Debt, uneven development and capitalist crisis in South Africa: The first 200 years By Patrick Bond, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

by Jun 11, 2012All Articles

Presented to the ‘Repoliticizing Debt’ conference Queen’s University Development Studies, Kingston, Canada, 30-31 May 2012
It is now conventional wisdom amongst political economists that accumulation crisis, geopolitical maneuvres and financialization combine to generate worsening uneven development – and anthropologists inspired by David Graeber’s (2011) Debt: The first 5000 years will hopefully soon make further connections linking debt to uneven and combined development involving accumulation-by-dispossession of non-capitalist social and natural ‘capitals’. Giovanni Arrighi’s (1994) Long Twentieth Century set this argument out by way of long cycles and the rise and fall of hegemonic blocs. Also from a world-systems perspective, Christian Suter’s (1992) Debt Cycles in the World Economy considered stages in the longwave, beginning with technological innovation and utilising international product cycle theory. These insights were subsequently reproduced even by mainstream analysts who, like Barry Eichengreen (writing for a World Bank report in the wake of East Asia’s late 1990s crisis), observed that during global-scale debt crises of the 1830s, 1880s and 1930s, the response of roughly a third of debtor nations was formal default, but that since the 1980s, a new option – ‘restructuring’ (IMF/WB bailouts of commercial bankers at the expense of structural adjustment for the debtors’ populace) – emerged that reflected centralised creditor power, hence drawing out the debt cycle for a much longer period than before (Figure 1). Robert Mundell recently traced how international financial order emerged from the chaos of crises with certain currency arrangements rooting subsequent economic activity (Table 1).
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