Hobson’s lurid prediction of “yellow mercenary troops” being used to suppress Western workforces, like similar turn-of-the-century Yellow Peril prophecies, has not materialized. But his other predictions, translated into modern language, have come to pass. The claim of neoliberal ideologues that Western industrial workers who lose their jobs to offshoring in China and other low-wage countries would obtain new and better jobs in the “knowledge economy” was precisely a promise that, in the postindustrial West, most workers would share the intellectual property rents of the knowledge economy, rather like “independent gentlemen,” while Asian proles and peasants labored in factories. In the pages of the Economist and other propaganda organs of the managerial oligarchy, the claim that the lower prices of Chinese consumer goods outweigh the harm done to the Western working class by partial deindustrialization is routinely repeated, more than a century after Hobson’s prediction.
Hobson envisioned a dystopian future for a deindustrialized West ruled by a class of transnational managers and investors:
We have foreshadowed the possibility of an even larger alliance of Western States, a European federation of great Powers which, so far from forwarding the cause of world-civilisation, might introduce the gigantic peril of a Western parasitism, a group of advanced industrial nations, whose upper classes drew vast tribute from Asia and Africa, with which they supported great tame masses of retainers, no longer engaged in the staple industries of agriculture and manufacture, but kept in the performance of personal or minor industrial services under the control of a new financial aristocracy.
Hobson further warned: “The greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera, and in the tourist-ridden or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a large body of personal servants.” The “little clusters” of rich rentiers and their professional retainers and menial servants bring to mind today’s increasingly stratified “global cities” like London, New York, and San Francisco, embedded in nation-states with large tracts of derelict, former industrial zones.
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