Blogs > HNN > From Live Aid to Live 8: Do They Know It's not Christmas Anymore?

Jun 20, 2005 8:22 pm

From Live Aid to Live 8: Do They Know It's not Christmas Anymore?

Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

I still remember my great feeling of accomplishment that hot summer day at Philadelphia's RFK Stadium twenty years ago. To be honest, it wasn't from the knowledge that I was doing my small part to help end starvation in Ethiopia; I was there to see the Led Zeppelin reunion. In fact, few people I knew who went to Live Aid were there to help starving Africans; most were much more interested in Tina Tuner's wardrobe malfunction (courtesy of Justin Timberlake's hero, Mick Jagger) and the possibility of an appearance by the Boss (the crowd, incredibly, booed Bob Dylan when he came out instead).

Donate $150 to a good cause (okay, it was actually $300 to a scalper) and hear great music; why not? Actually help end starvation in Africa--that seemed as unlikely as ending the Cold War.

Since then I—and hopefully millions of other music fans—have become less cynical and at least marginally engaged in the struggle against poverty in Africa. But as I listen to and read the arguments of the organizers of Live 8, the massive, multi-location concert scheduled for July 2 to pressure world leaders to "do something" about Africa's poverty, I'm not sure that Bob Geldof and the other organizers realize how much the world has changed since the last time they bought the world's music superstars together for the sake of Africa.

The problem goes far beyond the lack of African artists invited to perform for Africa, or the embarrassing disclosure that the white wrist bands worn in support of the effort were made in sweatshops. Much more important is the seeming belief that by setting politics aside, bringing together liberal rockers with conservative evangelicals, and just appealing to the moral conscience of the world's richest countries, centuries of immoral policies—and the incalculable profits they have enabled—will become history.

In fact, in order to "make poverty history" in Africa we first have to understand the history behind the poverty that continues to blight the Continent. For more than half a millennium Africa and Africans have been the fuel that fired European capitalism and modernity. The kiln was colonialism/imperialism, and the costs of 500 years of European (and later American and Soviet) domination of the continent are almost impossible to fathom: Tens of millions dead. Almost as many enslaved. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of natural resources stolen or otherwise expropriated in a system that continues to this very day (Want just one example? Find out where and how Motorolla, Nokia and Erikkson get the precious metals without which none of us would have a cell phone.)

Today, Africa is at the heart of the "arc of instability" (as US policy makers call it) that stretches across the continent into the Middle East and Central Asia and just happens to contain the most resource rich—especially oil—countries in the world. And in the era of post Cold War globalization it is precisely this region's instability that allows such great profits to be made by Western corporations and local elites at the expense of its hundreds of millions of citizens. Making all that instability (and the resulting poverty and disease) possible is the one thing no one at Live 8 dares to mention: war, and lots of it.

And then there's the watered down mission statment of the"One" project (one of the forces behind Live 8 here), which in its version of the Live 8 mission statement has adopted the Bush Administration policy of watering down international documents by substituting trade"fairness" for justice, debt"relief" for cancellation, and fighting African corruption when the scale of corruption perpetuated by Western corporations and governments surpasses even the imagination of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Such editorializing makes it very hard even for people who sincerely want to become informed and engaged in the fight against poverty and disease in Africa to understand our complicity in the disasters that have continuously befallen the continent since Live Aid: innumerable wars, millions of dead, the ravage of Aids and other diseases. ("One" urges supporters: "You've seen them in the pages of People and US Weekly on your favorite stars, get your band now!" If only it were that simple!)

Indeed, as No Logo author Naomi Klein rightly points out,"What keeps Africa poor [is] not a lack of political will but the tremendous profitability of the current arrangement. Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination: It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world." Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.

None of this absolves Africans of their complicity in the problems facing the continent. Indeed, from trading slaves to trading conflict diamonds, and like their counterparts across the Global South, African elites have enriched themselves at the expense of their peoples for as long as Europeans have offered a market for such goods. But if Bob, Bono and Brad really think Western politicians, corporate leaders, and their local subcontractors, are about to walk away from a well-oiled 500 year-old gravy train without a nasty, even vicious fight, they are sadly mistaken.

