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Beverly J. Silver

The chapter argues that it is necessary to supplement Polanyi’s analysis with an explicit theory of capitalism as a world-historical system beset by a fundamental contradiction between profitability and social legitimacy in order to understand the project to create self-regulating markets (and its limits). This contradiction led to an alternation between crises of profitability and legitimacy, and to successive pendulum swings between periods when the predominant tendency is towards protecting “fictitious commodities” (e.g. in the era of Keynesianism and developmentalism), and periods when the predominant tendency is towards stripping them of protections (e.g. neoliberal era). The chapter identifies four crises of the long twentieth century and links them to this pendulum swing as well as to the establishment and limits of successive world hegemonies. The chapter concludes by interrogating why the world’s ruling groups (then and now) failed to shift course in time to avert a global slide into systemic chaos.

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Sahan Savas Karatasli, Sefika Kumral, Daniel Pasciuti and Beverly J. Silver

The chapter seeks to understand the significance of contemporary radical changes in world income distribution (most notably the recent rapid rise of China, India and a handful of other peripheral countries) by comparing the present with other periods of world-hegemonic transition. The empirical core of the chapter examines the interrelationship between the rise and decline of world hegemonies and changes in the global stratification of wealth (between-country inequality) from the sixteenth century to the present. The authors find that (like the contemporary period) past periods of world-hegemonic crisis and transition have been characterized by radical transformations in the global hierarchy of wealth, although there are fundamental differences in the nature/direction of change in each transition. Drawing on world-systems theories of global inequality and hegemonic cycles, the authors conduct a comparative-historical analysis of the dynamics underlying the long-term empirical patterning in the global distribution of wealth and power. They analyse the implications of their findings for the ongoing debate about whether we are in the midst of an impending ‘great convergence’ or on the verge of a major reversal of fortunes favoring the global North/West.