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SYP Hw Instructions and book below Global Problems and the
Culture of Capitalism

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Global Problems and the
Culture of Capitalism

Sixth Edition

Richard H. Robbins
State University of New York at Plattsburgh

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Robbins, Richard H. (Richard Howard)
Global problems and the culture of capitalism / Richard H. Robbins.—6th ed.
p. cm.
ISBN-13: 978-0-205-91765-5 (alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-205-91765-8 (alk. paper)
1. Economic history—1990– 2. Social problems. 3. Capitalism. 4. Consumption (Economics)
5. Poverty. 6. Financial crises. I. Title.
HC59.15.R63 2014


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Brief Contents

Part 1 Introduction: The Consumer, the Laborer, the
Capitalist, and the Nation-State in the Society
of Perpetual Growth 1

Chapter 1 Constructing the Consumer 12
Chapter 2 The Laborer in the Culture of Capitalism 35
Chapter 3 The Rise and Fall of the Merchant, Industrialist,

and Financier 57
Chapter 4 The Nation-State in the Culture of Capitalism 99

Part 2 The Global Impact of the Culture
of Capitalism: Introduction 127

Chapter 5 Population Growth, Migration, and Urbanization 133
Chapter 6 Hunger, Poverty, and Economic Development 168
Chapter 7 Environment and Consumption 197
Chapter 8 Health and Disease 220
Chapter 9 Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Conflict 248

Part 3 Resistance and Rebellion: Introduction 275

Chapter 10 Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance 282
Chapter 11 Anti-Systemic Protest 306
Chapter 12 Religion and Anti-Systemic Protest 329
Chapter 13 Solving Global Problems: Some Solutions and Courses

of Action 353

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Preface xiii

Part 1 Introduction: The Consumer, the Laborer,
the Capitalist, and the Nation-State in the
Society of Perpetual Growth 1

A Primer on Money: The Philosopher’s Stone 3

The Development of Commodity Money 5

The Shift from Commodity to Fiat or Debt Money 7

The Consequences of a System of Debt Money 8

Chapter 1 Constructing the Consumer 12
Remaking Consumption 14

Marketing and Advertising 15

The Transformation of Institutions 17

The Transformation of Spiritual and Intellectual Values 19

The Reconfiguration of Time, Space, and Class 21

Kinderculture in America: The Child as Consumer 23

The Role of Children in Capitalism 23

The Social Construction of Childhood 25

Exporting the Consumer 31

Conclusion 34

Chapter 2 The Laborer in the Culture of Capitalism 35
A Primer on the Elements of Capitalism 36

The Baptism of Money 39

The Construction and Anatomy of the Working Class 40

Characteristics of the Working Class 40

The Growth of Overseas Assembly Plants 45

The Creation of Free Labor 48

The Segmentation of the Workforce 49

Control and Discipline 52

Resistance and Rebellion 54

Conclusion 55

Chapter 3 The Rise and Fall of the Merchant, Industrialist, and Financier 57
The Era of the Global Trader 60

A Trader’s Tour of the World in 1400 60

The Economic Rise of Europe and Its Impact on Africa
and the Americas 65

The Birth of Finance and the Tulip Bubble of 1636–1637 70

viii Contents

The Era of the Industrialist 74

Textiles and the Rise of the Factory System 77

The Age of Imperialism 78

The Era of the Corporation, the Multilateral Institution,
and the Capital Speculator 83

The Rise of the Corporation 83

Bretton Woods and the World Debt 86

The “Second Great Contraction” 92

Conclusion 97

Chapter 4 The Nation-State in the Culture of Capitalism 99
The Origin and History of the State 101

