History 2 or 2 B? Capital Narratives Capital: A Preliminary Exploration

History 2 or 2 B?
History 2 or 2 B? Capital Narratives
for Asia and Asian Narratives for
Capital: A Preliminary Exploration
G. Balachandran
Naturalizing a global ‘world of capitalist totality’ serves as a modality for normalizing global processes of
capital accumulation. However ‘global’ remains a project evinced in specific forms of cultural action and
practices. This preliminary article juxtaposes two vastly separated spheres of global economy and society
that are rarely considered together. The haute sphere of a crisis ridden global financial system increasingly
sees its salvation in mobilizing and disposing of the ‘surpluses of the Orient’ in a manner that speeds up
global capital accumulation. In this light the financial crisis and the enhanced global role and aspirations
of Asian states, in particular China and India, may lead to compromises in the ways both states have
articulated local, national and global accumulation processes to one another, and mediated their impact on
marginalized domestic social groups. Historians have traditionally misrecognized struggles of subordinated
social groups to resist surrendering their claims to capital or resist proletarianization. It has now become
more important than ever to revisit these struggles and their redoubts to uncover cultural and political
actions for grounding the ‘global’, and the practices, idioms and relationships of resistance to them.
It is now conventional wisdom after the most recent phases of the financial crises that
Asia (mainly India and China) has ‘decoupled’ itself from the United States (US) and
the West. Most ‘decoupling’ commentaries start with the economy, that is, the relative
stability of Asian gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates even in the midst of a
deep and prolonged Western recession. But they no longer stop there. A great deal of
informed commentary in the financial media, particularly papers such as the Financial
Times, The Economist and their associated publications, and business consultancy surveys such as those produced by the McKinsey Global Institute, have also tentatively
begun to explore the wider implications of this decoupling in spheres ranging from
geopolitics to democracy and political values, art to social relationships.
CHINA REPORT 46 : 4 (2010): 447–469
SAGE Publications Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/000944551104600407
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
G. Balachandran
According to one view, rapid Asian economic growth would lead to greater social
differentiation and the creation of a middle class with increasingly ‘modern’—now
once again a popular term with positive meanings—and ‘global’, that is, Western,
attitudes and habits. The proponents of this view, especially if they happen to be
business consultancies, usually steer clear of politics. However, this view belongs to a
broader political narrative, much popular in some circles in the late 1990s, of expanding freedoms in which consumer freedom opened the path to individual and political
freedom. According to a less optimistic liberal view, the so-called Washington consensus
of the 1990s has now been replaced globally by a ‘Beijing consensus’, involving a
strong state controlling or directing flows of economic and political resources and
dealing pragmatically with private capital, foreign and indigenous, from a position of
strength. This is a world where norms and constitutions are subordinated to the state
or interests of authoritarian state elites and their political parties. Freedoms here are
at best unstable and contingent, founded on pragmatic arrangements that are fluid,
unstable and always open to renegotiation.
Beyond the world of financial commentary, the implications of ‘decoupling’ on
global governance have been at the heart of renewed debate, most notably since the
climate summit at Copenhagen in late 2009 and, more recently, in relation to G-20
deliberations on global economic policy. It is by no means a given that the newer
G-12 or G-13 powers (that is, G-20 minus the original G-7 or 8) will champion new
or heterodox ideas and approaches to global problems. For instance, some of them
appear to have less stomach than the G-8 for expansionary fiscal policies to combat
the present recession, not least for fear that such policies might be pursued at their
expense, that is, by running up further debts to them. Yet, on the whole, it would be
surprising if the emergence of new ‘global powers’, known by whatever acronym, and
reconfigured global relationships do not exert an influence on the world of ideas and
dictate the reconsideration of some earlier orthodoxies. As historians such as Victoria
di Grazia remind us, interwar European social democracy was as much a reaction to
the rise of the US as a global power as it was to Bolshevism and the threat of revolution
(de Grazia 2005).
We may detect a glimmer of this influence already in the realm of policy ideas.
Financial market regulation, particularly banking regulation of the kind practiced in
India, which until recently was castigated as a dirigiste residual has once again become
respectable. Even India’s rural employment scheme, long dismissed as a populist
‘giveaway’ or savaged as further evidence of venality and corruption, has now come
to be viewed in unexpectedly positive light (The Economist 2009). Conversely, already
some years ago in the West, gurus of neo-classical trade theory such as Paul Samuelson,
and orthodox economists such as Alan Blinder, began raising questions about the gains
from free trade and the social and communal costs of adjusting to seemingly irreversible
shifts in comparative advantage during periods of rapid and adverse technological
change (Blinder 2006; Samuelson 2004).
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History 2 or 2 B?
However, praise for Asia’s economic policy making and performance has been
accompanied by calls for Asian states to play a more ‘responsible’ global role, especially
in redressing global economic imbalances. Such demands reached a crescendo in the
run up to the special Pittsburgh G-20 summit in September 2009, when financial
newspapers such as The Economist and the Financial Times, and influential platforms
such as Morgan Stanley’s Global Economic Forum, led an orchestrated chorus for
China to increase consumption and imports and reduce savings and exports in order to
‘rebalance’ the world economy. Such demands have revived in the wake of the European
crisis (with Germany also now increasingly in the crosshairs along with China), and in
the run up to subsequent rounds of G-20 meetings. As a ‘contribution to this policy
debate’, McKinsey and Co.’s China practice produced a glossy report in August 2009
with the breathlessly titillating title, ‘If you have got it, spend it: Unleashing the Chinese
consumer’, on how to propel ‘China to a higher share of consumption’ in its economy
(McKinsey Global Institute 2009). ‘It is time for the Chinese to enjoy themselves
more. How unpleasant can that be?’, Martin Wolf mused out aloud on the eve of the
Pittsburgh summit. China, he declared, had ‘saved itself. Has it also been saving the
world?’, he asked. His own answer was negative (Wolf 2009).
