Working Paper

Global Crises, Equalizing and Dis-equalizing Capitalist Regimes: The Case of 20th Century Asian Political Economy

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The logic of deep global capitalist crises needs to be incorporated centrally into an understanding of the changes in the within-country inequality levels. I present a theoretical framework that incorporates two levels of political economic processes. First,global capitalist crises lead to the creation of an institutional structure or a regime in the capitalist centers that influences inequality in these core countries and in the periphery. Second the class configuration in the non-core countries - a set of institutional arrangements that can be termed local political economy - also plays a key role in determining inequality outcomes.

The main argument of this short note is that these two sets of processes interact to produce patterns of within country-inequality that we observe across the world. In the Asian case, high growth was accompanied by declining inequality for a period of three decades after World War 2. However, with the crisis of global capitalism during the 1970s, a new regime was created in the global center that pushed inequalities higher across the world. These changes occurred through the implementation of policy structures that have disproportionately favored urban elites. In the Asian economies too, growth was accompanied by rising inequality after the 1980s. I use these experiences to argue that growth episodes in capitalism that follow effective demand crises (such as the Great Depression) seem to allow for lower within-country inequality. Growth episodes that follow profitability crises by contrast tend to cause increases in the within-country inequality. However, this is not a deterministic frame of analysis, as the recent experience of most countries with austerity policies suggests, even if this recent experience might well be a passing phase.