The Evolution of the State 101

The History and Function of the Nation-State 102

Constructing the Nation-State 104

Creating the Other 105

Language, Bureaucracy, and Education 106

Violence and Genocide 109

Spin, Free Trade, and the Role of Energy in the Global
Economy 113

Manufacturing Consent: Spin 114

Markets and Free Trade 118

Energy and Technology 120

Conclusion 124

Part 2 The Global Impact of the Culture
of Capitalism: Introduction 127

A Primer on Market Externalities: Polanyi’s Paradox 129

Chapter 5 Population Growth, Migration, and Urbanization 133
The Malthusians Versus the Revisionists 135

The Case of India and China 136

The Issue of Carrying Capacity 138

The Ideology of Malthusian Concerns 138

Demographic Transition Theory 141

A Primer on the Determinants of Population Growth
and Decline 143

Some Examples of Demographic Change 145

Population Growth in the Periphery 148

Wealth Flows Theory 149

The Social Implications of Wealth Flows Theory 151

The Question of Gender and Power 152

Issues of Immigration 154

Contents ix

History of Migration 156

The Economics of Immigration 158

Understanding Illegal Immigration 160

Urbanization and the Growth of Slums 162

Conclusion 167

Chapter 6 Hunger, Poverty, and Economic Development 168
The Evolution of Food Production: From the Neolithic

to the Neocaloric 169

From Gathering and Hunting to the Neolithic 170

Capitalism and Agriculture 171

The Neocaloric and the Green Revolution 173

The Politics of Hunger 176

The Anatomy of Famine 177

The Anatomy of Endemic Hunger 179

Solutions and Adaptations to Poverty and Hunger 184

Economic Development 184

The Nature and Growth of the Informal Economy 188

The Nature and Scope of the Informal Economy of Drugs 191

Conclusion 196

Chapter 7 Environment and Consumption 197
The Case of Sugar 202

Sugar Origins and Production 202

Uses of Sugar 202

The Development of the Sugar Complex 203

The Expansion of Sugar Production 203

The Mass Consumption of Sugar 204

Modern Sugar 205

The Story of Beef 206

Creating a Taste for Beef 207

The Emergence of the American Beef Industry 208

Modern Beef 212

The Impact of Production on the Environment: The Effects of Climate
Change 213

The Environment, Sustainability, and the Nation-State 217

Conclusion 219

Chapter 8 Health and Disease 220
A Primer on How to Die from an Infectious Disease 225

The Relationship between Culture and Disease 229

Gathering and Hunting to Early Agriculture 229

Cities: “Graveyards of Mankind” 230

x Contents

Diseases of Environmental Change 233

Diseases of Human Ecology: Chickens, Pigs, and Wild Birds 235

The Origin of Influenza: Avian Flu and H1N1 235

Aids and the Culture of Capitalism 238

How Did the Disease Spread? 240

Who Gets Infected with AIDS? 243

Who Gets Blamed? 245

Conclusion 246

Chapter 9 Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Conflict 248
The Fate of Indigenous Peoples 251

Some Characteristics of Indigenous Peoples 251

The Process of Ethnocide 252

The Guaraní: The Economics of Ethnocide 259

History and Background 260

Contemporary Development and Guaraní Communities 262

Disadvantaged Majorities and Their Revenge 264

Leveling Crowds 266

Genocide as an Externality of the Market 267

Conclusion 273

Part 3 Resistance and Rebellion: Introduction 275

A Primer on Terrorism 277

Chapter 10 Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance 282
Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak 283

Malaysian Peasants and the Green Revolution 284

Fighting Back 286

Obstacles to Resistance 287

Protest and Change 288

Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 289

The British in East Africa 289

The White Highlands 291

The Roots of the Rebellion 292

The Rebellion 294

“State of Emergency” 295

The Oath and the Detention Camps 297

Independence 298

The Rebellion in Chiapas 299

Poverty and Inequality in Chiapas 301

The Rebellion and the Global Economy 302

Contents xi

The Revolt and the Reactions of the Mexican Government 303

The Future of Peasants 304

Conclusion 305

Chapter 11 Anti-Systemic Protest 306
Protest as Anti-Systemic: The Two World Revolutions 307