Demanding China ‘save the world’ is the flip side to a narrative largely blaming
it for global economic imbalances. The most authoritative pronouncement of blame
was made in Ben Bernanke’s famous Sandridge lecture in Richmond in March 2005
(Bernanke 2005).1 In recent months, much of the criticism of China has perhaps
justifiably focussed on the value of the renminbi. However, demands for revaluing the
renminbi have also been accompanied by a long list of domestic welfare prescriptions
for China which, though bearing heavily on its financial sector, also have implications
for relationships of kinship, family and household. The cultural assumptions underlying these prescriptions are discussed later. For the present, that is, at the level of social
aggregates, what is interesting about such prescriptions is that they seek to institute
and normalize prescriptive and transformational structural claims and projects in what
is overtly still a positivistic, managerial economic policy discourse.2 They also claim
an authoritative knowledge of China’s real needs, that is, more consumption and less
saving, derived almost wholly from a particular reading of the West’s own historical
experience, and embedding particular conjunctural relationships, institutions, attitudes
and practices therein, in a longer historical telos of progress. Conveniently by adopting
these patterns, China would also help ‘rebalance’ the world economy.
Bernanke was then the vice-chairman under Alan Greenspan of the Board of Governors of the Federal
Reserve System. Such arguments have a long history, going back to the days of the Cold War when the US
justified its deficits with Japan on the basis of the latter’s desire to save their incomes rather than spend.
For a contemporary academic statement of the same interpretation and argument, see Blanchard and
Giavazzi (2005).
For an argument in a somewhat different context, yet tracing the discursive and prescriptive link between
crisis, structural reform and the ‘normative framework of everyday life’, see Takeda (2008).
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G. Balachandran
India, which runs a trade deficit with the rest of the world and has had a shrinking
trade surplus with the US since 2006, has not attracted the same kind of attention.
Yet, it also experiences pressure from international institutions and influential business
and political leaders, duly echoed in some sections of India’s more open media and
government, to enact further liberal reforms, however dated some of their underlying
premises might appear now in the light of the crisis, to ride out the global crisis and
restore pre-crisis rates of growth.
There is therefore a palpable inconsistency between China’s and India’s global
standing, which might be thought, among other things, to imply recognition of their
sovereignty and autonomy, and their renewed tutelary status, now in relation to the
norms and practices appropriate to ‘responsible’ global citizenship and modern economic and social organization. To be ontologically of the West is then to be like the
authoritative modern West’s own version of how it has been, and perhaps will be.
A common Western refrain is that in contrast to its own major powers which inhabit a
‘post-national’ world, China and India (along with Russia) are conventional ‘modern’
powers with a continued strong attachment to sovereignty.3 ‘Reforming’ this attitude
in return for ‘great power’ status is often, therefore, seen as a major challenge. In a
well-publicized speech to the National Council for US–China Relations in September
2005, Robert Zoellick, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, wondered aloud how
far China would become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system and
‘work to sustain’ it (Zoellick 2005). More recently, The Economist thought it fit to
raise the same question which has gained new life since the failed climate summit in
Copenhagen. Though less prominently targeted for such advice by Western politicians,
India’s ‘readiness’ for greater global ‘responsibility’ has also been a subject of sceptical
speculation and comment (Stephens 2009).
Both China and India possess elites self-consciously global in outlook and aspirations, and responsive to such arguments. Some months after Zoellick’s speech, King
and Dean recounted in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) how efforts in China to translate
the expression ‘stakeholder’ into Mandarin became implicated in internal debates
about the US attitudes towards its rise, that also brought into confrontation a range
of opinions about China’s response to these attitudes and its global role (King and
Dean 2005). In India, the succession of global economic crises since the mid-1990s
seems to have done little to dampen the stridency of policy commentators urging the
adoption of the latest Western economic and financial fads as ‘best practices’.
This argument is most forcefully expressed in Cooper (2000).
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On the other hand, such diagnostic and prescriptive pronouncements partake of
an uncertainty that Karen Ho lays bare in her discussion of the US investment banks’
claims to being global, and more generally, in her ethnography of ‘global’ finance
(Ho 2005: 68). This uncertainty or paradox is that ‘global’ and ‘globalization’ are
claimed, at one and the same time, to represent spontaneous and ineluctable processes
and yet also, as projects requiring constantly to be affirmed, renewed and realized.
Tensions between claims of spontaneity and demands for voluntarism (or failing
that and in some circumstances, demands for decisive action in moments of crisis)
draw attention to relationships that are essential to the reproduction of capital yet
inhere in institutions, sometimes impeding its logic.4 Such recalcitrant institutions
also dramatize the uncertainties marking discourses on managing the global economy
during periods of crises (but which are generally absent in stories of the ‘rise’ of the
global economy). However, beyond colonialism and perhaps the Cold War, modes of
dealing with such recalcitrance and their effects, the roles and objectives of nation-states
in relation to them, and the political and discursive conflicts they might engender, are
rarely recognized or theorized at a global (or international) level.5
In the colonial period, metropolitan officials recognized the crucial role, historically,
of predatory violence in restoring capital to circuits from which it had to be withdrawn
to finance trade with Asia. Though predatory raids and conquests no longer had a
regular place in the policy arsenal of a liberal world economy, they bear an interesting
kinship with other interwar discourses about ‘relieving the surpluses of the Orient’;
later and current ones about ‘rebalancing’ the world economy; and furthermore, with
practices to bring them about (Balachandran 1996: chapter 4).
In the interwar years, metropolitan Britain sought to ease domestic resistance to
accumulation pressures and mitigate the burden of its resulting financial disequilibrium
by forcing India to undergo deflation. The underlying assumption was that Britain’s
economic health was crucial to world prosperity from which India would also benefit,
while rising incomes in India could not be an end in itself nor come at the expense of
world (that is, British) prosperity (for a summary of this argument, see Balachandran
2003: chapter 6).
In partial contrast, as noted earlier, contemporary discourses about ‘decoupling’
reflect a more schizoid view. On the one hand, ‘decoupling’ suggests not merely a relationship in which continued economic growth in China or India no longer depends
on Western growth, but also one where, as relatively open economies, rapidly growing
China and India can act as growth engines (or ‘locomotives’ in this parlance) within
their own regions, even if not yet globally (see, for example, Roach 2009). On the other
hand, ‘decoupling’ also evokes fears and visions of a powerful untamed power more
disposed to set new norms than follow incumbent ones. To some extent, the dismissal
of China as a nuisance upstart that could only grow with the help of a benign West,
For a more general argument amenable to this interpretation, see Chakrabarty (2000: 669–71).
For the colonial period, see Balachandran (1996); for the Cold War, see Roxborough (1998).
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G. Balachandran
as a nation which rented out ‘workers and workspace at deflated prices and distorted
exchange rates’ to the rest of the world and really nothing more than a North Korea
with capacity for ‘financial deterrence’ evince such fears and an approach towards
addressing them (for a candid expression of this view, see Joffe 2009).
