 percent of American workers to decrease while wealth of the top one percent will soar.[xvi]

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is expected to continue allowing U.S.-subsidized corn, wheat, soy, rice and cotton to be dumped on other countries, while also allowing the import into the U.S. of cheaper (and often less safe) fruits, vegetables and seafood from other countries. The Citizens Trade Campaign rightly asserts that this consolidates global food supplies in the hands of fewer-and-fewer giant middlemen, while forcing more and- more family farmers off their land and exposing consumers to wild food price fluctuations. Under NAFTA, this phenomenon became a driving force behind migration from Mexico to the U.S. Because of this, farmers in many countries are already adamantly opposed to the TPP.

Only five of the twenty nine chapters in the leaked TPPA contain provisions related to trade. (Most free trade agreements consist of ten chapters, or so) The other chapters are comprised of provisions related to patent protections, investor state rights and finance deregulation, among others.After the leak of the TPP investment chapter last year, the US Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment released a statement about the onerous investor-state provisions:

“As religious institutions and faith-based organizations with extensive global relationships, we have deep concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement currently being negotiated. … The leaked TPP investment chapter reveals a radical redefinition of foreign investor rights that would allow multinational corporations to sue governments for millions of dollars in compensation for environmental or public health safeguards by claiming that such protections constitute an infringement of their newfound ‘rights.’… The investor-state provisions under negotiation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership undermine the very principles of human dignity and respect for the integrity of God’s creation which we support.”[xvii]

Recently, leaders from Chile and Malaysia expressed their concerns in news media:

Rodrigo Contreras, former ChileanTPP negotiator, wrotethat “It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries.Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our developmentoptions in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policiesand the transformation of our economies.”[xviii]

Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and a leader of the opposition Keadilan, the People’s Justice Party, wrote that the party“views TPPA as an attempt by the US, as its main driver, to impose its brand of economic model of total free market, laissez-faire approach, deregulation and small government. The glaring absence of China, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia in the TPPA only lends credence to this theory of modern-day American hegemony that promotes primarily the US economic, business and geopolitical interests.” He also points out that “although TPPA may theoretically give Malaysian companies access to the US$500 billion in annual US government procurement market, the chunk of this market is for defense, which is exempt from the TPPA.[xix]

After Japan joined the negotiations, SachieMizohataof the Association of University Faculties in Japan wrote inthe  Asia Timesthat “The TPP is a Trojan horse, branded as a ‘free trade’ agreement, but having nothing to do with fair and equitable treatment. In reality, it is precisely ‘a wish list of the 1% – a worldwide corporate power’.”[xx] This power can also be described as “a transnational capitalist class, formed by “the leading capitalist strata worldwide.”This class owns the leading global means of production, according to sociologist William Robinson,which is embodied primarily in transnational corporations and private financial institutions. It is transnational because it“is connected to globalized circuits of production, marketing, and finances that are not bound to particular national identities and territories and because its interests lie in global over local or national accumulation.”[xxi]Although many of these corporations are American, their workforce is global. Some, like Apple, engage in evasive practices so as not to pay income tax in the US, and pay minimal or no taxes in other countries where they operate.

Critics rightly claim that the TPP is a backdoor corporate power grab to advance the stalled WTO agenda, which is one of the significant accomplishments of the global justice movement.

This supports Muzzafar’s assessment of the TPP as one strategy for maintaining US global dominance and Harvey’s understanding of the new imperialism as the struggle for hegemony – financial hegemony, in particular, though the military dimension continues to be of great importance. Our analysis of belligerent empire needs to keep in mind these intertwined logics and strategies as we affirm life in its face.

In conclusion,I return again to the Sao Paulo Statement:

We lament the manner in which economic and financial legislation and controls are biased in favour of the wealthy. We therefore affirm the God of justice for all those who are oppressed (Ps. 103:6). We call for a system of just legislation and controls that facilitate the redistribution of wealth and power for all of God’s creation.

