As the chief promoter of the capitalist order, America is also criticized for promoting ‘wage-slavery’, whereby human beings are reduced to mechanical automatons as they go through the drudgery of work each day. Here too, the slavery is not so much express as it is veiled. Instead of use of violent force, the threat of employment and attendant destitution serves as the whip. Those who support capitalism, on the other hand, have a different take on the subject: “As for employment, accepting the best (or only) offer available, as unattractive as it might be, is not the equivalent of slavery-a situation in which actual violence, or the threat of it, is used to compel people to labor without pay and without the option to seek other work. That circumstances limit one’s choices does not prove that one has neither the capacity nor the opportunity to choose, since everyone’s choices are limited.” (Levite, 2002, p.32)
In the same vein, it is argued that just as competition brings down real wages, thereby applying the squeeze on the working classes, it can also bring down the price of commodities. It is argued that under a free-maket capitalist system, the pressure exerted by competing manufacturers will bring the prices down to an optimal level, which is beneficial to the consumer. This also makes available more choices and models for consumers. But once again, this situation gives the critics more ammunition, as they complain of a profusion of goods leading to a consumerist culture. Hence, there are pros and cons to America’s grand agenda to bring the whole world under capitalist ideology. But there appears to be more critical views than supportive ones as of now. (Harris, 2002, p.3) So, while American hegemony (derived largely from its military and economic power) might be crucial to the sustenance of the prevailing global economic order, there are more fundamental questions that first need to be answered.
It should be remembered that U.S’ commitment to the capitalist ideology does not supersede its self-interest. In other words, where there is conflict between the execution of this system and its effect on major American corporations, it is always the interests of the latter that is looked after. This is nowhere more clearly visible in the history of NAFTA (North American Free-Trade Agreement). The terminology can be a little deceptive here, for despite claims of being a ‘free-trade’ agreement, it has many protectionist provisions in it. A brief survey of the effects of NAFTA on the general population reveals that American, Mexican and Canadian elites have seen most of its benefits. Despite initial promise of creating more jobs for Americans, under the NAFTA regime many industries were moved to Mexico, due to cheaper labor there. (Ciccantell, 2001, p.57) As to the question of how important is U.S’ continued hegemony (both in the region and in the rest of the world), we should remember that Canada and Mexico were not doing badly under the influence of European and Japanese trade links prior to the initiation of NAFTA. Even if the latter were not to be construed and implemented, there would not have been any remarkable decline in the GDPs of the two countries. The key long term goal for the U.S is not so much the establishment of liberal capitalist economies in the neighborhood as it is to reconstruct its hegemony that was formerly seized by Japan and Europe. To put things in perspective,
“The declining competitiveness of U.S. raw materials supply systems badly damaged U.S. hegemony during the 1970s and l980s. The original U.S. strategy was to create a continental energy market to reduce overseas oil imports, guarantee access to oil and natural gas from Canada and Mexico, and reduce price instability. The evolution into broader agreements reflected the interests of other U.S. industries and the efforts of Canadian and Mexican states and firms to capture benefits from restructuring.” (Ciccantell, 2001, p.57)
In the last two decades, the manufacturing sector in the United States has virtually collapsed, leaving tens of thousands of workers unemployed. Similarly, the effects of NAFTA can be partially attributed to the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States. A salient question at this point is whether such a steep social/national cost worth bearing for the sake of American hegemony? Moreover, as the history of NAFTA succinctly illustrates, the manifestation of U.S hegemony need not have a purpose beyond that of domination and self-interest. Whether it aids or hinders global capitalist economic order can be incidental to the cause. (Worth & Kuhling, 2004, p.31)