Phrases such as ‘financial deterrence’ evoke the spectre of coercion. The threat of
coercion is never entirely absent in the liberal world economy. In fact, the term ‘financial
deterrence’ was coined in the 1960s. It drew on analogies with nuclear deterrence
to describe the extreme options the US could threaten against European and Japanese
demands for it to rein in its deficits (Aubrey 1969: 17–21). However, in an era when
the costs of overtly coercive policies to rebalance the derailed global accumulation
engine seem incalculable, tutelary projects in the redemptive mode serve an important
purpose. A ‘price of admission’ to the club of ‘great powers’, as Philip Stephens wrote
in the Financial Times in the somewhat different context of Indian policies towards
Myanmar and Sudan, is a ‘foreign policy that looks beyond narrow definitions of
national interest to…broader [global] goal[s]…’. Great powers, according to this
commentator, ‘are expected to provide public goods’, a formulation that serves both
to legitimize Britain’s imperial role in the nineteenth century and the US’ global role
since the Second World War, and to stake the West’s claim to vet Chinese and Indian
policies and validate their aspirations (Stephens 2009).
Tutelary claims of this nature often also serve to subordinate more reciprocal,
symmetrical, and thus potentially equalizing, claims of one nation over another, even
those emanating in principle from an apparently shared normative framework or a
sense of common interest. For example, in substance, Chinese criticisms of the US
economic policies on the eve of President Obama’s November 2009 visit to China
were little different from the kind of criticisms major lending nations routinely make
of profligate deficit nations and borrowers in the international system. Yet, rather
than recognizing them as reflecting the legitimate concerns of the US’ largest lender,
the Western media largely delegitimized and undermined them as further evidence of
China’s growing power and assertiveness (Back 2009). In the same vein, many critics
of Obama’s China visit also complained at the time about the premature redemption
granted to China. Several months on, the price of its admission to the ‘club of great
powers’ continues to be under negotiation.
Finally, all said and done and despite its normative and other excesses, the idea that
great powers are meant to provide ‘public goods’ still reflects an expectation of ‘benign’
great power behaviour. It is a measure of how, with the exception possibly of Russia
and of commentators such as Robert Cooper, such ‘benignancy’ tended to be taken
for granted in the ‘globalized’ post-Cold War era, that the Financial Times columnist,
quoted earlier, omitted to make this distinction. However, in recent months, there
seems to be a growing trend in the other direction with more frequent and prominent
denunciations of China—whether from strategic hawks concerned about China’s
defence spending and hardening attitudes on boundary disputes or human rights
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups concerned about
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History 2 or 2 B?
press curbs, human rights, treatment of minorities, and foreign aid and investment
policies—in the Western media. At the same time, business denunciations of China,
including by normally reticent chief executive officers (CEOs), have grown louder
and more frequent.6 It remains to be seen to what extent these and similar statements
represent a growing willingness to articulate and confront what some fear to be the
less ‘benign’ tendencies within China shaping its global role.
Against this backdrop, it is instructive to turn to contemporary Western structural
narratives in the tutelary mode about the present global crisis, and the social and historical imaginaries reflected in them. Such tutelary narratives remain more ubiquitous
and representative of the tone even about China in the mainstream financial media
(let alone India), than denunciatory (or ‘bad cop’) narratives about Asia flouting
‘contemporary global’ norms, or as yet, about their belying Western investment expectations.7 Both intrinsically, and more so when viewed in the prospective light of
their doppelganger, that is, the denunciatory rhetoric that might supplant them, such
narratives reflect efforts by the major Western financial powers, principally the US and
Britain, to recuperate discursive pre-eminence, prescriptive access and political agency.
Therefore, they involve representing many features of contemporary Asian modernity
as aberrant or abnormal, at the same time inscribing them within a genealogy and
telos that render them amenable to change.
Private consumption is a major trope in such narratives where it also sometimes
serves as an implicit index of repression and freedom. This emphasis is once again
most visible for China where household consumption is currently said to account for
only about 35 per cent of national income as against twice that in Britain and the US.
However, with the latter countries’ loan-financed, consumption binge-driven models
For example, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric (GE), a top ten global corporation by market
capitalization. Immelt is reported to have said, ‘I am not sure that in the end they [i.e., the Chinese] want
any of us to win, or any of us to be successful’ (Immelt 2010). Immelt’s comments were significant because,
according to the WSJ, ‘most foreign business executives go to extreme lengths to avoid saying anything
that could remotely antagonize the Chinese government.’ Similarly, there were reports of the complaints
that the CEOs of BASF and Siemens made publicly to Premier Wen Jiabao in the presence of the German
Chancellor Angela Merkel (Anderlini 2010).
Though, as noted earlier, these have become more common in recent months. See, for example, Beattie
and Anderlini (2010), which quotes ‘the German chief executive of a large industrial company point[ing]
in private to one large international market leader that did not get a single order in the past three years
in spite of heavy investments in China’, to suggest that China has of late belied Western expectations. It
is, however, not clear to what extent this particular ‘spin’ relates to ongoing negotiations over Chinese
public procurement policies, an issue that was deferred at the time of China’s accession to the World Trade
Organization (WTO).
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G. Balachandran
of growth currently discredited, typical Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) household consumption ratios of 55 per cent of national
income have come to represent a conventional benchmark for measuring Chinese
‘under-consumption’. With China needing to go a long way to catch up with Western
consumption levels, there are also great hopes of a rapid growth in Chinese consumption in the coming years, necessarily faster even than its breathless GDP growth rate
of 9–10 per cent. Such hopes provide the basis for the dream world of global consumption and profits growth imagined in McKinsey’s August 2009 report, where
China is projected to contribute a quarter of the total global growth in consumption
and raise its share of global consumption from 3 per cent currently to 13 per cent by
2025 (McKinsey Global Institute 2009).
A counterpart of the current ‘low’ household consumption ratios is China’s high
savings and investment ratios, which at 50–52 percent of GDP are unprecedented
in peacetime. Several explanations have been offered for these ratios. Not all of them
necessarily problematize the former ratio as ‘low’. One explanation attributes it to
adverse income distributional shifts in manufacturing. Between 1998 and 2005,
according to World Bank economists, Bert Hofman and Louis Kuijs, the share of output
going to workers in manufacturing dropped from 24 per cent to 18 per cent. In any
event, profit and interest shares tend to be higher in manufacturing than in agriculture
and services. With manufacturing growth being highly intensive in capital and few jobs
being created in industry, this trend is likely to have worsened in recent years (Hofman
and Kuijs 2006). The UBS economists, Tao Wang and Jonathan Anderson, too blame
high enterprise earnings and savings (boosted by sharp increases in investment in heavy
industry) for the present rates of investment and household savings in China (Anderson
2009). This class of explanations is, in fact, consistent with an undervalued exchange
rate which enables China to offload surplus investment and output capacity on the
rest of the world—a strategy Anderson refers to as ‘market grab’.
