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Mandelbaum Premature?

Reader comment on item: A Better World[, Explains Michael Mandelbaum]

Submitted by Ruben Perlmutter (United States), Jan 2, 2003 at 18:29

I think Mandelbaum's assertion that peace, democracy and free markets have vanquished the competition may be somewhat premature (or naive):

That our pax americana has made peace a 'normal condition' belies the problems that exist (and have always existed) on the fringes of empire: whether in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Congo, Columbia, let alone the 'exceptions' of the southern Philippines, eastern Indonesia, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Nigeria, Sudan, and the Middle East, peace is not the normal condition. Moreover, as world population increases and nations begin to compete for limited resources (I'm a Malthusian at heart and, believe that, beginning in the next few decades available food resources, let alone available energy resources, will not keep up with demand), will there not be wars over resources? Will a permanent underclass be created in nations unable to properly feed or to provide adequate jobs and compensation for their populations -- an underclass hostile to peace, democracy, free markets and certainly more likely to commit crime and undermine security (look at the crime rates in Latin America since the 1994 tequila effect)? I think our pax americana during a time of relative abundance may be no more than a respite from a world where insecurity and hostility, if not outright hot war, is the normal condition.

How can democracy have vanquished its competition when it does not exist in China and much of the Muslim world -- and when its existence in Russia, Africa and Latin America is subject to so much undermining fraud and corruption? I do agree that democracy is in the ascendancy ... but, again, my cup-half-empty outlook suggests that the increasing underclass will look to demogogues providing easy solutions -- let's blame the West, the US, Israel, the Jews, Weimar democrats, whatever -- or to strongmen providing security and subsistence in exchange for political freedom.

Free market capitalism is also in the ascendancy, but leading economists (Stiglitz, etc.) are suggesting that a certain level of protectionism is required for less developed countries to emerge from poverty. Also free market capitalism is only being partially implemented in certain places (e.g., much of Latin America) and the populist reaction to its failure is being attributed to the concept, not to its half-assed implementation. And how will world economies respond to the Chinese juggernaut in the 21st century? I think by more protectionism.

To the extent that Mandelbaum's views tell us where we've come from over the last two centures, I have no problem with his conclusions. But if his conclusions are forward-looking, I think we need to carefully analyze his assumptions ... and there will be different conclusions depending on one's world view.

Ruben Perlmutter
Dallas, Texas


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