In a previous post, I argued that outside the three main value complexes of the global economy – Europe, North America, and East Asia – other parts of the world were essentially irrelevant to the immediate prospects for the expansion (or contraction) of global capital, except for what might happen in the commodities markets. The argument was both empirical – these two-thirds of the global population produce only one-fourth of global output – and conceptual: because the economic activity in these regions is small-scale, fragmented, and technologically backward, they are poor platforms for the accumulation of capital.
This was something of a provocation, because one of the noteworthy features of the neoliberal age has been a fascination among many critical and even many uncritical intellectuals with the peripheries and margins of capitalist society. It has often been taken as a progressive political act simply to pay attention to those parts of the world that are economically, and so politically and culturally, insignificant. Simply recognizing that these societies are insignificant is often considered unacceptable.
But their insignificance does not follow from racist or colonialist prejudice (though the existence of these phenomena is certainly bound up with it). Rather, it is a result of their marginality to the central processes of modern global society, above all the production and circulation of value. The inattention of the global media, the lack of representation in transnational organizations, the absence of global influence for their cultural products: these are all reflections of the real insignificance of peripheral countries as measured by the necessarily hegemonic standards of capitalist society.