A more popular view of Chinese under-consumption in the Western media
however, is one associated with Marcos Chamon and Eswar Prasad, who argue that
Chinese households are forced to restrict consumption and raise savings because of
the absence of a social security net in the form of unemployment benefits, health
insurance and old age pensions. They observe that contrary to the Western norm,
savings rates have increased across all demographic groups in China since 2000, with
younger and older households having the highest savings rates. They also observe
little evidence of a smoothening out of consumption over the lifecycle, as has been
the case since the 1960s in the West where younger households consume in excess
of income by contracting debt that they pay off as they age. In their view, though
measurement biases may underestimate ‘habit formation’ as an explanation for why
consumption did not rise rapidly in line with incomes, two main factors explain rising
household savings rates in China: ‘the breaking of the “iron rice bowl”’; and ‘overall
macroeconomic uncertainty associated with the transition to a market economy’ (for
a recent statement of this argument, see Chamon and Prasad 2010).
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History 2 or 2 B?
The financial media’s neglect of the scholarly nuances in explanations for China’s
high savings rates and surpluses is perhaps only to be expected. More puzzling is its
relative neglect of the range of explanations offered for the phenomenon, and its focus
on policies to directly boost consumption and lower savings. ‘It is now high time for
China to get much more serious about promoting internal consumption,’ Stephen
Roach, former chief economist at Morgan Stanley, wrote in March 2009, and urged
its government to ‘set an explicit target of taking private consumption share of the
Chinese economy from 36 per cent at present to 50 per cent of GDP in five years’.
He also asked China to ‘take major initiatives in reducing precautionary saving…’
(Roach 2009: 249).
For anyone who has visited China, repression of consumption must seem a fantastic
idea. Yet, as Anderson notes, the incongruous vision of low-income Chinese families
scrimping and saving in order to subsidize the insatiable American consumer has
become so firmly engrained in the collective consciousness that it is no longer taken as
a point of debate, but rather as a fundamental truth (Anderson 2009: 24). Demands
for the Chinese government to ‘put its mind’ to hitting ‘targets’ such as a consumption
to GDP ratio of 50 per cent underline an attempt to mobilize centralized, monolithic
representations of China as a ‘top-down’ party–state. Despite the well-known hazards
of such campaigns, not least in this instance the energy and environmental costs of
rapid growth in Chinese consumption, such demands also represent opportunistic
appeals to the Chinese government and the Communist Party’s proclivity for setting
targets and launching campaigns to exceed them.
However inaccurate, stereotypes about repressed consumption in China further
complement and reinforce conservative Western self-images and descriptions of freedom to consume as a key aspect of human freedom. Implicitly or explicitly, according
to the ‘global rebalancing’ argument, both stand threatened by China’s low rates of
consumption to income which lead directly to greater levels of belt tightening and
lower incomes and consumption in the US and the United Kingdom (UK). Narratives
about the denial of consumer freedom in China and its impact on household spending
power in the West also help depoliticize meanings of rights and freedoms in the West
and collapse them into the freedom to consume. In one single move, as it were, China’s
image as the land of un-freedom is underlined even in relation to a sphere, namely,
consumption, where convergence with ‘Western norms’ appears pronounced, the
prospect of its promised or hoped for redemption further deferred and the meaning
of freedom in the West reconfigured.
Turning Weber on his head, the ‘mantra’ of China as a ‘consumption economy’
also normalizes current patterns of behaviour in the West as a standard to emulate for
Chinese households. Indeed, representing the Western ratio of private consumption
to GDP as a norm ignores its contextual meaning even in China, and the role of
individual and collective human agency in determining it. Before the 1990s reforms,
household consumption had already amounted to over 50 per cent of a much lower
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G. Balachandran
GDP in China. In the last two decades, rising incomes have been accompanied by
unprecedentedly rapid growth in levels of household consumption in China. In the
last five years, ‘nearly every available consumption indicator’ shows ‘frenetic growth’ in
both urban and rural consumption (Anderson 2009: 26). Yet, household consumption
growth has lagged behind incomes growth.
This is not surprising during times of rapid economic growth. Nor is China alone
in this regard. In Japan, savings rates rose sharply as incomes rose in the 1960s and
the 1970s. In India, rapid incomes growth since the early 2000s coincided with a
rising savings rate (now close to 36 per cent) and contrary to optimistic McKinsey
projections at the start of the decade, a shrinking proportion of private consumption
to GDP. Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of private consumption to GDP in
India declined from over 62 per cent to about 55 per cent. The fact that household
consumption ratios in India, a poorer economy than Europe or China, lie closer to the
European ‘norm’ underlines the arbitrariness of using the European ratio as a norm,
and also, more importantly, its complex determinants. Thus, it remains moot how
far declining consumption ratios in India and China might reflect a conscious choice
by households in both countries to embrace the possibility rapid growth offered of
raising consumption standards, yet increasingly also seek other uses for their rising
incomes (for optimistic McKinsey projections, see McKinsey Global Institute 2007:
27; and for the 2008 figures, McKinsey Global Institute 2009: 17).
Thus, overall, whatever their differences of emphasis and nuance, the tone and
substance of dominant Western narratives about the current financial crisis and Asia’s
role in them would suggest an audacious attempt to salvage and restore the hegemonic
status of Western models of accumulation and economic transformation in the midst
of the crisis. Indeed, in some respects and in some discursive contexts, the crisis may
even be thought to have provided yet another opportunity to affirm and universalize
a post-1991 narrative of Western economic and social modernization by assimilating
China and India firmly into its telos.