Even the latest much-celebrated announcements of debt cancellation are unlikely to make much of a difference on the ground. As Steve Tibbett, spokesperson for Make Poverty History explains with reference to the announcement of debt cancellation for many of the poorest countries: "This deal still leaves poor countries having to jump through economic hoops like water privatization and trade liberalization in order to get debt relief.” And as Guardian columnist George Monbiot reminds us, foreign aid is nowhere near as important as increasing imports of African goods: "Everyone who has studied global poverty - including European governments - recognizes that aid cannot compensate for unfair terms of trade. If they increased their share of world exports by 5%, developing countries would earn an extra $350bn a year, three times more than they will be given in 2015. Any government that wanted to help developing nations would surely make the terms of trade between rich and poor its priority."

But while this is precisely what Western governments periodically, including today, promise to do, such promises have almost always been broken. And even the most recent promise of aid has so many "conditionalities" attached to it ("tackle corruption, boost private-sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign") that Monbiot rightly describes it as a "truckload of nonsense." (Read his excellent analysis here:,5673,1505927,00.html)

I'm not sure how naïve Live 8 organizers are, but whatever their motivations or understanding of the situation, the problem with their strategy of depoliticizing poverty in order to make rich westerners feel comfortable enough to "do something" about it is evident in the conflicting rationales for the concerts they have offered. For example, Sir Bob has argued that the fight against poverty in Africa "is not an issue of politics, it's an issue of morality." He also believes that foreign aid to the continent "really works." Yet in the same interviews he also argues that the concerts are designed to "focus on the need for 'political justice' for the world's poor," which is necessary because "charity [can] never really solve the problems.'

The reality is that morality and politics are inseparable. And there is no way that anything resembling "justice" for Africa is going to be achieved until this is explicitly recognized. And when it is recognized it will become clear that neoliberals like Tony Blair and neoconservatives like George Bush simply cannot deliver on their promises to Africa, even if they wanted to, for to do so would necessitate radically restructuring the world economic system and the cultural values of hyper consumption and materialism that make the present system both possible and necessary.

Surely the conservative leaders (such as Pat Robertson and Jesse Helms, both of whom have supported the efforts of Geldof and Bono) courted by Sir Bob and Bono are unlikely to work toward such a goal. As Thomas Frank demonstrated in his recent What's the Matter with Kansas, their preferred modus operandi is to promise their largely white, Christian middle class followers moral certitude and"economic fairness" while delivering tax breaks and relaxed government regulations for their corporate sponsors. Why would they treat Africans any differently?

As for the celebrity liberals Bob and Bono have been corralling as part of their crusade to make poverty history, it's highly unlikely that Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, Dave Matthews, George Clooney and friends, most of whose biggest political commitment to date was to support John Kerry (remember how successful the Act for Change concerts on his behalf were last year?) are willing to put their reputations—and wallets—on the line to take the brave moral stance of, say, the Dixie Chicks, let alone radically change their jet-setting lifestyles so that they use a more proportional share of the earth's resources. (Here's a good way to start: George Clooney can turn his massive new villa on Lago di Como--where, incidently, he's outraged the locals by trying to have his beach front declared private property--into a retreat and training center for trade justice activists.)

Until the celebrity endorsers change their ways, can we expect anyone else to? And with 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians dreaming of living just like Mike, there's no doubt that 30,000 African children will continue to die every day, while the earth's resources grow more depleted by the hour.

At least Live 8 will bring us a Pink Floyd reunion. And then activists on the grass roots level, reaching across the global South and North, can get down to the hard work of making another world possible. That is, if they have any time or energy left from fighting the occupation of Iraq and the rest of the war on terror. It would be nice if most of the celebrities stuck around and got their hands dirty; but I'm not holding my breath.

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Frederick Thomas - 7/1/2005

...but I really enjoy reforming convinced Marxists, etc. or at least trying to. My very distant relative David Hume (lca 1707) emphasized that engagement is the price for a working and peaceful free society, and in this case I firmly agree with the old curmudgeon.

