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The US and the West … China and Africa

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    Nat Quinn

    Given today’s fluxing geopolitics and economics, the value of criticising Western policies must be balanced with better appreciating their benefits.

    For professors of cultural studies and many political parties in Africa, anti-colonialism fuels their political narratives. For people focused on solutions and progress, the colonial era’s relevance has been superseded by subsequent developments. For instance, many former colonies that had the gumption to carve out niches and compete globally now feature prominently among the world’s most impressive economies.

    Improving productivity provided an economic undergirding for the advancement from might-is-right to the liberal values which celebrate individual rights. Feudal peasantry was less vile than slavery but neither was consistent with investing in skills to drive a tractor – or to build a modern economy.

    South Africa’s dangerous trajectory is emblematic of countries with leaders who disdain focusing on productivity, let alone global competitiveness. They associate productivity with exploitive capitalism while attributing their nations’ under-development to colonialism.

    A tragically absurd rejection

    Suggesting that subsistence grants will spur growth while easing our youth unemployment crisis is a tragically absurd rejection of the linkage between productivity and freedom. Whereas the likes of Montesquieu, Locke and Smith developed formulas and philosophies to support individual rights while advancing economic development, parties like the ANC have their formulas for entrenching the privileges of their patronage-linked elites.

    The first step is to have sufficient resource wealth to fund imports. The second is to blame poverty on Western colonialism. Third, a huge portion of the population must become reliant on the state. Then, rampant poverty and unemployment provoke ever greater social unrest which can trigger a cessation of the constitutional protections which had often accompanied the decolonisation processes encouraged by Western democracies.

    The types of feudal systems which persisted for more than a millennium required that the masses accept a subsistence-level existence. Their main trick was to stockpile surpluses – that the peasants had produced – in good years to provide when harvests were insufficient. Today’s resource-endowed nations are particularly vulnerable to feudal-like politics, as accessing their surpluses requires modest productive efforts.

    While the commercial incentives for colonisation were eventually pummelled by advancing methods for resolving cross-border trade disputes, countries dependent on exporting raw materials remained vulnerable to price swings and crop failures. Thus the IMF was created to assist when countries experienced balance-of-payment difficulties. The problems arising from such countries’ governments often being corruption-prone have been partially mitigated by loan covenants required by Western banks and the World Bank.

    Why the West won the first Cold War

    While we mustn’t cease to be critical of Western powers, we should objectively appreciate why the West won the first Cold War and how nearly everyone has benefited from Western dominance.

    International relations scholars, most particularly the Realists, insist that ‘great powers’ dominate how the world order is structured. They believe that when one country is globally dominant, that country will establish the rules of engagement between nations. This leads to it playing a lead role in keeping the sea lanes open.

    When other countries feel threatened, they will be motivated to band together and challenge the dominant power. However, while the US’s economy and military have long been the world’s largest, the US’s foreign policies have mostly reflected a commitment to liberal hegemony which resembles, at least in theory, a pursuit of win-win outcomes.

    As citizens of a democracy, we should be conditioned to criticise. And during the US’s roughly eight decades of global hegemony, many of its decisions have seemed ill-advised. Conversely, none of the world’s leading public intellectuals at the midway point of the last century would have dared to suggest that the world would enjoy anything resembling the level of peace and prosperity that it has.

    The Second World War was preceded by the Great Depression and a similar prolonged post-war downturn was expected. Nor did it seem likely that nuclear wars would be avoided.

    It is as if one of your great grandparents had won a reasonable sum in a lottery and the proceeds were managed by an evolving team of money managers that not every year, but every decade, greatly exceeded all reasonable expectations. Despite all of your relatives having benefited enormously, of course there will be complaints that the managers failed to invest in Apple at its low or in Amazon’s initial public offering, etc. Expectations are relative

    That the global architecture has been largely shaped by a pursuit of liberal hegemony is like having a well-designed and maintained road network. It is taken for granted while credit for rising prosperity is attributed to other factors. The larger failing is that few people ever stop to appreciate how much progress has been achieved in just the past three generations.

    A new Cold War

    The Biden administration’s recent ban on selling advanced semiconductor chips to China was widely perceived as confirming that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with China’s tacit support, had launched a new Cold War. That China’s President Xi has subsequently purged his senior team of moderates seems to have removed any doubts.

    Global poverty has plunged remarkably since the first Cold War began. This traces to various Asian countries seeing an opportunity to exploit their competitive labour rates to integrate into Western supply chains as they were being reshaped by that era’s geopolitics. African countries missed out, as their new leaders were content to rely on exporting raw materials.

    It seems likely that some African countries will be more strategically opportunistic this time. But given our foreign relations biases and localisation policies, it is not likely that South Africa will be among them.


    China, ie. the CCP, is a far more incidious danger than most understand. As a Chinese business man was heard to say in a neighbouring country “we came, we saw, we took, we left”.

    Nat Quinn

    I totally agree with you….Dont fear the enemy that attacks you, but the fake friend that hugs you right. xx

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