The Global Minotaur returns: Introducing the second edition

The second edition of my Global Minotaur has entered the presses, so to speak. At least, it has left my laptop and is now with the folks at Zed books, awaiting production. The point of working toward a second edition was to ask a simple question: Since January 2011, which is when I put the finishing touches to the book’s last draft, have the facts been kind to the book’s narrative and prognostications regarding the world economy? To answer this question, I penned a brand new chapter that replaces Chapter 9 of the original. In it I discuss the empirical evidence concerning the flows of trade and capital between America, Europe and China; evidence which firmly supports the hypothesis that the global economy is stuttering as a result of America’s loss, following the Crash of 2008, of its capacity to utilise its deficits in order to recycle the Rest of the World’s surpluses. 

More on this evidence, and the Second Edition’s take on it, in future posts. For now, here is a taste of the Preface to the Second Edition:

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION

 This book originally aimed at pressing a useful metaphor into the service of elucidating a troubled world. A world that could no longer be understood properly by means of the paradigms that dominated our thinking before the Crash of 2008. Its purpose was to appeal to the non-specialist reader on whose behalf my metaphor was to unveil a simple, yet never simplistic, account of a very complex global tragedy. The idea was not to discount all other explanations but, rather to provide a platform for combining many different explanations, each valid in its own way, into an overarching analysis of the global ‘arrangement’ that crashed and burned in 2008, leaving our world in a state of stunned disenchantment.

The Global Minotaur metaphor crept up on me in 2002, after endless conversations with friend, colleague and co-author Joseph Halevi. Our discussions on what made the world tick after the 1970s economic crises produced a coherent, albeit complex, view of the global economic system in which America’s deficits, Wall Street, and the ever-declining real value of American wages, played a defining and, paradoxically, an hegemonic role.

The gist of our argument was that the defining characteristic of the post-1971 era was a reversal of the flow of trade and capital surpluses between the United States and the Rest of the World. The hegemon, for the first time in world history, strengthened its hegemony by wilfully enlarging its deficits. The trick was to understand how America accomplished this and the tragic manner in which its success gave rise to the financialisation which both reinforced US dominance and, simultaneously, implanted the seeds of its potential downfall. Part of the trick was the deployment of the Global Minotaur narrative which was born as an attempt to simplify the argument’s complexity.[1]

When five years later the financial system imploded in 2008, Danae Stratou, my partner in everything, incited me to write this book on the strength of the main metaphor’s capacity to relate my complex story to a lay readership. It was her belief in my ability to do this that gave me the idea and impetus to try it. I began writing the book in our Athens home, at a time when the dark clouds around our country were still thin and most of our friends and family would not believe that Greece was about to fall into a never-ending tailspin. Against that background of resistance to bad omens, and while writing the book’s early draft, I was beginning to gain a degree of notoriety in the Greek and international media as a doomsayer who believed that not only was Greece’s bankruptcy inevitable but that it was a precursor of the Eurozone’s unravelling as well. Only then did I notice the irony of using a Greek metaphor (that of the Minoan Minotaur) by which to account for an international catastrophe of which Greece would be the worst hit victim.

Nonetheless, immersed in my writing, I refused to give Greece too prominent a role therein. A dichotomy soon emerged in my daily routine: While spending hours upon hours in radio and TV studios debating Greece’s steady deterioration, I would return to my Minotaur script determined more than ever to keep Greece off its pages. For if my diagnosis about Greece’s misfortune was right (i.e. that there is no such thing as a Greek Crisis, but rather that Greece is a symptom of a broader shift in global economic history) it was imperative that my book should reflect this. Thus, the United States was, and remains to this… edition, the analysis’ focal point.

At the level of intellectual and analytical development, it was my engagement with the larger canvass of the Euro Crisis that gave me an opportunity to test the Global Minotaur’s capacity to throw helpful light on our post-2008 circumstances, and to elicit policy suggestions. Indeed, while working on this book’s first edition, I also expended a great deal of energy writing and re-writing, together with Stuart Holland, our ‘A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis’. The campaign that Stuart and I run across the breadth of Europe to promote our ‘Modest Proposal’ (taking it even to North America and Australia) was an eye opener, a source of insights, a test-bed for the book’s sub-hypotheses.

As is always the case with powerful metaphors, the danger lurked that my analysis and predictions might have been covertly influenced by the allegorical power of the Global Minotaur. Especially while completing the book (some time in January 2011), at the point when I felt compelled to state my prognosis for the future of the world economy, the anxiety that my conclusions might have been hijacked by an irresistible urge to stay loyal to the chosen metaphor intensified. Had I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of analytical security in the comforting bosom of an allegory of my own creation? The fact that the Crisis was mutating and changing its colours at a frightening pace reinforced the angst and made me feel exceptionally exposed to the vagaries of our generation’s turbocharged history.

In the months that intervened between completing the final draft and holding the published copy in my hands, my nerves had steadied considerably: the world seemed to have done nothing that the book ‘s metaphor was uncomfortable with. Indeed, the book’s warm reception in different parts of the world suggested that I had tapped a rich vein. Still, when a year later my publishers proposed that I revisit the text with a view to producing a second edition, I jumped at the opportunity to carry out new research for the purposes of finding out, mainly for myself, whether my ‘Global Minotaur Hypothesis’ had withstood the test of time at a global scale. The result is a whole new chapter (see Chapter 9) which begins by stating which facts would have falsified my narrative, before investigating the actual facts hidden within officially published statistics. Thankfully, it is now safe to report that the ‘Global Minotaur Hypothesis’ passes the test of empiricism with flying colours.

Lastly, on a personal note, the second edition was completed in the United States, where Danae and I now live. It is from here that, somewhat guilt-ridden, I peruse the wastelands of my country, every now and then giving the odd interview to various networks that pose the same question over and over again: What should Greece do to extricate itself from its Great Depression? How should Spain or Italy respond to demands that logic tells us will make things worse? The answer I deliver with increasing monotonicity is that there is nothing that our proud countries can do other than to say ‘No!’ to inane policies whose real objective is to deepen the depression for apocryphal reasons that only a close study of the Global Minotaur’s legacy can reveal.


[1] See our joint article under the title ‘The Global Minotaur’ in Monthly Review, Volume 55, July-August Issue, pp. 56-74, 2003.