Thanks for the kind words!


Frederick Thomas - 7/1/2005

...but I really enjoy reforming convinced Marxists, etc. or at least trying to. My very distant relative David Hume (lca 1707) emphasized that engagement is the price for a working and peaceful free society, and in this case I firmly agree with the old curmudgeon.

Thanks for the kind words!


Bill Heuisler - 7/1/2005

Mr Thomas,
Your writing and your arguments are superb. Be prepared, however, for the hurt feelings and puzzled responses from people who can't seem to understand how Marxist arguments that use Marxist terms and begin with Marxist premises are...what? They are Marxist arguments. Golly.

LeVine will never answer your arguments, he'll only protest your calling him a Marxist. They think this fools people. Maybe it does. Anyone foolish enough to ignore manifest lessons of history - absolute failures of Marxism/ Communism and absolute triumphs of Capitalism/ Democracy - must be of rather careless intellect. Others will protest your calling LeVine a Marxist, when you've done nothing of the sort. Personalizing arguments has become a last resort for some.

Great post. Thanks.
Bill Heuisler

Danny Long - 7/1/2005

Yes, I understand the fact that liveaid 2.0 may only be a false assurance (spiritual insurance) that real assistance in Africa will occur. It sickens me that we have become so jaded that an event like this will relinquish any true belief in progressive assistance. But if this whole conversation of the topic might reveal a higher profile of what's really occurring in Africa, what's wrong with that?

Sergio Ramirez - 6/28/2005

I wasn't the one who came up with the silly idea that my computer is starving people in Africa. That one was yours.

Omar Granados - 6/28/2005

Ah... That is good, but you make more comments than I do. Which makes you more guilty than me...

Sergio Ramirez - 6/28/2005

If your owning a computer sabotages the living standard of Africans, isn't giving up your computer the least you can do?

Omar Granados - 6/27/2005

I agree with this blog. It is very informative and unfortunately it is accurate. The promoters of this event can never fully grasp the extent to which the situation is deeply rooted economically into a system that is so robust, that it cannot be pulled apart. Unless we are willing to to give up our technology and way of life in order to have moreal justice, we will live in hypocrisy. No we cannot justify a war for peace because morally killing another person is wrong. Only one person can judge, and a president who uses the name of God to promote justice, peace, equality, and all of that other good stuff, IS LYING. Read my lips, the war on poverty in Africs hsd been lost forever until we find a balance. But I doubt that we want to gove up our commodities. This is my two cents, refute me, I dare you.

Frederick Thomas - 6/27/2005

Mr. LeVine,

Please read my response again. I did not refute Communism, but rather used it as an organizing characterization for statements in the article.

What I refuted were 5 important statements or assertions from your article, each of which were characterized by Marxist code-words and principles.

If however, you wish to assert that you refute communism and its principles, I will accept your assertion at face value.

Andrew D. Todd - 6/24/2005

RE: your point 3:

Well, I think he's referring to tantalum, used in electrolytic capacitors. I suppose that at this stage in the proceedings, it probably goes into power supplies. I don't suppose there's much need for LC oscilator circuits anymore. People use tiny surface-mounted capacitors to damp digital signal lines between chips, but I doubt those amount to very much.

As you will see from this table,

the vast majority comes from Australia.

Parenthetically, I know there's work being done on aluminium electrolytic capacitors, which are obviously more economical for power-related uses.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/24/2005

nice refutation of communism, but what does this have to do with my article? i think some readers of this site have an obsessions with marxism/communism. instead of seeing a commie under every bad they seem to see them under every by-line...

Frederick Thomas - 6/24/2005

Mr. LeVine:

Thank you for an interesting and well-written restatement of the “Communist Manifesto”, including “Imperialism, the last stage of Capitalism”. Marx’s and Engels’ works surely make up in length what they lack in depth.