Take, for instance, one of the most frequently advocated solutions for restoring the
broken ‘iron rice bowl’ in China, namely, the creation of a system of old age insurance
in the form of pensions. A powerful means of affirming the principle of bourgeois
individuation in the realm of the family, ‘old age security systems’ imply their objectification and abstraction from relations of family and kinship as a prelude first to their
socialization, and increasingly now to their financialization. Until the 1960s and the
1970s in the West, state pension schemes expanded in the optimistic expectation that
‘always there are more youths than old folks in a growing population’ and the national
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History 2 or 2 B?
product grows at ‘compound interest…as far as the eye cannot see’ (Paul Samuelson
[Newsweek, 13 February 1967], quoted in World Bank 1994: 105).8 This optimism
had evaporated by the 1990s. However, belief in ‘formal systems’ inevitably ‘replacing
informal systems as the dominant form of old age support’ has endured, even though
Western pensions and ‘old age security systems’ are no longer committed to the principle
that constituted their strongest justification for formalization, namely, the redistributive
mitigation of old age poverty by the state (quoted in ibid.: 67). Moreover, in the West,
a long interval of several generations separated the socialization of old age support
in the form of pensions, and their financialization. By contrast, in China and India,
the objectification of ‘old age social security’ appears mainly to be about creating and
expanding a new sphere of financial accumulation.
In the template for financial transformation that Western advisers often visualize
for China, private old age pension plans are a key element in a package of initiatives
aimed overtly at ‘deepening’ and ‘diversifying’ China’s ‘repressed’ financial system in
which, currently, savings are mainly held in the form of bank deposits paying low rates
of interest or, increasingly as appears to be the case, deployed in informal circuits of
lending. The financial argument is that by expanding lending for consumption (besides
mortgages) and securitizing such loans, financial reforms will enable smoother intertemporal allocation of incomes and expenditures by households and individuals. Savers
will also be able to switch from low-yielding bank deposits into notionally higheryielding securities. As savings for old age took the form of pension fund contributions
rather than more disaggregated forms of individual savings, pension funds would also
increase the demand for securities and help boost the ‘securitization’ of the financial
sector. A similar argument is made for insurance as well. In other words, by making
available institutionalized saving avenues for old age support and insurance against
life, health and general risks, financial reforms would encourage younger households
to borrow to boost consumption and home purchases.
Such prescriptions imply telescoping into a few years, financial transformations
occurring uncertainly over several generations in Europe and the US, and still unfolding
there in unknowable ways.9 However, they also draw welcome attention to some
interesting features of the prevailing forms of capitalist modernity in Asia that have been
rather neglected at the hands of social scientists. Because of their focus on savings and
consumption, rather than say income distribution, ongoing efforts to expand financial
accumulation target intimate spaces of family and kinship relations. A closer look also
Samuelson insightfully added that a ‘growing nation’ was the ‘greatest Ponzi game ever contrived’.
For example, it is not clear how accumulation pressures that may take the form of, say, conflict between
expanding the scope of financial accumulation and deepening it, may shape financial systems in the Western
or their juridical–legal arrangements; for an interesting argument about this relationship in a different yet
related context, see Maurer (1999). Maurer notes how contemporary discourses about securitized property
challenge notions of legal inviolability of property rights and implement a tiered ranking of rights in which
small owners of financial assets are configured as subjects with an obligation to forfeit their rights in exchange
for ‘protection’ in the form of insurance against risk.
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reveals conflicting implications for the meaning and nature of individual agency and
autonomy in relation to saving and spending decisions.
One of the arguments offered to claim superiority for private pension funds over
public pension funds (and private health insurance over health care offered by the
state) is that the former offer more individual choice. However, unlike in Europe,
before employer- and state-supported pensions became the norm, most parts of fastgrowing Asia have a far more developed, diversified and better-regulated financial
sector with higher rates of financial penetration and relative abundance of investment
opportunities, to justify individuals and households retaining their savings and making
their own investment decisions. Indeed, careful husbanding of family and household
labour and financial resources to optimize incomes, overhead and consumption costs,
savings, as well as investment in a range of financial/non-financial, material/cultural/
symbolic, tangible/intangible assets/instruments/relationships has been the key to
successful upward mobility for several generations of urban middle-class households
in most parts of Asia. By contrast, pension funds seek to divorce old age (and health)
support systems from inter-generational allocational considerations and kinship-based
accumulation strategies. Yet at the same time, they involve diminished individual
responsibility for investment decisions which are centralized in the hands of inaccessibly
distant, if no longer technically anonymous, fund managers. Though on paper, the
latter may be acting in a fiduciary capacity and individual investors may nominally be
the principals, the latter are unavoidably condemned to playing a passive role.
There are further ironies. Few would judge recent Western experiences with old
age pensions (outside the redistributive public pensions system) as a great success.
The extent and immediacy of the social security crisis (that is, the system of defined
benefit pensions) in the West may well be exaggerated.10 The promoters of this ‘ponzi
scheme’, to use Paul Samuelson’s expression, are not about to go bankrupt. Yet it
seems clear, especially for Europe, that except in the event of an unexpected increase
in birth rates and/or immigration, defined benefit schemes will become increasingly
unaffordable as populations age. China, one-third of whose population is expected to
be above 60 years by 2050, is also likely to face the same problem. On the other hand,
if the crisis in the US 401-K pensions and innumerable anecdotal accounts during the
current crisis of elderly workers deferring retirement or of retirees resuming work to
top up declining pensions are anything to go by, volatility in valuations make defined
contribution pension schemes (where actual payouts are not guaranteed and depend on
market returns) an extremely uncertain bet. In short, the current crisis facing private
pension plans and blighting the retirement prospects of a whole generation of pensioners seems to have had no impact on the pension and financial reform proposals
being promoted in Asia.
It became clear during the course of the 2005 US debate on privatizing social security that supporters
of privatization had consistently ‘mis-calculated’ the various tipping points of the projected crises to advance
them by several decades.
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
History 2 or 2 B?
These ‘business as usual’ narratives about the current crisis also serve a broader
purpose (quote from Thompson 2009: 520–21). They help naturalize prevalent
financial models and institutions in the West which are, in reality, of relatively recent
vintage, being no more than about two or three decades old, and assimilate them into
a longer telos of Western development and modernity. They are also required and
authorized by global narratives placing the onus for the crisis and the elimination of
global imbalances on Asia, and tutelary Western projects to ‘equip’ China and India,
in particular, for global leadership. Under the circumstances, it is perhaps too much
to expect the overall crisis of social security in the West to lead to a reconsideration
of the nominally socialized models of old age security encoded into these narratives
of financial progress.
It is impossible yet to anticipate the full effects of the crisis of social security in the
West which may take several generations to unfold. But already we may glimpse in
this crisis, an emerging challenge to the telos of Western development and modernity
that background mainstream Western macroeconomic policy narratives about the
financial crisis and proposals to tackle them.
