The 'New' Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession

David Harvey


Global capitalism has experienced a chronic and enduring problem of overaccumulation since the 1970s. I interpret the volatility of international capitalism during these years, however, as a series of temporary spatio-temporal fixes that failed even in the medium run to deal with problems of overaccumulation. It was, as Peter Gowan argues, through the orchestration of such volatility that the United States sought to preserve its hegemonic position within global capitalism. The recent apparent shift towards an open imperialism backed by military force on the part of the US may then be seen as a sign of the weakening of that hegemony before the serious threat of recession and widespread devaluation at home, as opposed to the various bouts of devaluation formerly inflicted elsewhere (Latin America in the 1980s and early 1990s, and, even more seriously, the crisis that consumed East and South-East Asia in 1997 and then engulfed Russia and much of Latin America). But I also want to argue that the inability to accumulate through expanded reproduction on a sustained basis has been paralleled by a rise in attempts to accumulate by dispossession. This, I then conclude, is the hallmark of what some like to call ' the new imperialism' is about.

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