I believe we may jointly stipulate about Communist countries:

1. Their economies do not work.
2. There are none of them left, except North Korea, with its pimp leader.
3. They murder their “workers” by the millions.
4. A “worker’s paradise” they are not, in any sense.
5. Only the few who hold the guns benefit under Communism.
6. Communists are the foulest form of dictatorship.
7. Communists are not internally reform-able.
8. Communists feature the worst pollution and waste of any economies.
9. The above manifestos were obsolete the day they were published.
10. Communists foment wars, through endemic insecurity.

May I respond to your points in turn?

1. “is exploitation the main reason we in the rest are rich. first, i don't think it's good to generalize the west into one 'we'. during the central period of capitalist expansion through european imperialism…” Partly, I agree:

-European economies of the mid 19th century, when workers were badly abused, and when Marx wrote, were not capitalist, but rather primarily mercantilist royal charters, just another form of monopolistic state control, like Communism. This model was out of date entirely by the end of the Second World War, though France and Britain did not immediately realize it. The American economy was never imperialist-mercantilist, so to apply that standard here is simply false attribution.

-The late 19th century economics of Scotland, the US and Germany showed the promise of a free economy, with double digit annual growth in GNP and living standard in each case. These three profited by that wonderful economic innovation, free universal education, making each worker more productive. Scotland got it first in 1645, the US by 1800, and Germany by 1816. The others did not share in this feast because they had so much direct state control, stronger nobles, and dumber workers, oddly just like Communism. The worse example is Leopold II of Belgium, who utterly exploited the Kongo, leading to the death of about 10 million black slave workers.

-Contrary to your assertion, globalization has led to huge improvements of the standard of living in all third world countries which have been allowed to develop according to relatively free economic principles. This surely includes China and India, both formerly Socialistic, but also most of SE Asia, and parts of Africa. I personally have taken great pleasure in having had a small role in this myself, and seeing eg a kid who was the son of a paddy farmer instead making pharmaceutical products under extreme quality control, using an inline gas chromatograph for process control, making over 10 times what his dad made. Take China again as an example: under communist economics, China had famine after famine, and a great leap forward which went backward. Under capitalist (free) economy, the living standard has already gone up more than 500%. QED.

2. “but if we want to understand why we in the west have become so much more wealthy than the countries of the global south, yes, our exploitation of the resources, territories and peoples of the global south is very much a primary reason why europe, and then the US, made the jump ahead of competing societies such as china”

-Au contraire, the reason for the US success in the latter half of the 20th century has been our superior education system versus less developed countries. Let’s face it, Saudis benefit from our purchase of their oil, and we lose, but our economy still is so much more productive than theirs. They are improving-because of US educations.

-As far as China is concerned, their growth rates exceed ours, because the economic component of their economies is actually freer than ours, ironically more capitalist. And remember, China has almost no natural resources except a high average IQ. QED.

3. “exploitation does not explian 'how' companies such as motorola and erikkson--in fact, it was bell labs as much as motorola--invented the cell phone. but some of the crucial precious metals without which cell phones could not work…”

-Respectfully, this is nonsense: the key component of cell phones is ubiquitous sand-silicon dioxide, to be exact- then copper and a little gold, and petroleum for plastics-all of which are commodities and do not come mainly from Africa. The major component of cell phones is IQ. QED.

4. “is the world a zero sum place? well, according to the US strategic space command's "Vision 2020" report, it is. this report explains that globalization is increasing poverty and inequality and that the US has to be prepared to dominate a world in which such a conflict is taking place. moreover, if we consider that global warming, the destruction of the rain forests, etc. is putting incredible stress on the world environment…”

-Again, respectfully, nonsense: the third world living standard is increasing dramatically wherever free economies are allowed to do their thing. (UN demographics.) I recognize that you may not have had the experience I have in watching this phenomenon take place, but the stats are not hard to find, and the Web is a great way to find them. Per capita world and third world GNP is growing rapidly-how is that possible in a zero-sum game?

-“Global Warming” from carbon dioxide from economic activity is simply an effort by a group of power-seekers who want government support for their political agenda and personal power. If one believes this nonsense, then how can one explain that average temperatures were about 20 degrees Celsius warmer than today 125 million years ago? There was a dense tropical jungle in Northern Alaska which gives us the oil we have there today. At that time industrialized humanity was still 125 million years away, so, like, there must be something else going on here. Right?