For instance, we may plausibly expect the pensions and social security crisis to
provoke readjustments in the provision of inter-generational endowment and support
within the family. In middle-income families, in particular, it is hard to see how changes
in ways of providing for old age security can avoid restructuring filial ties through the
whole gamut of the family lifecycle, possibly involving everything from greater parental
investment in children’s education to the age at which children leave home or marry,
which according to many surveys has already been rising noticeably in recent decades,
and greater reliance on grown-up children for support in old age. In functional terms,
such restructuring would mark a return to a ‘pay as you go’ model of old age security,
only now embedded in the decentralized framework of family and filial relationships,
with the welfare state’s contribution being confined, at best, to easing the worst forms
of old age poverty and providing assistance to the kinless.
In short, while current models of financial development for Asia place ‘vernacular’
norms and relationships to put capital in its place under siege, such norms and relationships may yet have a wider relevance beyond Asia, and perhaps even warrant reconsideration of conventional (Western) narratives of modernity, progress and reform.
Such possibilities also invite us to revisit and historically contextualize conventional
boundaries between culture and economy, and conventional relationships between
community and capital.
There is now growing recognition, as Prasenjit Duara notes, that modernity is ‘not an
ontological condition but…a historical one’, and that claims and assumptions about
the world represent ‘efforts by historical agents, human and institutional, to realize
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G. Balachandran
them’ (Duara 2008: 158). Hegemonic efforts to this end are however challenged by
‘struggles and compromises, adaptations and subversions, resistances and innovations,
contingency and iruptions’ (ibid.). In the same paper, remarking on Philip Huang’s
description of the ‘third realm’, Duara laments the inadequate conceptualization of
historical relationships and practices that have endured the unprecedented ‘ability of
the [Chinese] Party–state to penetrate and transform people and their organizations’
because these are seen to be ‘sitting uneasily’ with the categories of modernity
(ibid.: 159).
Partha Chatterjee has argued that the logic and rigours of accumulation were
checked in India by the demands of state legitimation necessitated by the domestic
context of representative democracy. He describes this as part of a strategy of passive
revolution aimed at containing ‘class conflicts within manageable dimensions, to control
and manipulate dispersed power relations in society to further as best as possible the
thrust towards accumulation’ (Chatterjee 1993: 202–04). It is however a plausible
question to what extent the discourses and practices necessitated by legitimation may
have also been mobilized by subordinated social groups to deflect accumulation pressures and to check the power of the state and ruling classes, if not entirely to reorder
power relations (ibid.).11
Indeed, a feature of popular modernity in contemporary India, or in Duara’s words,
a feature of its ‘inarticulate and emergent present’, has arguably been the improvisation
of ‘traditional’ and new social institutions and relationships to resist or regulate the
alienation of capital, and attempt to confine and discipline its relationships. On the
surface, such improvisations, particularly when appropriated into social scientific
theorizing, may seem to be an ‘integral part of a global regime of knowledge-power’
and mere ‘instruments…for the…management of poverty’ (Sanyal 2007: 236).
However, ethnographies of entrepreneurship, such as Sharad Chari’s monograph on
peasant–workers turned proprietors in Tirupur’s hosiery industry, suggest the possibility of a ‘less dramatic local capitalism without widespread dispossession, at least in
its constitution, and without active state intervention’ (Chari 2004: 33, 200). This
was only possible because Gounder workers, ‘rather than learning that they were
dominated by the law of value,…learned how to work in ways that would turn their
labour-time into capital’ (ibid.). Somewhat similarly, Vinay Gidwani’s genealogical
account of agrarian capitalism in central Gujarat recognizes the ‘para-sitic’ existence
of capital, its ‘variegated fractions’ and ‘multiple histories…interlacing…multiple
value-productions that are not-capital…even when life is structured-in-dominance to
capitalist value’ (Gidwani 2008: 229–30; italics in the original).
We may likewise view the survival of India’s ‘intermediate classes’ and ‘intermediate regime’, to use
terms the late K.N. Raj popularized in the subcontinent, as being a result of successful yet always embattled
resistance to expanding accumulation (Raj 1973).
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History 2 or 2 B?
Historically, the most ambitious collective attempt to express these modes of
improvisation and resistance in India was perhaps in the articulation of the hybrid
set of ideas and beliefs that we now label as ‘Gandhian economics’ (Govindu and
Malghan 2005).12 Though Gandhian economic ideas were apparently soon eclipsed
by Jawaharlal Nehru’s passion for industrial modernity, several features of India’s postindependence policies and practices on the ground bore, and continue to bear, resistant
signs of their influence. Emanating from and enmeshed in continuing conflicts over
accumulation, there is no doubt that few government policies lived up to the claims
made for them whether in conception, design or execution. Yet, the policies and the
claims made for them were not themselves entirely void of significance, nor can they
be unproblematically assimilated to fixed or predetermined accumulation strategies
without regard to the mobilizations they produced or made possible.
For instance, as Akhil Gupta has shown, farmers’ movements in northern India
drew on the state’s own rhetoric and claims to refashion their moral discourses and
redeploy them into a political critique of the state or for justifying new claims on it
(Gupta 1999). Christine Lutringer has suggested that resistance by the Indian peasantry
forced modifications and adaptations even in the technologies and practices of the
Green Revolution which was originally conceived as a powerful means to transform
agriculture along capitalist lines, and homogenize and industrialize farming practices
(Lutringer 2009). More broadly, Partha Chatterjee has argued that the Indian state’s
discourses and practices of legitimation have empowered subaltern social groups to
mobilize categories of governmentality as sources of a new associational and social
morality in ‘political society’ (Chatterjee 2004).
Several recent conflicts in India reveal the intensity of popular resistance to alienating land and capital. Numerous local popular movements protest government takeover
of farming land or unlisted forest commons for transfer to industrial corporations,
promoters of special economic zones and export processing zones or for issuing mining
leases. Nandigram and Singur have become bywords for such protests and stimulated
profound new questions about the claims made for the ‘universal’ history of capital
(Nigam 2007). Besides landownership, resistance and improvisation in the face of
accumulation pressures and conflicts have also broadly revolved around the social and
political ecology of agrarian practices; cropping patterns and practices; and seeds and
water use. In present-day Chhattisgarh, where an indigenous nationalist project to
centralize knowledge of the rich diversity of the region’s rice varieties and the storage
of their seed samples unwittingly, if predictably, provoked an audacious attempt by the
multinational agri-business giant, Syngenta, to acquire control over them, determined
peasants agitated successfully to terminate the state government’s agreement with the
seed firm. The region’s peasants and peasant movements also leveraged their superior
knowledge of its ecological diversity to adapt, reassert and sustain their life practices in
In this section of the article, ‘Gandhian’ is used as a shorthand for a range of practices and policies
that inhibit or restrain the alienation of capital or attempt to confine and discipline its relationships.