In view of the gross injustices that accompany neoliberal policies and structures, nothing less than a metanoia of the international economic and financial system is required. For that we need a people’s movement which, like the earlier civil rights, anti-apartheid and Jubilee movements, rejects a world that is unfair, unequal and unjust, and one that is run for the benefit of the “1%”.

Rodrigo Contreras, the Chilean TPP negotiator, cautioned that the TPP as it stands,“will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries. Peace for Life must join with these social movements in this resistance to affirm life together in the face of belligerent empire.

The Sao Paulo Statement ends with these words: “Ultimately, changes will need to go beyond technical and structural requirements. What the world needs is a change of heart so that financial and economic systems do not have individual gain as their compass but justice, peace and the protection of God’s creation.”

To that I add ChandraMuzzafar’s words from the “Engaging Peace and Sovereignty, Building People’s Solidarity: An International Conference on US Strategic Pivot to Asia:”

In resisting the Empire and its strategies, “I feel that spiritual and moral values which are in part of the internal wisdom of the human family, values pertaining to the dignity of the human being, to the integrity of creation, that these values should be right at the centre of the transformation that we seek because that’s the only type of transformation that is worth living for and dying for.” May it be so!



[ii]According to the latest figures released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there were 28.8 million IDPs around the world in 2012, up from 2011. The global number of IDPs has steadily increased from a total of around 17 million in 1997.)


[iv]The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism,Oxford University Press, pp. 204-5, 212.

[v]Jeremy Scahill, “Flush with Profits from the Iraq War, Military Contractors See a World of Business Opportunities,” August 13, 2007,

[vi]The Nation, 10/22/07, p. 5. “It would take a top general in the military sixty-six years and nine weeks to earn as much as the average, and 170 years, forty-two weeks and five days to earn as much” as the highest paid CEO.”

[vii]The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 201-02

[viii]The New Imperialism,OxfordUniversity Press, 2003, p. 60

[ix]Samuel Weigley, “10 companies profiting the most from war,” March 10, 2013,

[x] “The WTO and War: Making the Connection,” The WTO and the Global War System Forum Proceedings, November 28, 1999, p. 10

[xi]Athena Peralta, “Overcoming Systemic Greed: Do We Need New Global Economic Ethics?, September 29,2013.

[xii] Frances Hutchinson, Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen, The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy (Pluto Press, 2002), p. 96, 60. UlrichDuchrow and Franz Hinkelammert connect to the creation of money in the banking/credit system to “adding value on the basis of encumbered  property.” Property for People, Not For Profit: Alternatives to the Global Tyranny of Capital (WCC Publications, 2004), p.188.

[xiii]The Enigma of Capital, p. 245.

[xiv]“Trans-Pacific Fact Sheet,” Citizens Trade Campaign, Current members of the TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the Philippines, the United States, Vietnam and more recently Japan . These 12 countries represent 40% of the world’s economy;” the US alone represents “25%, so it is clear who “the big power” is.The US already has Free Trade Agreements with 6 of the TPP countries, namely Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Singapore.

[xv]John F. Kerry, “Forging a Pacific future,” The Los Angeles Times, (October 18, 2013, A 17). He asserts that “America and Asia are stronger” because of “the rebalancing of our foreign policy priorities in Asia.

[xvi] “Job-Killing Trade Deficits Soar under FTAs,” Public Citizen, 2013; “Gains from Trade?” Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2013.Under CAFTA, the trade balance of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (the poorest countries in Central America) with the US, reversed from positive for them to negative; only Costa Rica benefited in this regard.

[xvii] September 11, 2012. Contact: Catherine Gordon, Chair, IWG on Trade and Investment, (202) 543-1126

[xviii]Rodrigo Contreras, “The New Chessboard. This article has been translated from Spanish. The original article appeared in the Peruvian magazine Caretas.

[xix] also contrast Malaysia’s bilateral agreements with 9 of the 12 TPP partners as “fair to each country’s situation unlike TPPA which disproportionately appears to benefit big multinationals.


[xxi]William I. Robinson, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World  (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), pp. 47-8.

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