The Revolution of 1848 308

The Revolution of 1968 310

The Protests of Labor: Coal Miners in Nineteenth-Century
Pennsylvania 311

The Coal Industry and the Worker’s Life 311

Worker Resistance and Protest 314

Destroying Worker Resistance 316

Global Feminist Resistance 317

Gender Relations in the Culture of Capitalism 319

Strategies of Protest 321

Direct Action and Occupy Wall Street 323

Anarchism and Direct Action 325

Conclusion 328

Chapter 12 Religion and Anti-Systemic Protest 329
Indigenous Religious Movements as Anti-Systemic Protest 331

The Ghost Dance 331

The Cargo Cults 332

Zionism in South Africa 334

The Global Challenge of Anti-Systemic Religious Protest 336

Islamic Fundamentalism 338

Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran 339

Protestant Fundamentalism in North America 340

“Terror in the Mind of God” 345

Some Examples of Religious Violence 346

Understanding Religious Violence 351

Conclusion 351

Chapter 13 Solving Global Problems: Some Solutions and Courses of Action 353
The Central Dilemma of Growth 354

The Depletion of Natural Capital/Wealth 357

The Depletion of Political Capital/Wealth 358

The Depletion of Social Capital/Wealth 363

Things We Could Do 372

The Debt Strike 375

Conclusion 376

xii Contents

References 379

Name Index 392

Place and Culture Index 398

Subject Index 401



Over the past 400 to 600 years, a culture and society, originating for the most part in Europe
and dedicated to the idea of trade and consumption as the ultimate source of well-being, began
to expand to all parts of the globe. In many ways it is the most successful culture and society
the world has ever seen, and its technology, wealth, and power stand as monuments to its suc-
cess; however, accompanying its expansion have been problems—growing social and economic
inequality, environmental destruction, mass starvation, and social unrest. Most members of this
society and culture perceive these problems as distant from themselves or as challenges for them
to meet. However, there is the possibility that these problems, which threaten to negate every-
thing this culture has accomplished, are intrinsic to the culture itself. That is the possibility to be
explored in this book.

The outline of this book emerged when, a few years ago, my colleagues at the State
University of New York at Plattsburgh, James Armstrong and Mark Cohen, and I began
developing a course on global problems. We wanted to create a course that would help students
understand the major global issues that they confront in the mass media—problems such as
the so-called population explosion, famine and hunger, global environmental destruction, the
emergence and spread of new diseases, so-called ethnic conflict and genocides, terrorism, and
social protest. We learned quickly that to make the course successful, we had to overcome the
often-ethnocentric perspectives of the students, perspectives that were often reinforced by media
coverage of global affairs. We needed also to compensate for the students’ lack of backgrounds in
anthropology, history, and economics, all crucial for understanding the roots of the problems we
were to examine. Finally, we needed to illustrate that the problems we examined were relevant
to them, that the problems would affect them either directly or indirectly, and that their actions
now or in the future would determine the extent to which the origins of these problems could be
acknowledged, let alone ever addressed. The form of this book emerged from our efforts at deal-
ing with these pedagogical issues and the classroom interactions that these efforts stimulated.

The Focus oF This Book

We can summarize our approach in this book as follows: There has emerged over the past five
to six centuries a distinctive culture or way of life dominated by a belief in trade and commod-
ity consumption as the source of well-being. This culture flowered in Western Europe, reached
fruition in the United States, and spread to much of the rest of the world, creating what some
anthropologists, sociologists, and historians call the world system. People disagree on the critical
factors in the development of this system and even whether it was unique historically, although
most agree on certain basic ideas. Among the most important are the assumptions that the driving
force behind the spread of the contemporary world system was industrial and corporate capital-
ism, and that the spread of the world system is related in some way to the resulting division of the
world into wealthy nations and poor nations or into wealthy core, developed, or industrialized
areas and dependent peripheral, undeveloped, or nonindustrialized areas.

