Skip to comments.The Bizarre World Of The Neosinophile
Posted on 02/23/2005 7:43:41 AM PST by .cnI redruM
Thomas P. M. Barnett sat on a panel I attended during a business conference last week in Williamsburg, Va. The man served our country well for years at The Pentagon and has an active mind, a glib turn of phrase and the ability to make an entire room of bored convention attendees laugh at some of his remarks and gasp at others. He was enpaneled with two stodgy DC careerists and stole the entire 90 minutes with off-the-cuff blandishments such as:
-- "The bigger a mess Iraq becomes, the more it unsettles the Middle East. This is turning out better than George W. Bush could have hoped for."
--"The modern DOD analyst has a chance to really screw up the world for the next 50 years."
--"The Department of Homeland Security will end up being the Department of Agriculture of the 21st Century. I guess the current administration looked at what happened in the former USSR and decided centralization was a good model."
These are all paraphrases, but they sum up the bomb-throwing tone of his thought-provoking, amusing and interesting remarks. It also made me read his blog and try to figure out roughly what made Barnett tick. This was where I came away disappointed.
Barnett seems enamoured with an old economic chestnut known as Growth Pole Theory. This theory posits that urban areas reduce the transactions costs on economic activity and therefore encourage more of it. This, in turn, sucks more people into the city, and therefore brings them into contact with the world and makes them more civilized and urbane. This theory works in some cases, and fails in others.
Barnett, no doubt, rode The Metro to Pentagon Station at taxpayer expense rather than sitting in his car during an August rush hour on 495. He also never set foot in East Hollywood any further downhill from Griffith Park than Santa Monica Boulevard. Cities have the potential of providing convenience and socialization, and they have the reality of economic dislocation, sky-high costs of living, crack houses and homeless people.
Barnett then takes the partially errant Growth Pole Theory and attempts to apply it to the current geopolitical situation. He does this through the popular framework of a model that divides the world into a Gap and a Core. The Core lives in cities, chats on the internet and has interconnected with the rest of the world via globalization. These Core nations have enjoyed all the benefits of modern travel, information technology and commerce because of their proximity to these urban growth poles that made it affordable for them to taste this luxury.
The Gap, on the other hand, lives out there in the sticks. They are the people on the other side of the modern Hadrian's Wall of geopolitical alliances. They cannot address modernization and refuse to acknowledge its risks. Thus they are forced somehow to behave like The Unabomber or Osauma Bin Ladin.
Where this leads Barnett off the tracks of reasoned thought is on the subject of China. He sees China emerging from the Gap and entering the Core. He sees strong economic growth and reads where things are manufactured when he shops at Target or Wal Mart. This leads Barnett to uncritically label China as the success story of the 21st Century.
Barnett accurately captures the fact that China has made itself a lot better off and more civilized than it was during Mao Tse Tung's Great Leap Forward. What he missed was the context in which the governing class of The Chinese Military was allowing this to happen.
Growth and modernization in a moral vaccuum do not lead to decency or make a nation someone the US should make a trusted ally. This is where I part company from Barnett and his Core epistomology of geopolitical thought. If there is such a thing as a Core group of modern nations, it should require some core standards of decency and decorum before they roll out the welcome mat to anyone who can jump start a national economy. Hitler and Pinochet both accomplished that to a certain degree. Niether could claim rightfully enroll their governments as decent global citizens.
China reached a critical juncture in the late 20th Century. They could not remain a backwards nation and expect to survive or even mange to feed their population. Their efforts at economic modernization via central planning had failed and they needed to import at least some of the powerful trademarks of liberal democracies such as the US, Japan and the nations of Modern Europe. The Chinese Military Oligrchy wanted the cash, the gadgets and the culture. They did not want the free thinking and dissent that came coupled with Western Style Democracy.
This lead to a crisis when a group of students demonstrated for a more open society in Tienamin Square. The Chinese could have listened to these people, and at least tried to negotiate a few of their demands and throw them a bone or two. Except that they couldn't afford to. The entire system in China smacks of Fuedal privaledge; like any failed marxist state, it was an aristocracy of pull.
Who got what and who knew what could not be decided domestically by market systems. Beijing and Shanghai may meet every definition Barnett and other Growth Pole Theorists offer for an urban core. However, the society in which they exist still rigorously enfrces a gap and refuses to let the vast majority of it's population leave that gap. No matter whether the economy is agricultural, industrial or information-based, no Fuedal manor operates for long sans its surfs.
China will have to internally collapse and combust before it is ready to join the modern world as anything other than a predator state. They claim to fear US intentions in Asia, but their government desperately needs that fear. Nearly as much as Kim Il Jung in North Korea.
Hitler would never have made it longer than two years as Chancellor of Germany without the Anchluss and The Juden. The Chinese oligarchy would gone down in widespread anarchy and bloodshed without the same nationalistic fight against an enemy. They are not ready to join us in any sort of alliance, we are entirely too useful and vital an enemy to them. This is where the Neosinofiles such as Barnett egregiously miss the point of modern Facist China.
Growth pole theory treats industries as the basic unit of analysis, one that exists in an abstract economic space. Economic development is the structural change caused by the growth of new propulsive industries. Propulsive industries are the poles of growth, which represent the essential dynamic of the theory.
Classic examples of where it works are Detroit car manufacturing and Silicon Valley.
Growth poles first initiate, then diffuse,increasing development. Growth pole theory attempts to be a general theory of the initiation and diffusion of development based on work by Sir William Petty and François Perroux.
Classic examples of its failure are NASA and Lockheed/Boeing
where government interference has diversified the core industry.
Your example is shared currently by the dissipation of Toyota assembly plants across the US. No one in these plants manufactures anything, they just put parts together from a central manufacturing area.
This is exactly what happened in Puerto Rico.
Because these plants are self sustaining from parts made in mother plants, there is no requirement or opportunity for smaller companies to move to the area and manufacture the parts neccessary for the finished goods.Which is why these assembly plants only attract service industries.
Moreover,the opposite occurred in the hay days of Detroit, the car companies needed supplies of headlamp bulbs,nuts and bolts,tires,dynamos,windshields,etc,etc. These components
were manufactured locally by smaller companies.
Si, Let us assume the next growth industry is nanotechnology and someone miniaturizes nuclear power so that household power is delivered from a unit about the same size as an air conditioner.
The originator of the concept is the tree and around the company will be built suppliers to minimise costs and produce the components required.Hence economic growth.
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