- Current very slight increases in temperature are due to increased Solar flare activity which contributes more than 15 times the heating potential as could CO2. Google “Global Warming” with an open mind. Read “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, which is somewhat better documented than I can be here.

5. “… things don't have to be that way. a different, more sustainable world economy could afford a distribution of the world's wealth that would allow the very poor to increase their standards of living. this would take, however, a massive change in consciousness that few people are willing to undertake at this point…”

-In other words, you propose a massive theft program to move money from productive countries to unproductive. This would do nothing to improve the poor while breaking the rich, to the detriment of both. As previously noted, globalization, while further marginalizing Marxists, is taking care of the inequity in the same way that free economies have raised up their own workers into the middle class. You can’t argue with success, and it must be lonely when only North Korea still agrees with you, while subjecting its own to yet another famine in a bone-dead economy. QED

If I may propose more truthful slogans for today’s Marxism:

“Rise up, you have nothing to lose but your livelihood, and your life”
“There is no such thing as a free lunch”
“Poverty to the people”
“The good die young”


“Big governments kill” (especially Commie governments, but others as well)
“There is no zero sum game”
“Marxism, the last stage of insanity”

Please reconsider your position.

Andrew D. Todd - 6/24/2005

That is it-- the Chinese were exporting tea in exchange for silver. If I recall rightly, Pepys said (in the 1660's or 1670's): "I did send for a dish of Tay, a China drink which I never had before." At the time, things like tea and tobacco commanded a fancy price precisely because they were not articles of mass consumption. They were lucrative in much the same sense as cannabis. The fancy price made it economic to ship the things in primitive ships for fifteen thousand miles or so, a round-trip voyage taking a couple of years. The ships which traded with the far east were immensely heavily armed. Bjorn Landstrom (The Ship: An Illustrated History, 1961, p. 186) refers to an East Indiaman of 1725 with 54 guns. It might have displaced a thousand tons, and had a crew of five hundred men. In modern terms, that would have been something like a pocket battleship. Since the ship had to run the gauntlet of Southeast Asia in its way home, such armament was necessary. Tobacco production rapidly took root in England, despite the Virginia Company's legal monopoly, on much the same basis as moonshining. Similarly, silk originally came from China, but the secret got out fast enough, and the caterpillars were soon chomping away on mulberry leaves in Italy. Trade boiled down to a residue of products which could not be grown in a European climate. There were reasonable local substitutes-- for example, the mulled ale which Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are dipping into in Twelth Night. Similarly, you can make tea from things like dandelions, nettles, etc. However, if everyone has a status symbol, it is no longer a status symbol. Status symbols are thus subject to inflation, in much the same way as money. That is what runs through Europe's interaction with the global south. The proceeds were in the last analysis things of essentially transitory value.

European industry did not rely very greatly on imports from the global south until the nineteenth century, when the steamship radically reduced the cost of ocean shipping. The near exception was cotton in the eighteenth century, and as the Lancashire cotton industry grew, cotton was planted in the West Indies, and later in America, a mere three or four thousand miles from the factory. However, the key "manufactures of superiority," such as iron and steel, or shipbuilding, were built out of European materials. The early machine-making towns, such as Augsburg, were on top of mining districts.

The global south did not have very much of a monopoly of climates. It was usually possible to bridge the difference with a greenhouse, except where that would have been self-defeating. Likewise, the global south did not have a monopoly of mineral resources. As against that, the global south was distant, and expensive to reach, and found its natural niche as a supplier of goods whose value consisted primarily in their scarcity.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/23/2005

i think the narcotic analogy is very telling, as is the description you provide. nevertheless, the fact that europeans finally had something that the chinese wanted allowed a new system of trade to emerge that gradually turned to the favor of european economic and political elites, who with the rise of the nation-state system had new ways of coordinating policies.