The spread of the capitalist world system has been accompanied by the creation of
distinctive patterns of social relations, ways of viewing the world, methods of food production,
distinctive diets, patterns of health and disease, relationships to the environment, and so on.
However, the spread of this culture has not gone uncontested; there has been resistance in the
form of direct and indirect actions—political, religious, and social protest and revolution. How
and why capitalist culture developed and the reasons why some groups resisted and continue to
resist its development are among the questions posed in this book.

The answers to these questions are based on specific assumptions. First, a central tenet of
anthropology is that personal, social, cultural, and historical factors determine the point of view

xiv Preface

any person might have regarding a certain phenomenon. No less is true of those participating in
the culture of capitalism who have created a view of global events that we share. Consequently,
these views tend to be, to one extent or another, ethnocentric; that is, they describe, evaluate, and
judge events solely from a specific cultural perspective. Among the major purposes of anthro-
pology is to teach ways to avoid ethnocentrism and appreciate the importance of understanding
the beliefs and behaviors of others from their perspectives rather than from our own, a view
anthropologists refer to as cultural relativism. To some extent ethnocentrism is unavoidable, and
the job of the person who interprets global events—whether a journalist, economist, sociologist,
or anthropologist—is to make the event comprehensible to those people for whom that person
is writing. Our assumption is that to minimize cultural bias we must recognize that our views of
events are partially influenced by our culture and, for that reason, we must make our own culture
an object of analysis.

Second, we assume that an understanding of global events requires us to recognize that
no contemporary culture or society exists independent of what anthropologists refer to as the
world system, and that each falls within either the core or the periphery of that system. Using
this terminology to refer to different parts of the world permits us to avoid the more value-laden
distinctions implicit in the use of terms such as developed or undeveloped, modern or traditional,
and First, Second, or Third World. World system theorists often include a third category, semi-
periphery, to denote those nation-states or regions that are moving toward the core or that have
moved out of the core. These distinctions recognize that countries can move from one category
to another. For example, the three nation-states that world system theorists consider to have
been dominant in the past four centuries—the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United
States—all began as semiperipheral to the world system.

Third, we assume that global events and actions cannot be adequately understood with-
out considering the events that preceded them; we must develop a historical perspective. For
example, we live in a period of human history largely defined by a sequence of events that began
some four to five hundred years ago, loosely termed the Industrial Revolution. Because each
of us has lived during only a particular phase of that history, we tend to take it for granted that
the world has always been as it is today. Yet the modern industrial world order is, in historical
terms, a very recent event. We are deceived by our biology, by our limited life span, into think-
ing of sixty, seventy, or eighty years as a long time, but in the perspective of human history it is a
fleeting moment. Human beings have for most of their existence lived as bands of gatherers and
hunters, for a shorter time as agriculturists and farmers, and only recently as industrialists and
wage laborers. Yet the Industrial Revolution has transformed the world and human societies as
has no other event in history. We cannot understand the events, issues, and problems of today’s
world without understanding the how’s and why’s of the Industrial Revolution.

It will be clear that the emergence of capitalism represents a culture that is in many ways
the most successful that has ever been developed in terms of accommodating large numbers of
individuals in relative and absolute comfort and luxury. It has not been as successful, however,
in integrating all in equal measure, and its failure here remains one of its major problems. It has
solved the problems of feeding large numbers of people (although certainly not all), and it has
provided unprecedented advances in health and medicine (but, again, not for all). It has pro-
moted the development of amazingly complex technological instruments and fostered a level of
global communication without precedent. It has united people in common pursuits as no other
culture has. Yet it remains to be seen when the balance sheet is tallied whether capitalism repre-
sents the epitome of “progress” that some claim.

