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Open Access Publications from the University of California

US Hegemony and Biotechnology:The geopolitics of new lead technology

  • Author(s): Chase-Dunn, Chris
  • Reifer, Thomas
  • et al.

The three hegemonies of the modern world-system have been the Dutch in the seventeenth century, the British in the nineteenth century and the hegemony of the United States in the twentieth century. Sociologists and political scientists have carefully studied the process of hegemonic rise and decline.Recent research by Rennstich (2001) retools Arrighi’s (1994) formulation of the organizational evolutions that have accompanied the emergence of larger and larger hegemons over the last six centuries. Modelski and Thompson (1996) argued that the British successfully managed to enjoy two “power cycles,” one in the eighteenth and another in the nineteenth centuries. With this precedent in mind Rennstich considers the possibility that the US might succeed itself in the twenty-first century. Rennstich’s analysis of the organizational, cultural and political requisites of the contemporary new lead industries – information technology and biotechnology – imply that the United States has a large comparative advantage that will most probably lead to another round of U.S. pre-eminence in the world-system. But important resistance to genetically engineered products has arisen as consumers and environmentalists worry about the unintended consequences of introducing radically new organisms into the biosphere. This paper will examine the agricultural biotechnology industry as a new lead industry and will consider its possible future impact on the distribution of power in the world-system. This will entail an examination of the loci and timing of private and publicly funded research and development, biotechnology firms that are developing and selling products, and the emergence of national and global policies that are intended to regulate and test genetically engineered products. The recent history of environmental impacts of genetically engineered products will be reviewed, as well as the contentious literature about the supposed risks of agricultural biotechnology. Several scenarios regarding the timing of the onset of biotech profitability and their potential impact on US economic centrality will be developed, and data on both the business history and the emergence of resistance will be employed to examine the likelihood of these possible scenarios.

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