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PRICE INDETERMINACY IN A META-PRISMATIC CONTEXT
By Fred W. Riggs
An Ancient Pattern in Prismatic Form. The political topology
of subvisible industrial parks resembles that of ancient cities, as described
by Gideon Sjoberg (citation). In them, a power elite lived and ruled
from an imperial reserve (as still visible in Beijing's Forbidden City).
Around the gardens and pleasure palaces of the core site could be found
separate quarters for the administrators, soldiers, merchants, craftsmen,
monasteries and temples that supported the grandeur of imperial rule. Extending
outside the walls of a capital city could be found the rural masses whose
agrarian pursuits supported the imperial establishment. On a smaller scale,
the mega-site of China's imperial city was replicated in a host of ancient
kingdoms and chiefly towns where cosmological visions of the universe were
replicated in an urban setting designed to assure, by magical means, all
the human benefits that other-worldly forces could engender -- and concurrently,
of course, to enhance the power position of the rulers and their loyal
Although the underlying logic of contemporary industrial estates is
secular and profit-oriented rather than cosmological or sacred, the basic
topological design is ancient -- it represents a newly invigorated and
cloistered hierarchy of power that depends on industrial production rather
than supernatural forces to legitimize its growing power. The paradoxical
juxtaposition of ancient and modern forms of organization and social structure
makes the SIP design essentially prismatic. It links in mutual contradiction
structures that are contemporary and ancient.
Migdal's STRONG SOCIETIES AND WEAK STATES makes, I think, a different
kind of contrast between the surviving strength of traditional forms of
organization where the ancient kith and kin bonds of gemeinschaft communities
have survived and the new states formed upon the collapse of industrial
empires remain essentially limited in their capabilities. Such communities
have remarkable resilience and are able to cope with many contemporary
problems in spite of governmental efforts to control them. They may
be viewed as "pre-prismatic" in the sense that the persistence
of traditional social structures my defy intrusions from the outside world.
By contrast, subvisible industrial parks (SIPs) epitemize industrialization
in its most pernicious forms. Far from traditional in character,
they are clearly a manifestation of industrialization and modernity at
its worst. Their capacity to hamper and sabotage the political and
administrative development of the states that host their activities goes
far beyond the essentially benign ability of traditional peasant societies
to resist weak states. Instead of helping to shape "strong societies,"
SIPs have the capacity, I believe, to become parasites (if not predators)
that undermine them. Both the societies and the states that host
them do not understand the dangers hospitality to this ominous kind of
modern Trojan Horse will cause.
The External Impact. In the classic model of industrial
development, the added income generated by factory workers raised the living
levels of their communities and even encouraged civic consciousness, as
through community support for unionization. By contrast, I expect
that SIPs will not improve living conditions in the communities where their
employees live. Instead, they will probably contribute to their deterioration.
Admittedly, I am speculating here.
At the governmental level, however, I am confident that the systematic
corruption of officials, which may well be a pre-condition for the maintenance
of SIPs, will contribute to the deterioration of governmental operations
and the suffocation of efforts to democratize, to say nothing of efforts
to improve public services. This contrasts with the experience of
established industrial societies where a rising bourgeoisie, while pressing
for more favorable conditions to protect their property and investments,
simultaneously strengthened the forces of democracy and representative
governance and helped to finance the rising costs of modern governance.
The difference, I think, reflects relative power position. So long as
states were stronger than the industrialists, representative institutions
were needed to protect property and build infrastructures -- under such
conditions, economic development encouraged democratic forces. By contrast,
in environments where the state is weaker than industry, industrialists
now find they can fend for themselves -- blocking the transformation of
weak into strong states serve their expedient interests -- at least in
the short term. However, they can never admit this in public because, in
the more industrialized countries, they still need to be seen as bastions
for the rule of law and democratic responsiveness. Corporations that seem
to epitomize modernity can become, in this evolving context, quite prismatic.
