Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own ethnic or cultural group is centrally important. Power-ravenous America uses this to enforce a massive influence over the development of other countries. Here I explain how they use the discourse that follows to go to extraordinary efforts to maintain this as a means to protect their own state.
American citizens are understandably proud of the conservation of their forests; home to rare species and boasting high biodiversity, the US has managed to preserve them for the enjoyment of its citizens. However, it has only been able to do this because it imports most of its timber from developing countries; the trees of the Amazon, for example, must be devastated so that those of the US can be saved. What’s left of the woodlands of these countries, after the Trans-National Companies (TNCs) have finished clear-cutting the land, may only then be taken by those living there. They lead subsistence lives, and are usually unable to buy fuel so the forest is a valuable resource. The result of this clearing? Soil erosion, leading to run-off, contaminated water supplies, nutrient-poor soil and an inability to maintain their traditional values.
America lends money to assist agriculture in developing countries, ostensibly to help them grow more food for their starving millions. But more often than not, conditions are attached to this aid, for example it can only be used to support the growing of certain crops. Coincidentally, these will be crops that America needs, products that they cannot grow for themselves. US hegemony financed countries with aid so that they could set up new systems of accumulation. Then through the establishment of GATT, the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD they managed to interlace this accumulation with US national, industrial and financial interests by containing disturbances and maintaining a set of rules that stabilized the system. Conveniently enough, this global spread of accumulation coincided with the strategic interests of the US financial and industrial community (M. Aglietta, 2000).
There would appear to be no end to the devious nature of US financial policy; an article in 1999, published by Samuel Huntington, an American political scientist, lists US bullying policies that were put in use in the late 1990s and it includes the targeting of thirty-five countries with economic sanctions. When Washington’s international financial operators reach the point of insolvency through their international activities, they can be bailed out by the populations of the borrower countries at almost no significant cost to the US economy (N Bukharin, 1999) – known as the Washington Consensus. This is an exemplary method for increasing wealth at the cost of their peripheral states. Furthermore, between the mid-1980s – 1990s, the Reagan and Bush administrations engaged in a very questionably legal yo-yoing dollar-yen policy. The yen was first made to rise against the dollar, driving Japanese countries into East Asia, until a forced reversal of this exchange rate was followed by the East Asian capital markets being made to become less strict. It would not be far-fetched to assume that these policies caused the ensuing East Asian financial collapse. All the attempts made by Japan and China, notably with strong regional governmental support, to establish an Asian Monetary Fund to stabilize the currencies of the affected countries were immediately halted by the USA. There are no prizes for guessing that the outcome of the East Asian crisis, when currencies collapsed and businesses went bankrupt, was that US corporations were particularly well-placed for taking over. In 1995, the US dollar was one of two currencies used in 83 per cent of all foreign exchange transactions (Gowan, 1999), and Bill Clinton himself has admitted the advantage of the dollar and its international creditor status. This essentially means that the US gets a zero-interest loan when dollar bills are held abroad. In the President’s Economic Report of 1999, this advantage was estimated to amount to $13 billion dollars per annum (Economic report of the President Washington DC, 1999).
The Washington consensus led to the inevitable progression of capitalism as desired by the dominant states, likewise the World Bank-driven packages making economies more open to capitalism. However, what is usually overlooked by the US is that which is appropriate in their country is not necessarily so elsewhere. Governments of their client states have had the message that development means Westernisation drilled into them, so they are happy going along with aid programs to help them ‘develop.’ However these are actually designed to meet the needs of the US – The US makes sure that 80 cents in every aid dollar is returned to the home country (Thalif Deen, 2004), and as Sarder & Davies note, 80% of the aid given to foreign countries is spent with American companies (Vexen Crabtree, 2003).
And just to really hammer the point home, a study by the UN of aid given to Sub-Saharan Africa found that these aid programs reduced their own value by 25-40% (Economic Commision for Africa, 2004). This value becomes lost when you are forced to select an expensive supplier as competition from others is legally prohibited, though they might provide a more efficient service.
Majid Rahnema describes poverty in developing countries as a created idea to bolster US hegemony. Although this is certainly a radical view, there is some real truth behind it. Through the false creation of needs, the US tells people which consumer goods and services they ‘need,’ such as washing machines, mobile phones, the internet. Despite all of these being strikingly unnecessary for the life they lead – without the ability to read or write, what use is the internet? So wealth is then a created desire, when people don’t have the means to fulfill it, and it wouldn’t be completely unreasonable to then state that capitalism needs poverty for others to be affluent. Comfortable lives are lived by those in America, and other developed countries, because most people in developing countries live very badly. Raw materials are bought from them at very low costs, manufactured into sophisticated goods which are distributed throughout the developed world, and if there are any left over, they’re sold back at high prices. This process used to be policed by imperial armies, but it’s now managed much more efficiently by large multinational corporations, advised by the World Bank and the IMF.
President Jimmy Carter himself said that “We are the stingiest nation of all” while visiting Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, reinforcing that the actions I just described do not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. In the future, I would like to see a role reversal of America, to go from the least generous nation – they came twenty-second of the twenty-two most developed nations in terms of generosity (V Crabtree, 2003) – to, if not The Most Generous Nation, then pretty high up on the list. And if we can’t have that, then I would love to see less selectivity in who receives the largest proportion of their aid, the greatest pie slice if you will, as currently over 50% of their aid budget is spent on middle income countries in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly Israel is the recipient of the most calorific single slice. I think the way forward is to maintain pressure, to not brush their misdemeanors under the carpet. They’ll continue to attempt to increase their profits at the cost of those less fortunate than themselves, but the potential for change is there, it just remains to be seen if it will happen.
By Lily Peck