The Wealth of (some) Nations – Imperialism and the Mechanics of Value Transfer

The Wealth of (some) Nations
Zak Cope
Pluto Press, 2019
Level: mittel
Perspective: Marxian Political Economy
Topic: Globalization & International Economic Relations, Inequality & Class, North-South Relations & Development
page count: 260 pages
ISBN: 9780745338859


In this provocative new study, Zak Cope makes the case that capitalism is empirically inseparable from imperialism, historically and today. Using a rigourous political economic framework, he lays bare the vast ongoing transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest countries through the mechanisms of monopoly rent, unequal exchange and colonial tribute. The result is a polarised international class structure with a relatively rich Global North and an impoverished, exploited Global South. Cope makes the controversial claim that it is because of these conditions that workers in rich countries benefit from higher incomes and welfare systems with public health, education, pensions and social security. As a result, the internationalism of populations in the Global North is weakened and transnational solidarity is compromised. The only way forward, Cope argues, is through a renewed anti-imperialist politics rooted in a firm commitment to a radical labour internationalism.

Book summary

The book explores the imperialist tendency inherent in global capitalism by using a rigorous political economy framework. Overall, the book argues that there is a vast transfer of value from the Global South to the Global North, which is overlooked by the left analysis in the imperialist countries; thereby it affords the mass ‘labour aristocracy’ of the developed countries material benefits at the expense of labour in the underdeveloped countries. The book itself is divided into three parts. The first part lays the theoretical foundations of the key mechanisms by which imperialism operates: value transfer, colonial tribute, monopoly rent, unequal exchange. The second part presents empirical calculations and findings of international value transfer. The third section explores the historical articulation of the concept of the 'labour aristocracy' in the imperialist-country Marxist/socialist thoughts and movements. Lastly, the book contends for the necessity of bringing an internationalist and anti-imperialist dimension into the analysis.

Comment from our editors:

The book offers rigorous and solid Marxist economic analyses theoretically, empirically and historically. It shows how some important concepts such as value transfer and unequal exchange are built, as well as how to measure them and use them for anti-imperialist argument. The book itself requires some familiarity with some Marxist theories such as Marx’s theory of value, the tendency for the profit to fall, but also rent and monopoly.


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