Meta-prismatic Dualism. At the global level, two parallel
processes may be expected to evolve during the coming decades, thereby
generating the pattern that we may well call meta-prismatic. On
the governmental level, existing regimes will increasingly support and
participate in regional and global inter-state organizations that offer
assistance (humanitarian and technical support) and interventions designed
to cope with boundary threats, ethnic conflicts, drug trafficking, illegal
migrations, and other problems that adversely affect all their interests.
Simultaneously, and quite separately, the SIPs, supported by the corporations
and investors who finance them, will increasingly support cartels or syndicates
that protect their wealth while optimizing the flow of information and
capital required to maintain and expand their operations. Cynical
deals will perpetuate an uneasy tradeoff whereby the back will subsidize
the front -- in exchange for toleration, the syndicates will expand their
lucrative operations and block the transformation of weak states into viable
regimes. Concurrently, the stronger states will be able to extend the facade
that masks their declining fortunes.
This new form of global dualism will separate the growing informal network
of subvisible industrial parks and the emerging formal world system oriented
primarily to modern states and their relationships. At the formal
level, we will assume that states, inter-governmental organizations and
international NGOs will not only sponsor democratic institutions and nation-building,
but they will also monitor and regulate industrial production, its environmental
and labor costs, and its legal/administrative accountability in democratic
and powerful states. All these costs of production and political accountability
constitute a "tributary canteen" that imposes higher costs on
its victims, making their products increasingly non-competitive in the
At the informal level, by contrast, a powerful network of SIPs will
expand opportunities for the rapid accumulation of wealth by a global financial
elite. Increasingly, decisive powers will shift to this shadow-world
that is largely invisible, resting on industrial operations carried on
behind a veil of secrecy. Their ability to reduce costs at the expense
of their host societies gives them the advantages of a well subsidized
Meanwhile, the regulated industrial enterprises in advanced democracies
will find themselves increasingly strained by the pressure of competition
from the informal SIP sector. More and more they will shift their
capital from the formal to the informal realms. Their top owners
and managers will downsize their workforces, replace their full-time with
part-time employees, and buy homes in tax havens. Lower taxes for the rich
will become not just a political slogan but a necessity because increasingly
affluent citizens will avoid taxes by moving to their favorite laundromat
countries. As state revenues decline, welfare benefits will be cut
back and costly infrastructures will deteriorate, letting poverty and homelessness
increase. While maintaining a bold facade, the great states of the
world will decline, and the weak states will become even weaker.
Both the formal and the informal world systems will be asymmetrical.
The formal state apparatus of power and public policies will persist for
some time in the more industrialized democracies where bureaucracies held
accountable to institutions of representative governance will continue
to maintain some degree of effective control over the operations of industrial
production and marketing and over banking and the flow of credit and money.
By contrast, the large number of weak "quasi-states," (as Jackson,
19?? calls them) that cannot control their bureaucracies or maintain public
services will increasingly find themselves infiltrated by SIPs able to
shelter themselves from the exercise of public authority, creating their
own highly profitable enterprise zones. Capital and jobs will flow from
the more affluent countries (the tributary canteens) -- where costs remain
high due to safeguards imposed on industrial production to protect workers,
the environment, and public order -- to the weak countries (subsidized
canteens) that cannot enforce such regulations, even though, quite formalistically,
they often promulgate them.
This trend, I believe, has already started but it is still embryonic.
The full-fledged dualism of the meta-prismatic model is not yet easily
seen. The state system remains powerful, but it will erode under mounting
attacks. Simultaneously, the states of the world lose power while the global
network of subvisible estates, although still in its infancy, will gain
power at an escalating rate. These predictions are, admittedly, quite
speculative and may well be quite wrong -- I hope they are, but we surely
need to think about this real possibility.
A Post Modern World System? The emerging world system will, I believe, differ radically from the system of modern states that has evolved during the last few centuries. It is tempting to think of it as a post modern system -- but the expression carries risks. First, "post-
modern" often means simply the rejection of modernity, the deconstruction
of modernism. It is more introspective than futuristic in orientation.
Moreover, it is always risky to speculate about a future system in terms
of what exists. One can distinguish between the "pre-modern"
and the "modern" because we know and can describe what has followed
the various forms of traditional civilization. We can also sense that the
modern era is coming to an end, but unless we can characterize what will
come next, we beg the question by talking about the "post-modern."