NeW To The sixTh ediTioN

Since the publication of the fifth edition of Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism,
we have experienced significant global upheaval as well as heightened concerns over global
immigration, urbanization, climate change, and regional conflict, as well as levels of protest,

Preface xv

all of which are addressed in this, the sixth, edition of the book. Specific changes include the

• Additional discussion of money as debt, the movement of money, and the consequences
and the importance of perpetual growth.

• Material on advertising targeted to children and the scope of the practice.
• Coverage of immigration, its history, and its social, political, and economic impact.
• Coverage of urbanization and its impacts
• Discussion of climate change and its impact on the economy and society as a whole.
• Timely information on Occupy Wall Street and the philosophy and techniques of Direct Action.
• A new, comprehensive Chapter 13 discussing how to address many of the issues raised in

the book.

Throughout this edition, I have tried to make the nature and origin of complex problems acces-
sible to general readers and undergraduates without oversimplifying the gravity of the problems.

As always, I welcome comments and communications from readers and can be reached by
email at In addition, readers are encouraged to use the Web
resources, including readings, online videos, and references created especially for the book, at

This text is available in a variety of formats—digital and print. To learn more about our
programs, pricing options, and customization, visit


Many people have contributed to the writing of this book. I have already mentioned my colleagues
James Armstrong and Mark Cohen. Others include Alfred Robbins, Michael Robbins, Rachel
Dowty, Tom Moran, Philip Devita, Gloria Bobbie, Douglas Skopp, Edward Champagne, Vincent
Carey, Larry Soroka, Ellen Fitzpatrick, Ann Kimmage, Michael Miranda, John Hess, Jan Rinaldi,
Tina Charland, Tim Harnett, Daphne Kutzer, Monica van Beusekom, Russell Kleinbach, Peggy
Lindsey, Dan and Mary Abel, Amy Weisz Predmore, Mark White, Barbara Harris, Art Orme,
Sam Baldwin, and Mary Turner, along with the many students who helped me better articu-
late important issues. I also thank members of the email list H-World, particularly its moderator
Patrick Manning; Richard Winkel, moderator of the email list Activ-L (aml@webmap.missouri.
edu), and its many contributors; and many of the students who used one or another version of
this book and who provided invaluable feedback. I would also like to thank the book’s reviewers.

Reviewers of the first edition were John L. Aguilar, Charles O. Ellenbaum, Cynthia
Mahmood, Richard Moore, Jon Olson, and Dave Winther. Reviewers of the second edition were
Elliot Fratkin, Smith College; James Loucky, Western Washington University; Luis A. Vivanco,
University of Vermont; and Vaughn Bryant, Texas A&M University. Reviewers of the third
edition were Eric Mielants, Fairfield University; William Leggett, Middle Tennessee; Nancy
McDowell, Beloit College; and Benjamin Brewer, James Madison University. Reviewers of the
fifth edition were George Esber, Miami University, Middletown; Suzanne Scheld, California
State University, Northridge; James Sewastynowicz, Jacksonville State University; and Miguel
Vasquez, Northern Arizona University.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Sylvia Shephard for her initial support of the project;
to Sarah Kelbaugh, Dave Repetto, Nancy Roberts, and Barbara Reiley of Pearson and Jennifer
Jacobson and Dan Vest of Ohlinger Publishing Services for guiding the project through to its
present edition; as well as to Shiny Rajesh, who managed the latest edition, and Sayed Zakaullah,
whose copyediting will make reading the book far easier than it would have been otherwise. And
special thanks go to Amy, Rebecca, and Zoey, who tolerated with unusual understanding my
periods of self-imposed isolation. Needless to say, the final form of the book, for better or worse,
is the result of my own decisions.

This page intentionally left blank

[W]hat difference it would make to our understanding if we looked at the world
as a whole, a totality, a system, instead of as a sum of self-contained societies
and cultures; if we understood better how this totality developed over time; if

we took seriously the admonition to think of human aggregates as “inextricably
involved with other aggregates, near and far, in weblike, netlike, connections.”

—Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History

On or about December 1910, wrote novelist Virginia Woolf, human character changed.1
On his repeated visits to the United States, Frenchman André Siegfried (1928; see
also Leach 1993:266) noted much the same thing: “A new society has come to life in
America,” he said. “It was not clear in 1901 or 1904; it was noticeable in 1914, and
patent in 1919 and 1925.” Samuel Strauss (1924, 1927; see also Leach 1993:266), a
journalist and philosopher writing in the 1920s, suggested the term consumptionism to
characterize this new way of life that, he said, created a person with

a philosophy of life that committed human beings to the production of more
and more things—“more this year than last year, more next year than this”—
and that emphasized the “standard of living” above all other values.

It is obvious, he continued,

that Americans have come to consider their standard of living as a somewhat
sacred acquisition, which they will defend at any price. This means that they
would be ready to make many an intellectual or even moral concession in
order to maintain that standard.

Introduction: The Consumer,
the Laborer, the Capitalist,
and the Nation-State in the
Society of Perpetual Growth

P a r t O n e

1 The quote, which has been widely used (see, e.g., Fjellman 1992:5; Lears 1983), appeared in an essay,
“Mr.  Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” in The Captain’s Death Bed and Other Essays, but was originally part of a
paper Woolf read to the Heretics, Cambridge, on May 18, 1924. “On or about December 1910 human character
changed … The change was not sudden and definite … But a change there was nevertheless, and since one must
be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910” (Woolf 1950).

2 Part I • Introduction

There is no question that in America, the half-century from 1880 to 1930 marked a major tran-
sition in the rate and level of commodity consumption—the purchase, use, and waste of what
comedian George Carlin called “stuff.” Food production grew by almost 40 percent from 1899
to 1905; the production of men’s and women’s ready-made clothing, along with the produc-
tion of costume jewelry, doubled between 1890 and 1900; and glassware and lamp production
went from 84,000 tons in 1890 to 250,563 tons in 1914. In 1890, 32,000 pianos were sold in the
United States; by 1904, the number sold increased to 374,000 (Leach 1993:16).

During this period, the perfume industry became the country’s tenth largest; at one depart-
ment store, sale of toiletries rose from $84,000 to $522,000 between 1914 and 1926. The
manufacture of clocks and watches went from 34 million to 82 million in ten years. By the late
1920s, one of every six Americans owned an automobile.

Of course, these figures are dwarfed by what Americans and others around the world
consume today. World and national consumption expanded at an unprecedented pace during
the twentieth century, with household consumption expenditures reaching $37 trillion in 2010,
three times the level of 1975 and six times that of 1950. In 1900, real consumption expenditure
was barely $1.5 trillion (United Nations Development Programme 1997). Today there are as
many cars in the United States as the number of people with drivers’ licenses, and the rest of
the world is doing everything that it can to catch up. China and India, alone, have added at least
half-a-billion middle-class consumers in the new century demanding everything that consumers
in the West desire.

However, although consumption rates were not nearly as high as they are today, the early
twentieth century is notable because it marked the early phase of what Ernest Gellner (1983:24)
called the society of perpetual growth and the creation of a new type of culture: consumer capitalism.

The emergence of the society of perpetual growth and the culture of capitalism marked
a new stage in an ongoing global historical process that began (to the extent that it can be said
to have a beginning) anytime from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. The creation
of the human type that characterizes this stage, the consumer, followed soon after the emer-
gence of two other historically unique categories of human types: the capitalist and the laborer.
Merchants had existed, of course, for thousands of years, and people had always labored to
produce goods and liked to consume what they’d produced. But never before in history has there
existed a society founded on three categories of people: the capitalist, whose sole purpose is to
invest money to earn more; the laborer, whose sole means of support comes from the sale of his
or her labor; and the consumer, whose sole purpose is to purchase and consume ever-increasing
quantities of goods and services.

At some point in their lives, virtually everyone plays the roles
of …

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