THE WORLD ECONOMY IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
The contributions of Andre Gunder Frank in the era of underdevelopment and “globalization”
Andre Gunder Frank once said about his work, and about his perspective on “tradition,” that his analysis was neither Marxist nor anti-Marxist, it was just his analysis. This attitude encapsulates the uncompromisingly radical, iconoclastic, and independent thinking that characterized the life and work of the late Andre(as) “Gunder” Frank. He belonged to a generation that lived through revolutionary, violent, and truly tumultuous times. Like all great thinkers in history, Gunder was part of his own times, and contributed directly to them as they unfolded. His lifetime included the Great Depression, the Second World War, anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles, counter-revolutionary actions (including the September 1973 coup in Chile), the onset of the “world crises” of the capitalist system, and recurring war, oppression, poverty, and social upheaval on a world scale – all despite economic growth and (in Frank’s radical analysis) because of it as well. To Frank, the central insight, both theoretically and historically, would be that the negative aspects of the so-called “development” process could never be separated from the positive aspects, as they were profoundly two sides of the same coin. Above all Frank was a rebel and an intellectual activist. He was never afraid to be unconventional, and indeed to directly and ferociously attack conventional wisdom, whether of the “left” or of the “right.” He was an economist who attacked Economics as a discipline (especially as practiced in the mainstream tradition), a development theorist who denounced Development. He was a “Marxist” who broke with Marx, especially on the understanding of world history in relation to the history of “capital” and “the capitalist mode of production.” Moreover, he never stood still, and was willing to be critical even of his own (former) positions, and move constantly forward. It was this intellectual openness, courage, and honesty that most provoked his enemies and opponents, and which endeared him to his many friends and to his close collaborators.
This book commemorates the life and work of Andre Gunder Frank – and its continued influence and relevance in both theory and practice. For nearly fifty years Frank was a forceful voice in many of the key debates of his time on economy, society, politics, development, and history. He was ever critical of the established order, and relished identifying and exposing its endemic and persistent problems and failures. He employed new analytical frameworks that address the long-term temporal and the large-scale spatial dimensions of “development” and history, while emphasizing multiple structural linkages between economy and society. On that basis, he expressed a powerful critique of the oppression and inequality brought about by the celebrated historical path of “capitalist development.” Moreover, he articulated a social critique of the elites, while providing support for the (often-revolutionary) social and political movements by which the oppressed defend their own interests and challenge the existing order and elite. His analytical instinct and his formal reasoning were always both multidisciplinary and thoroughly historical, indeed creating and practicing a new (world) historical mode of analysis, by which the passage of topical ideas and policies is ultimately superseded by the persistence of deeply embedded and continuing historical structures and forces. He advanced and defended his ideas passionately, wittily, and with memorable turns of phrase, most famously in his early formulation, “the development of underdevelopment,” with which his name is probably most commonly associated even to the present day. The evolution of his perspectives, along with the debates in which he strategically engaged, helped to bring about the emergence of new critical approaches to the study of the world economy and world history as a whole.
Frank famously began his career by analyzing underdevelopment and dependency in Latin America. Thereafter he progressed to address “world accumulation” and the dynamics and structure of the world-system focused on the Atlantic. He was led eventually to analyze capital accumulation in the very long term and its relation to shifting patterns of hegemony and rivalry in the world economy and world-system. In parallel, he conducted a critique of global financial and monetary systems and assessed the continued and historical role of radical social movements and the possibilities of historical resistance and transformation. His intellectual interests and his wide-ranging style of scholarship were and remain highly relevant to a host of social science disciplines, theoretical controversies, and empirical research agendas. In his last period of work, he began more explicitly to be identified with the field of world or global history and was in regular and serious contact and correspondence with leading scholars developing new approaches and analysis throughout the world, with the aim of achieving a comprehensive revised account of global historical processes “beyond Eurocentrism” and “beyond Development.” He was a pivotal figure and a pioneering intellect in this historic endeavor, to which this book, and Gunder’s lasting legacy, are truly dedicated. The remainder of this introductory chapter and several of the chapters to follow explore the main lines and principal implications of his work.
In addition, this introduction and the following chapters recount the life experience of Andre Gunder Frank – the friendships, encounters, joys, and combats
of life that were deeply entangled in his evolving analysis.1
Frank lived long enough, and in enough different places, to be known by different names at succeeding stages of his life. “Andre” as a young person and later “Andres” in Latin America, he also collected the middle name “Gunder” during his schooling – it was a deformation of “Gunnar” in “Gunnar Haag,” an ironic comparison with the Swedish Olympian expressed by his schoolmates in response to his shortcomings as a runner. For those who came to know him in his later years – ourselves included – it was “Gunder” that became his prénom
. Gunder was a citizen of the world but also of many places within the world. After a childhood in Europe, he grew up and was educated in North America; completed economic dissertation work on agriculture in Soviet Ukraine; moved to Latin America, where he started his family and conducted years of work on topics in economics, sociology, and anthropology; escaped to Europe with the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile; left Europe with the death of his wife Marta Fuentes and his retirement from the University of Amsterdam; moved to North America for years of work on Asia in the world economy; married Alison Candela as he fought both illness and analytical struggles; and ended his life in Europe.