Important efforts have, indeed, been made to think about the future
world system and identify its most salient features. One of them
rests on the vastly increased importance of information and the new technologies
resulting from computerization and the INTERNET. They have already
transformed not only the way we handle information but they have enhanced
knowledge as a source of power and wealth. No doubt the Information
Revolution, like the Industrial Revolution, will be a fundamental part
of the new age. However, just as democratization and nation-building were
linked with industrialization to constitute the modern era, so Information
will, I think, be connected with something else to constitute the fundamental
global transformation that has, I believe, already started to occur.
It results from modernization but goes beyond it. It makes dramatic
use of the information revolution, but we need to ask what these uses will
be. Who will benefit and who will suffer? Information for whom?
and for what purposes?
Some basic features of a possible future world system have already been
suggested in the notes offered above. They indicate, for example,
that open information will be increasingly important for state-sponsored
projects, especially in the more democratic countries, to support education,
economic development, environmental protection, and international cooperation
to achieve more justice and security for the peoples of the world.
But information can also be restricted and supplied only to those authorized
to know. Information can be both a positive and negative force. Who
will use it and how become crucial questions.
Even the most democratic states suppress information for some reasons,
relying on complex security measures to protect citizens from harm.
However, the most massive effort to use information in a secret way will,
I think, occur within the growing networks of subvisible industrialism:
I expect the SIPs in weak countries to be at the heart of this process.
Simply because they operate outside the law in countries unable to enforce
relevant public policies, they have every reason to hide their operations.
At the same time, they need all the data they can get in order to carry
on their activities. The motives for secrecy extend not only to the
host states where they operate, but to the enquiring eyes of journalists
and researchers, and even to their own people -- including their employees,
but perhaps even more to rival firms whose patent rights they may wish
to infringe. We may expect the most important spying activities of
the future to involve rival corporations rather than rival states.
For them, information control will triumph over freedom of information.
In order to talk about a world system that is inherently schizophrenic,
divided within itself between a formal, open system of states increasingly
engaged in efforts to enhance cooperation for the benefit of all their
citizens, and an informal system of industrialists competing to "grow"
their profits and accumulate more wealth, we need some new terms to facilitate
our discourse. We cannot continuously repeat the rather complex description
of the main features of this emerging system. Nor can we afford to be too
specific about its main features, many of which will surely unfold during
the coming decades.
A Global Meta-Prism. I suspect that the countries in which
SIPs will thrive most robustly are precisely those which have mastered
the prismatic blend. The scenario of wide-spread growth of SIPs located
in prismatic societies that may well evolve can be represented as meta-
prismatic, a term I have already introduced, but let me add a few comments.
The original idea of the prismatic model applied it mainly, if not only,
to individual countries (Riggs 1964). Today also we need a global
concept that embraces the whole world system. Like any prismatic society,
a meta-prismatic world is highly formalistic: its formal structures include
a growing number of "independent" states whose sovereignty is
recognized by the official organs of the world system, such as the United
Nations. It also contains but a host of Inter-Governmental Organizations
and non-governmental non-profit IGOs. The attention of the mass media
and academic scholarship focus on this formal system as it struggles to
cope with a growing multitude of increasingly urgent problems, including
some imaginary ones inherited from the age of inter-imperial wars and nuclear
Meanwhile, behind the screen, a host of subvisible enterprises, has
mushroomed, supported by the massive accumulation of wealth that industrialization
and the world's financial institutions and communication facilities put
at their disposal. These global resources are highly mobile, non-local,
environmentally insensitive, and they have every reason to pay workers
as little as possible, while avoiding taxes and flouting environmental
safeguards. The estates themselves will survive only if they are
profitable and, at the same time, they can force or bribe weak governments
to close their eyes, not to interfere, and to permit each SIP to establish
its own in-house, self-serving rules.
Increasingly, SIPs will be able to mass-produce consumer goods, ranging
from low to high technology items, that will be freely sold throughout
an increasingly open free world market, generating enormous accumulations
of wealth that will be hidden from public view, a massive challenge in
view of our growing curiosity and the greater access to knowledge made
possible by the new technologies of our "information age".
