Jeong: Do you think that the current crisis will lead to a challenge to U.S. hegemony? World-system theorists, like Immanuel Wallerstein, who was also interviewed for The Hankyoreh, are arguing that the hegemony of U.S. imperialism is declining.
Brenner: This is, again, a very complex question. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I think that many of those who believe that there has been a decline in U.S. hegemony basically view U.S. hegemony as mainly an expression of U.S. geopolitical power, and, in the end, U.S. force. From this standpoint, it’s mainly U.S. dominance that makes for U.S. leadership, it’s U.S. power over and against other countries that keeps the U.S. on top. I don’t see U.S. hegemony that way. I see the elites of the world, especially the elites of the capitalist core, broadly conceived as being very happy with U.S. hegemony, because what it means for them is that the U.S. assumes the role and the cost of world policeman. This is true, I think, of the elites even of most poor countries today.
What is the goal of the U.S. world policeman? It’s not to attack other countries. Mainly, it’s to keep social order on a world scale, to create stable conditions for global capital accumulation. Its main purpose is to wipe out any popular challenges to capitalism, to support the existing structures of class relations. For most of the postwar period, there were nationalist-statist challenges, especially from below, the free rein of capital. They unquestionably were met by the most brutal U.S. force, the most naked expressions of U.S. domination. Although within the core there was U.S. hegemony, outside of it there was dominance. But, with the fall of the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam taking the capitalist road, and the defeat of national liberation movements in places like southern Africa and Central America, resistance to capitalism in the developing world was very much weakened, at least for the time being. So, today, the governments and elites not only of western and eastern Europe, Japan, and Korea, but also Brazil, India, and China -- most any place you can name -- would prefer the continuation of U.S. hegemony. U.S. hegemony will fall not because of the rise of another power capable of contending for world domination. Above all, China prefers U.S. hegemony. The U.S. is not planning to attack China and, until now, the U.S. has kept its market wide open to Chinese exports. With the U.S. providing the role of world policeman and insuring ever freer trade and capital movements, China has been allowed to compete in terms of cost of production, on an equal playing field, and this has been incredibly beneficial to China -- it couldn’t be better...
The G20 seems to have been an attempt to both stabilize the current order, while beginning the simmer of competitive forces that will emerge should it fall apart. The root imbalances of the world economy remain, largely, excess capacity relative to aggregate demand, and will likely re-emerge once the current wave of stimulus flows through the economy.
Brenner mentions two "falling apart" scenarios:
...The depth of the Chinese crisis may be so great that it can no longer afford to finance U.S. deficits. Or, the assumption of ever greater U.S. deficits and printing of money by the Federal Reserve could lead to the collapse of the dollar, detonating true catastrophe. In either case, all bets are off.