Leo Panitch, an expert in political science and economics, came to Washington State University Vancouver on Tuesday looking to capsize conventional wisdom about the global economy and America's role in it.
The author of many books, including. most recently. "The Making of Global Capitalism," did so with gusto, presenting his case to a rapt audience of at least 60 people inside a room at WSUV's Multimedia Classroom Building.
Panitch, distinguished research professor of political science and senior Canada research chair at York University in Toronto, walked his listeners through decades of economic history and political changes, making his case for bursting what he considers to be several myths, including:
• The idea that states (governments) get in the way of markets. "You'd only have to be a Republican to believe that," he said.
• The argument by some, including those who protested in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, that globalization is about avoiding regulations. States, including most prominently the U.S., are, in fact, "authors of free-trade globalization," Panitch said.
• The notion that America, as an empire, in terms of the sweep of its influence and the penetration of its multinational corporations, is in decline. The United States, Panitch said, remains the world's most powerful state.
Panitch, who holds a master's degree and a doctorate from the London School of Economics and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, delivered his remarks at WSUV as part of a series he's giving at universities in the Portland-Vancouver region.
In providing evidence to back up his points, Panitch addressed everything from the roots of the recent financial crisis to the history of how American capitalism has helped form the modern global capitalist system.
The 2007-2008 financial crisis was the first great economic catastrophe of the 21st century, Panitch said, but "it is nothing new."
Driven by U.S. policies decades in the making, the crisis was heaped on top of wage stagnation for middle-class Americans and followed in the wake of the decimation of trade unions.
American government rulemaking isn't about restraining markets, Panitch said. It's about writing free-trade rules that support multinational corporations in China, for example, at the expense of domestic companies and jobs.
The "U.S. doesn't stand for its own businesses," Panitch said.
To address a weak global economy, Panitch said, "progressive" economic stimulus is needed. It would involve investing in infrastructure, particularly mass transit, which would create jobs and curb auto emissions that exacerbate climate change.
He also questioned whether the Occupy Wall Street movement will evolve from an impressive public display into a lasting political organization. "I was moved last year," he said, "by a young woman in (New York City's) Zucotti Park." She held a sign, Panitch said. It read: "The trouble with the American Dream is that you have to be asleep to believe it. Wake up."
Panitch's presentation was co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the history program and the Center for Social and Environmental Justice.