Meanwhile, the more democratic countries which were the incubators of
industrialization find themselves caught in traps from which they can scarcely
extricate themselves. Their major industrial plants, already decimated,
will continue to downsize. The hopes generated by some of them in
the form of welfare measures supported by progressive taxation will increasingly
be dashed. Under meta-prismatic conditions, wealthy people subjected
to higher taxes will export their riches, often enough through various
"laundromats", to invest in the world's growing host of SIPs.
Seeking to retain more of this wealth, even democratic governments will
feel compelled to reduce tax burdens on the rich. With less income and
mounting poverty, generated by the loss of well- paying industrial jobs,
levels of impoverishment, homelessness, crime, and addiction could rise
substantially, and states will find themselves helpless to respond.
As for the situation in the "less developed countries," my
guess is that, although some SIP managers, humanitarian at heart, would
be willing to respond to workers' needs and environmental destruction in
ways that could raise the economic level and living conditions of their
surroundings, they will not do this because they would then lose their
markets to rival estates willing to exploit their workers and environment
more unmercifully. A new kind of "Gresham's Law" will prevail
in which "bad" estates destroy "good" estates -- those
willing to pay higher wages and to safeguard the environment will lose
out in competition with those who are less enlightened. If so, the
estates will contribute to the deterioration rather than the improvement
of conditions in their host countries. One result will be an increase
in the number of social movements and revolutionary protests, especially
by ethnic minorities able to mobilize enough followers to generate substantial
revolts and, eventually, to create new states. If this happens, the
world's formal system of states will be further weakened while the power
of its informal system of SIPs will further increase. The wave of
the future is meta-prismatic.
Conclusion. The scenario outlined above is, no doubt, highly
speculative, but I think it is sufficiently realistic to justify serious
attention. If terms like "meta-prismatic" are unacceptable,
more acceptable terms may be found: one possibility that occurs to me is
a "dualistic world system". I do not recommend it, however, because
it reminds us of the bi-polar world system that prevailed during the Cold
War era. Although the United States is seen as the only remaining super-power,
and some of its leaders still see themselves in the role of a global policeman,
my guess is that this ego-satisfying scenario will not work: in fact,
American power and prestige in the world will decline.
The notion of a hegemonic state as sequel to the bi-polar world will
vanish because no state, in a meta-prismatic world, will be able to exercise
the kind of power needed to manage our global world system. Instead, an
informal network of SIPs and the nexus of accumulated and largely secret
resources which sustain and benefit them is mushrooming into a globally
dominant back-world lying concealed behind the front- world of declining
states. This dualistic meta-prismatic world -- or, rather, the dangers
it foretells -- ought to capture our attention. Perhaps other, even greater,
dangers lie, such as various catastrophe theories predict, but I think
it is more important to think about dangers that can be foreseen and, perhaps,
overcome than to worry about risks we can do almost nothing about.
Without meaning to belittle the risks that are often discussed in the millenarian
literature, my argument is that the likelihood of a meta-prismatic future
is quite real and needs to be considered.
The full text of this paper is available on my Web Site
1. Links on this Page provide access to the text of this paper, under the heading given above,
2. Because this paper offers some new concepts and terms, readers may wish to look at a companion paper called "Coming to Terms with Social Science," also prepared for the Seoul IPSA Congress. It looks at the need for new concepts generated by a world in transition and discussed a technology now available for sharing and developing these concepts through a global mechanism made possible by the World Wide Web -- go to the COCTA paper, Coming to Terms
3. An example of the use of this mechanism can be found in another paper, Turmoil among Nations and its associated concept records also linked from the Riggs Home Page.
4. Several essays that explain the onomantic approach for introducing new concepts, by contrast with traditional terminological and lexicographic paradigms for defining established terms, can also be seen on this site.
Questions and requests for a copy of the paper (on paper) may be sent to the author
See linked pages:  paper -- part 1 || abstract 
See COCTA paper on handling new concepts: Coming to Terms
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