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
G. Balachandran
the face of efforts by the state and central governments, central and state agricultural
universities, multilateral agencies and NGOs to reorder them (Lutringer 2009).
The influence of a moral political economy justifying checks on accumulation and
its protagonists’ success in mobilizing intellectual and political support for it, may also
be found at the level of public policies in India. The latter and their governmental
effects may indeed be said to form the wider backdrop to the policies, practices and
mobilizations in relation to urban squatters and slum dwellers that inform Partha
Chatterjee’s theorization of ‘political society’ which might, more broadly, be said also
to encompass political movements mobilizing the categories and institutions of governmentality to defend local geographies and sociologies of exchange and accumulation. Furthermore, it is to be doubted whether policies and other state initiatives
that constrain or regulate geographies of accumulation may be dismissed as part of
the strategy of ‘passive revolution’ without assimilating them into a singular telos of
capitalist modernity.
Independent India has a long and chequered history of such policies, the best known
among which are perhaps the reservations that existed for small, cottage and handicraft
industries. There have also been several less notable attempts since at least the 1960s to
improve the sustainability of small and unorganized businesses, more often than not
through allocational mechanisms for bank credit which consequently became a key,
if rather paradoxical, contact point between the ‘organized’ and ‘unorganized’ sectors
(for an illustrative list of such policies, see National Commission for Enterprises in the
Unorganized Sector [NCEUS] 2007: chapter 3). Opinions and prejudices abound,
about structural, cyclical and conjunctural relationships between these two sectors. Yet,
whether and how such relationships, and other material, cultural, symbolic and gender
relationships sustained (or subverted) the unorganized sector’s capacity for resistance
(or wider circuits of accumulation) are questions for which only conditional answers
may be sought in the realm of their actual politics.
Despite pursuing liberalization agendas with varying intensity, successive Indian
governments have encountered resistance to efforts to expand corporate forms of accumulation and organization into new spheres where their role has hitherto tended to be
mediated and indirect. The opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in so-called
‘organized retail’—which extends across the entire spectrum of political opinion from
the hard left to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—offers a good illustration of such
resistance, in this case to the marginalization of small retail shopkeepers with close
personal ties in the community and flexible practices adapted to it. The government’s
inability, so far, to push through legislation allowing FDI in this sector despite severe
external pressure to do so, not to mention local or regional opposition forcing even
domestically owned corporate retail chains to curtail or discontinue operations in
some states, speaks to ongoing conflicts over the spatial boundaries of accumulation
within the modern Indian nation that map on to contending extant and possible ways
of organizing or doing business, and contending extant and possible relationships
between capital and community. Conflicts over these boundaries and their resulting
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
History 2 or 2 B?
fluidity also find reflection in such seemingly trivial policy or operational tussles as
restrictions on transport of food grains, truckers’ demands to do away with local
restrictions on transport, transport permits, local taxes, road cesses and tolls, as well
as potentially major long-standing fiscal policy debates about replacing the current
slew of indirect taxes on domestic trade levied by state governments and the central
government, with a single, uniform general state tax (GST) in order to create a ‘single
national market’.
A central government initiative that has recently been in the news however speaks
in somewhat more intriguing tones to the spatial politics of accumulation in contemporary India. Shortly after it took office in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government followed up on a promise to establish a national fund for the unorganized
sector by constituting the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized
Sector (NCEUS or the Arjun Sengupta Commission) to ‘review the status of the
unorganized/informal sector in India including the nature of enterprises, their size,
spread and scope, and magnitude of employment’. The commission was also asked
to study the constraints facing the sector, and ‘identify innovative legal and financing
instruments to promote [its]…growth’ (NCEUS 2009). The commission seemed to
acknowledge the irony of a ‘national level…commission to study the problems and
challenges being faced by…the unorganised economy…’ when it noted that India
was perhaps the ‘first country’ to set up such a commission. The ‘political compulsion’
for this ‘remarkable initiative’ was the failure of the rates of high economic growth
achieved since the ‘mid-eighties…to adequately address the livelihood security issue
of a majority of its citizens’ (ibid.: Introduction, para 1; emphasis supplied).13
Axiomatic to the commission’s constitution and deliberations was thus the recognition that promoting small entrepreneurship and self-employment remained a key
to expanding employment in India (ibid.: Preface, para 11). The commission’s reports,
the last of which appeared in 2009, therefore made proposals for strengthening a whole
gamut of entrepreneurial activities in the unorganized sector, ranging from marginal and
small farming (interestingly somewhat displaced here from its conventional moorings
in agrarian landownership) to a national policy for urban street vendors. Other reports
and proposals issued by the commission included those for growth poles and cluster
development for unorganized enterprises; skill formation and technology upgradation;
and a national fund for the unorganized sector (ibid.: 4–5).
The NCEUS defined the unorganized sector to ‘consist…of all unincorporated
private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with
The report’s reference to ‘high and sustained economic growth since the mid-eighties’ (i.e., the mid1980s) implicates the report and its authors in debates within the ruling Congress party on the sources
and bases for India’s recent rapid economic growth, and the policies needed to sustain and expand them.
In short, the so-called ‘political old guard’ in the Congress party tends to attribute India’s improved rates
of growth to domestic reforms initiated in the 1980s, while the more technocratic wing of its leadership
credits the achievement to external liberalization policies initiated from the early 1990s.
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
G. Balachandran
less than ten total workers’ (ibid.: Introduction, para 1.8). Unfortunately, however, the
commission did not really heed the invitation to propose ‘innovative legal and financing
instruments’ to promote the development of the unorganized sector. It restricted
itself instead to elaborating a legal and institutional architecture for microfinance
institutions and agencies and their refinancing operations, or making rather general
proposals for factoring (that is, lending against receivables), and equity and venture
capital financing, rather than proposing innovative legal approaches to existing
forms of ownership, liability and negotiability in the sector. Hence, the commission
did not engage with practices, relationships and institutions populating the liminal
spaces between capital and labour, fixed capital and working capital, household and
enterprise, and family, kinship, clan and community (real, fictive and improvised),
ownership and employment. This neglect, though routine in economists’ studies of the
unorganized sector however imaginative or undogmatic, nevertheless represents a lost
opportunity to subject to closer scrutiny, the premises, substance and the working of
corporate and other laws seeking to separate a regulable public sphere of market and
accumulation, from the private realm of family, household and consumption (for an
illuminating historical study of law and cultures of market and governance in colonial
India, see Birla 2009).
