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Giovanni Arrighi in Beijing: An Alternative to Capitalism?

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Giovanni Arrighi made a remarkably broad-ranging and original contribution to comparative political economy and historical sociology over five decades. His last book shares these qualities. But Adam Smith in Beijing is unfortunately not mainly about the origins and dynamics of Chinese capitalism over the past three decades. It presents Adam Smith not as the apostle of free-market capitalism, but rather of a ‘non-capitalist market society’; and it uses this to make the case that since China’s economic development takes place outside the European/North American capitalist ‘core’, it must, almost by definition, not be capitalist. Markets are conceived here as the instruments of states, yet the theory of the state advanced is severely undeveloped. Arrighi’s argument that China’s economic development is part and parcel of the demise of the US project for establishing itself as the ‘world state’ misinterprets the nature of the US empire as well as misses the extent of China’s integration with US-led capitalist globalisation.

Affiliations: 1: York University Toronto, Email:


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