Broadly, Amin contended that historical capitalism created underdevelopment rather than cultural backwardness, corruption or/and the persistence of tradition — explanations that are still quite common. The separation of ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ in discussing economies of the South today is one example of the latter.
Rather, for Amin and co-conspirators, it is the 17th century formation of a world market integrating goods produced in different social systems that created capitalist relations of different characteristics in various parts of the world. Through these relations, which were both political and economic, came a ‘structure’ of inequality from which we have not been able to liberate ourselves to this day.
As Amin emphasised in his 1970 volume L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale, published in English as Accumulation on a World Scale in 1974, his notion of ‘structure’ differs from the plural, ‘structures’ of mainstream economics. ‘Structures’ in mainstream economics and social science generally are descriptive and concrete; denoted as ‘technical’, ’demographic’, ‘intra-enterprise’ and so on. Amin’s ‘structure’ is a set of social relations which reproduces itself, with some change in shape. The reorganisation of economies in indebted countries of the global South in the 1980s and 90s, for instance, comes from the same essential relation as the organisation of production to provide exports to nascent industries in Europe in the formal colonial period.
Since the 17th century, there has been a deepening of these unequal relations in many respects. The balance of payments issues experienced in so many countries today are a compounded version of balance of payments problems experienced by most of the same countries in the early 20th century. Both are the outcome of national economies focused on producing goods for consumption in other nations rather than producing goods for local consumption as well as export.
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