On the face of it, in contrast to India, the centralized, top-down disposition of the
Chinese party and state apparatus, together with the greater possibility this offers of
expanding and mediating national circuits of accumulation into regional and global
circuits, may be expected to intensify accumulation pressures and their impact on
vulnerable local populations. China’s global financial aspirations and policies, such as
encouraging state-owned enterprises to pursue their accumulative strategies unhindered,
may also intensify such pressures. Indeed, one may even argue that the centralized
features of the Chinese financial system increases its appeal to Western financial capital,
and that proposals to reform the financial sector largely involve strengthening its centralizing tendencies. Consider here the relative scarcity of Western voices arguing the
case for redistributing the surpluses of state-owned enterprises, or the low priority
accorded (if at all) to higher dividend payouts by state-owned enterprises to the Chinese
government which may be under greater pressure than the former to spend, rather
than save or centrally invest, the resulting revenues.
On the other hand, it has also been argued that the extent of centralization of the
Chinese economy and financial system is easily liable to be overstated; that investment and entrepreneurship activities are informed by multiple scalar visions from
the most centralized national to the very local and many levels in between; and that
rescaling efforts emanate from below as well as above (for example, see Smart and Lin
2007). Victor Nee goes further to declare that the ‘defining feature of transformative
economic development in China is the ‘“bottom-up” construction of informal economic institutions’, that enable entrepreneurs to resist and overcome ‘formidable barriers to market entry and [the] discriminatory policies of the state’ (Nee 2010: 5).
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
History 2 or 2 B?
Though offered as a counter to Douglas North and the dominant institutionalist
view of economic transition, Nee’s argument remains deeply embedded in narratives of transition to market economy of centrally planned economies. As such, his
view of institutions and their relationship to economic and social activity remains
heavily North-ian. Nevertheless, it would seem interesting to explore this ‘bottomup’ perspective more deeply, reaching beyond narrow, particularly functionalist,
interpretations of institutions, to see how differently accumulative pressures emanating
from these different levels bear down on local communities and influence their life
possibilities and responses. While many news reports in the Western media present a
picture of growing and widespread popular protest in China, the issues and protests
appear mainly to be local, for instance, relating to land, pollution and the local environment and employment, or directed against the arbitrary power and corruption of
local officials and elites. Whether this signifies the emergence of more intrusive, if not
necessarily more despotic, local accumulation regimes (sometimes described as ‘local
state corporatism’), or intensified resistance, is an interesting question (Walder 1995; on
accumulation incentives for local government, see also Edin 2003). The nature of this
resistance, its aims, norms and values, could form a fascinating subject of comparative
study of local and vernacular adaptation and resistance to global accumulation in
China, India and other parts of Asia.
Naturalizing a global ‘world of capitalist totality’ serves as a modality for normalizing
global processes of capital accumulation. However, ‘global’ remains a project evinced in
the form of ‘cultural action grounded in specific practices’ (Ho 2005: 68). As specific as
these practices may be, we have also been recently reminded that they have to negotiate
complex layers of other practices and agents invested in them whose appropriations,
mediations and vernacular translations they are also rarely able to resist (Birla 2009).
Yet, even as we might purport to celebrate them, the many ways of being ‘global’ (or
for that matter, ‘modern’ at another time or in other contexts) are permanently preyed
on by sequentially iterative processes, unfolding over many decades, to regulate and
discipline difference/s between actually existing social state/s of being and some ideal
social state/s that, at least for the moment, serve/s as proxies for a presumed ontological
condition. History 2 therefore still risks remaining history to be, a stage of waiting as
it were in the ‘ante-room of [H]istory’ 1.
Might the ante-room be running out of air? So long as capital accumulation
within the nation was only conditionally aligned with global processes of capital
accumulation, that is, so long as mediating the two levels of accumulation required
mediating values between the two levels of accumulation and presupposed an act of
translation, economic and other discourses drew on broad, aggregate, dualist metaphors
China Report 46, 4 (2010): 447–469
G. Balachandran
and homologies to represent, regulate and translate difference (for a classic discussion
of such discourses, see Ferguson 1994). However, with decades of rapid capitalist
expansion and the emergence in both China and India of powerful social groups
with global ambitions and sensibilities, many historically prominent tropes of Asian
difference have been destabilized. This has led to the empowerment of managerial
discourses about the economy and economic–managerial discourses about society,
which despite (or perhaps because of ) their limited capacity for understanding and
translation, have become privileged vehicles for current discursive and political projects
to regulate and manage difference. Increasingly now, in such managerial discourses
about Asia, dualist representations, often in the form of ‘paradoxes’ produced from
clichéd contrasts between a supposed ontological state of being and an actual historical
or social state of existence, address themselves far more directly than ever before to the
more intimate institutions and relations of family, household, kinship and community
as sources of resistance to the current logics of capital and modernity.
This preliminary article has attempted to juxtapose two vastly separated spheres of
global economy and society that are rarely considered together. The haute sphere of
a crisis-ridden global financial system increasingly sees its salvation in mobilizing and
disposing of the ‘surpluses of the Orient’ in a manner that speeds up, or at least does
not put a brake on, global capital accumulation. The financial crisis and the enhanced
global role and aspirations of Asian states, in particular China and India, may lead
to compromises in the ways both states have articulated local, national and global
accumulation processes to one another, and mediated their impact on marginalized
domestic social groups. Historians have traditionally misrecognized struggles of
subordinated social groups to resist surrendering their claims to capital or to resist
complete proletarianization. Configured as difference, redoubts of such struggles and
the adaptations and improvisations they motivate—from modern caste, clan and
kinship networks to modern communities and ‘political society’—have become targets
of accumulation strategies encoded in managerial discourses about finance and the
economy, which have increasingly then become vehicles for current discursive and
political projects to regulate and manage difference. It has perhaps now become more
important than ever to visit these struggles and their redoubts to uncover cultural and
political actions for grounding the ‘global’, and the practices, idioms and relationships
of resistance to them.
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Author’s address: G. Balachandran, Professor of International History and Politics, Graduate Institute of
International and Development Studies, Geneva. E-mail: [email protected]
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