Andrew D. Todd - 6/23/2005

Well, the question is not whether there was an impact. The question is whether the impact was positive or negative. The most obvious and immediately provable impact of the Spanish silver was that a large swath of Europe was, as I said, put to the sword. If you want to get a feel for what that worked out to in practice, read Grimmelshausen (Adventures of a Simpleton) or look at Callot's etchings. It became foolish to build things like windmills because the soldiers would only torch them when they passed through. Agricultural productivity suffered. Cropland went out of production because the soldiers had looted the seed-corn. The productivity of medieval/ early modern agriculture was not very high at the best of times, and farmers needed to set aside a third or a quarter of their grain crop for seed in any case. It didn't take very much looting at harvest time to do damage that might require fifty years to recover from. It is estimated that the population of Germany dropped by something like a third during the thirty years war, between 1618 and 1648, making it comparable to the Black Death. Of course, there were fresh outbreaks of that too, in the disturbed post-battlefield conditions.

Practically none of the things of apparent value imported back to Europe from the global south before 1700 had any real use-value. The things imported were either money, or things which functioned like money, as status symbols. The net result of these imports was inflation, and in the long term, Europe was none the richer for them, any more than Weimar Germany was the richer for printing unlimited numbers of Reichsmarks. The one thing which was of value was cultivars and livestock. Before 1500, the world was divided into about five ecological zones by seas, mountains, and deserts. There was a general exchange of token quantities of things like potatoes, and maize corn, and peanuts, and pigs, and turkeys, which the recipients bred up to usable numbers. Paradoxically, these agricultural products were the ones which the Europeans could have had by asking nicely in any case.

I think it would be fair to say that silver was a kind of economic narcotic, consistently destructive to all parties involved.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/23/2005

i don't agree with the arguemnt that it didn't have an impact. however, the particulars of the case you cite certainly could be accurate. but read ken pomeranz's 'the great divergence' which deals specifically with this issue in exploring how european economic growth and development surpassed china in the 19th century and the role of silver in the rise of europe. also see gunder frank's 'reorient', among other works.

Andrew D. Todd - 6/23/2005

The new world silver in the sixteenth century does not seem to have had a particularly constructive effect on Europe. It was not really a material in the ordinary sense of the word. I grant that the silver produced a keynsian stimulation, but it did so in a particularly destructive way. The Hapsburgs used it to finance the counter-reformation, which resulted in Germany being more or less put to the sword. The obvious big winner of the wars of religion was England, very much a third-rate country in 1500, with about a tenth of the population of France. England was very much a johnny-come-lately to the business of empire, but what it did do was to take in refugees. All kinds of industries popped up in this fashion. By 1700, England's empire consisted of a swath of North America, and a bunch of islands and offshore trading posts in the rest of the world.

I am appending a precis of a relevant book.

Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659 (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972,

Parker treats the eighty-years-war between Spain and the Netherlands in terms of what he calls 'logistics,' which is half lines of communication and half finance.
Spain was only able to conduct operations in the Netherlands and northern France because it could find and control a land or sea route. During the 16th century, the main artery of communication was the 'Spanish Road': Genoa (ally), Savoy (ally), Franche Comte (Hapsburg), Lorraine (ally), Netherlands. An eastern branch went from Lorraine via Alsace (Hapsburg) either to the emperor's German lands or via Switzerland to Italy. Significant no-go areas were France, the Palatinate, and the more militant cantons of Switzerland, eg. Geneva.
As France recovered from its civil wars, it resumed a policy of expansion. In 1601 it relieved Savoy of some of the headwaters of the Rhone, and the Spanish Road was pinched between France and Geneva. Savoy soon shifted into French alliance. With the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, the Hapsburgs improved their position by the conquest of the Palatinate. They developed a new road, from Milan (Hapsburg) to the Valtelline (which they occupied) to the Tyrol (Hapsburg). But in the 1630's France occupied Alsace and Lorraine, and brought Switzerland and Venice into alliance. The Spaniards now moved their troops and funds along the English coast (being for the time being at peace with England). But even this became impossible under the Commonwealth, with its inclination to champion English colonial interests.
The other half of the 'logistics' problem was financial: obtaining the money to pay the troops.The Hapsburg empire was overextended, and there was never enough money to do everything that needed doing. So it was rarely possible to exploit victories. The unpaid troops would mutiny, their version of a strike. They would take over a town, commence raiding from it, and demand their back pay. The crown could only pay them off, and hope the idea would not spread too rapidly to the other troops.
The king was continually borrowing, but he was also becoming unable to meet his obligations. So he was obliged to default (which in many cases actually ended up meaning renegotiating the terms of repayment). In the long run, this merely impaired his ability to borrow. About 1580, the silver production from the new world increased dramatically, but that too was progressively anticipated and alienated to creditors. Finally, catastrophe of catastrophes, in 1629, the dutch 'sea beggars' captured the treasure fleet that was supposed to be used to pay the creditors.
In response to these difficulties, Spain had been compelled to develop what was by now the most advanced modern logistics operation in Europe. The crown supplied the soldier with everything he needed, arms, food, clothing, etc. and stopped it against his pay, whenever that should materialize. This kept the mutiny rate down to a manageable level.
Yet it was not good enough. Spain was simply too overextended, trying to hold too many territories, too far from home. Parker is arguing along the same lines as Garrett Mattingly (The Spanish Armada), about the finiteness of the Spanish military miracle.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/20/2005