Further, this chapter and the book as a whole document the shifting currents of the world economy and the accompanying controversies, advances, and regressions in the understanding of global patterns in the present and past. Overall, one may identify a dramatic advance in understanding of the world economy over the past half-century, achieved through the work of scholars who remain poised, as the following chapters show, to expand and deepen that knowledge. Among the recent achievements of studies on the global economy are a revised historical analysis of Asia’s place in the world economy, growing historical detail on the complex global flows of silver and its role in monetary systems, analyses of interregional migrations of labor and types of labor regime, reconsiderations of the significance of states and state policy in structuring and restructuring the world economy, and studies of textiles and other commodities at the global level. In general these studies document changing patterns of world trade, social change, the expansion and implications of capitalist economic organization, and the interplay of local economic systems and global networks. We can now assess the world economy both as it has existed for the past five centuries and, from Frank’s perspective, for a much longer period of time. In the wake of the worldwide financial and economic crisis from 2008 to the present, the significance and value of this expanded historical and historicized understanding has come to be recognized more widely. That is, the legacy of Gunder Frank’s analysis may be expected to continue unfolding productively in the time to come.
Andre Gunder Frank and the world economy
In 1945 the world emerged from an extraordinary historical cycle of imperial expansion, depression, war, and rebellion to enter a brief period of relative peace and recovery – and in that year Andre Gunder Frank reached the age of sixteen,
a high-school student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sixty years later, when he passed away in Luxembourg, the world had been reconfigured in many ways. Decades of conflict and transformation had left the planet with a greatly shifted balance of forces, unprecedented economic inequality, a population that had expanded nearly threefold, and a situation seemingly posed for yet another historical cycle of crisis and transformation. In this section we trace – within four periods during those sixty years – the interplay of contemporary transformations in the world economy, the evolution and debates within economic scholarship and ideology, and the analysis and influence of Gunder Frank at successive periods in his life.
Andreas Frank was born a German citizen in Berlin in 1929 – the year of the great financial crash, between the two world wars. His birth in the cauldron of global conflict started him off on a path as a peripatetic and cosmopolitan personality. From ages four to twelve he lived alternately in the French-, Italian-, and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, attending boarding school, while his parents fled from Nazi-controlled Germany to seek a new life in the West. He entered the English-speaking world in 1941, arriving in Hollywood, California, to join his father.2
From 1945 to 1960
From 1945 to 1960, global recovery from the war’s devastation led in contradictory directions. The rapid split among great powers led internationally to the threat of nuclear war and domestically (in many countries) to political paranoia. At the same time, the principal change in the postwar world was the advance in the conditions of common people. Workers everywhere demanded better conditions at the end of the war, whether led by communists, business unionists, or nationalist leaders. Political independence in Asia brought expanded programs for health and education, as did the expansion of social insurance programs in Europe and North America. For both these regions and for the expanding groups of states labeled “socialist” and governed by communist parties, local and national government delivered expanded social services. In 1945 the victorious powers had sought to organize a new world order while energetic social movements sought to expand and redefine the subordinate spaces that they inhabited. The USSR, United States, and United Kingdom joined to form the United Nations; the last two powers led in establishing the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The complex, overall result was Anglo-American hegemony, the Marshall Plan, Asian independence, consolidation of a socialist bloc of nations, the Cold War, Keynesian economic policies in the capitalist center, economic growth (industrial growth in the most influential regions and agricultural growth elsewhere), creation of a welfare state in regions where labor was well organized, expanded health and education expenditures in poor countries and colonies, and colonial reform through forced investment. The economy grew for almost twenty years in most parts of the world. Afro-Asian nations met in Bandung
in 1955 to form what became the nonaligned movement; within the next two years the Soviet and Chinese communist parties had split. At the end of 1958 revolutionary forces seized power in Cuba, overthrowing a government beholden to U.S.-dominated sugar interests.
Postwar academic debate over economic life paralleled the changing economic conditions and conflicts. In the United States, Paul Samuelson (1947) led in presenting an analytically sophisticated Keynesian analysis as a “neoclassical synthesis.” Talcott Parsons, who in prewar years had enunciated a complex sociological analysis that emphasized elite initiative, expanded that approach in Economy and Society (Parsons and Smelser 1956). This elite-focused analysis became the groundwork for modernization theory, for which W. W. Rostow (1953, 1960) became a leading spokesman among economists. It was in this era that Milton Friedman (1953, 1962) turned from Keynesian to monetarist thinking, emphasizing both analytical critique and social conservatism. In contrast, longer-term views of the economy arose in postwar Europe, where Fernand Braudel’s (1949) history of the Mediterranean traced regional dynamics through varying temporal dynamics, and where Maurice Dobb (1946) explored the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Braudel’s co-workers produced volumes on early-modern seaborne empires appearing from 1955 to 1975, and the long-delayed publication of Max Weber’s Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft came in 1956 (Weber 1956). Formation of the United Nations provided a platform enabling Raúl Prebisch (1956) and other Latin American economists, through the Economic Commission for Latin America, to explore the causes for growth and stagnation in their region. In the United States Paul Sweezy, editor of Monthly Review, challenged Dobb’s view of the rise of capitalism as too focused on class and not enough on market (Sweezy et al. 1954); his colleague Paul Baran published a 1957 volume arguing that currently poor countries faced limits on their growth because of the existence of rich countries. Overall, in this era of economic growth, academics focused on growth theory (for developed countries) and on development theory (for the rest), from various points of view.
When Gunder finished high school, he traveled and worked in various trades for a brief time, and then took up undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College. He went on to graduate study in economics at the University of Chicago. Gunder maintained his independent mind and at one point was officially advised by the Department of Economics to leave the university, as he said “because of my unsuitability or our incompatibility.” While at Chicago he spent much time at courses and seminars in anthropology, which, he later said, was a disciplinary environment where he felt more comfortable than a...