In a Collapsed State, the Market Rules to the Exclusion of Any Other Concerns
Specifically, the author maintains that the free market fundamentalism of the United States will lead to an societal collapse:
To illustrate his point, [journalist Robert Kaplan, author of “The Coming Anarchy”] Kaplan traveled to the West African nation of Sierra Leone. In the thick of a decade-long civil war, Sierra Leone was the poster child for failed states. The term had come into general use after 1992, when it appeared in a Foreign Policy article written by two U.S. State Department officials, Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner (not to be confused with Steve Rattner, a controversial figure involved in the 2008 economic bailout).
Against this backdrop, Kaplan described Sierra Leone, a country once known as the Athens of West Africa, as a bellwether for the “withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war.” While critics charged Kaplan with trading in racist tropes, he made it clear that this Hobbesian future was not confined to any single continent or country. “West Africa’s future, eventually, will also be that of most of the rest of the world,” he predicted.
What Kaplan missed was the organization behind Sierra Leone’s apparent chaos. For ordinary citizens, wartime Sierra Leone was chaotic, but the economic system was organized, if brutal. Sierra Leoneans called it the Sell Game: rival armies looting the countryside while vying for control of the country’s illicit diamond trade.
Sierra Leone’s Sell Game exemplifies state failure’s central characteristic, as the term has evolved. In the words of Robert I. Rotberg, former director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict, Conflict Prevention, and Conflict Resolution at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, in a collapsed state, “the market rules to the exclusion of any other concerns.”
Yet the prescience of Kaplan’s Big Idea is truly remarkable. As Kaplan predicted in 1994, West Africa in the 1990s was a dire warning of global trends now hitting our shores. Not the amputations—although who knows how far things will go—but the withering of the nation-state, the rise of tribalism, big man politics, and above all, the Sell Game.
Welcome to the Failed State of America.
I tend to refer to Neoliberal policies as, “Eating our own seed corn,” but this seems to be a bit more intellectually rigorous.