these are interesting questions. let me answer them in turn:

1. is exploitation the main reason we in the rest are rich. first, i don't think it's good to generalize the west into one 'we'. during the central period of capitalist expansion through european imperialism, european workers, especially in the UK, suffered greatly in the 'satanic mills', as the early factories were called. the continuing centrality of labor struggles in the US and across europe, not to mention rising poverty rates and inequality in many northern/western countries attests to the fact that there is no one "we" that is benefiting from the current economic system.

2. but if we want to understand why we in the west have become so much more wealthy than the countries of the global south, yes, our exploitation of the resources, territories and peoples of the global south is very much a primary reason why europe, and then the US, made the jump ahead of competing societies such as china. this is clear from the new world silver that was used to buy a seat at the world economic table by europe in the 16th century to the rape of africa during the last few centuries down till today. if you want a more detailed argument, you can see chapters 2-4 of my new book, Why They Don't Hate Us, out in a month or so, which provides a detailed economic-historical analysis/basis for this argument. this doesn't mean european ingenuity, scientific discovery, etc., didn't play a crucial role, but these developments are inseparable from the larger historical unfolding of modernity, nationalism and capitalism through the processes of imperialism/colonialism by europe and similar powers (US, japan) in the last half millennium.

3. exploitation does not explian 'how' companies such as motorola and erikkson--in fact, it was bell labs as much as motorola--invented the cell phone. but some of the crucial precious metals without which cell phones could not work, comes primarily from some of Africa's worst conflict zones, such as the Congo, and western/northern companies have continued to buy the metals from warring factions despite the clear evidence that in doing so they are funding slaughter on a mass scale.

4. is the world a zero sum place? well, according to the US strategic space command's "Vision 2020" report, it is. this report explains that globalization is increasing poverty and inequality and that the US has to be prepared to dominate a world in which such a conflict is taking place. moreover, if we consider that global warming, the destruction of the rain forests, etc. is putting incredible stress on the world environment, under the conditions of the current system i would say that in order for the US to maintain its current levels of consumption other regions are going to suffer profoundly, especially africa. and especially if indians and chinese attemtp to match the average american middle class life style. indeed, as the world approaches, or perhaps has already reached, the era of 'peack oil,' the zero sum contest for crucial resources becomes even more acute.

but things don't have to be that way. a different, more sustainable world economy could afford a distribution of the world's wealth that would allow the very poor to increase their standards of living. this would take, however, a massive change in consciousness that few people are willing to undertake at this point.

Kurt Reiger - 6/20/2005

Mark- Is exploitation the central reason we in the West are rich? Does exploitation explain how Motorola and Erikkson developed the cell phone? Is the world a zero sum gain place, where one individual or group's gain can only be done by taking from someone else?