From the 1980s to 2005, I subscribed to The Economist, which I read weekly, spending at least an hour on every issue.
I was encouraged by all they had to say 25 years ago about the coming global economy. Other British periodicals spoke of communitarianism, especially once Tony Blair became the Labour Party leader. The two together seemed to be pointing the world in the right direction, globally and locally.
A friend of mine told me in the mid-1990s that communitarianism didn’t mean harmonious streets and neighbourhoods. Rather, it fostered identity politics. He said it was a divide and conquer strategy. Lo, he was right.
As for globalism, I saw more and more people being made redundant with even office jobs moving overseas via outsourcing. Senior managers and CEOs loved it and encouraged us to embrace it. We middle- to lower-ranking types in the office said nothing but smiled sweetly. We knew it meant they could pay someone in an emerging country, whether in Europe or Asia, less than a Briton. The same held true in the United States.
By 2005, I saw that globalism wasn’t working the way we were told it would. So I cancelled my subscription to The Economist and lived happily ever after.
Globalism was supposed to be the rising tide that lifted all boats, not just in the West but around the world. The next few posts chart globalism as it happened in the early 21st century.
Excerpts from several articles follow over the next few days, emphases in the text mine.
Today’s post addresses globalism as seen in the year 2000.
Jerry Mander is the founder of the International Forum on Globalization. He holds two degrees in Economics and worked in advertising before working on campaigns for the Sierra Club. He has also written several books opposing globalisation.
In 2000, Scott London, an author, researcher and consultant who has worked for several American think tanks, interviewed Mander. ‘The Perils of Globalization’ is a thought-provoking article which explains precisely where globalism went off the rails. Mander also makes a case for localism as a solution.
London began by presenting the case for globalism most of us understand. He and Mander took it from there.
Scott London: The case, as it’s usually presented, is that the globalized economy is a good thing that will secure jobs, allow us to remain competitive, and promote democracy abroad. Isn’t there some truth to that?
Jerry Mander: The people who are making that case are the people who are promoting globalization — corporations and banks and governments. They are saying that globalization can solve the world’s problems, that it’s going to give people something to eat and so on. They are redesigning an economy that they say works. But it doesn’t work.
We’ve had globalization for quite a while, it’s just being accelerated right now. Wherever the rules of free trade and economic globalization are followed, you have economic and ecological disasters immediately thereafter. You’ve got the complete destruction of small, traditional farming in Africa and elsewhere; you’ve got the complete devastation of nature all around the world; you’ve got people shoved off their lands to make way for giant dams and agri-business and so on, who then become part of the millions and millions of people roaming the land and going into cities looking for impossible-to-find jobs, all in competition with each other, and violent and angry. And then people are angry with them, because who needs more people around? So you’ve set in to motion a global disarray and nonfunctionalism that would not have been achieved — certainly not at the same level and with the same speed — without this emphasis on global development.
However poorly people lived in terms of material wealth in traditional societies, there was much that they retained. They retained a fair amount of local control. They retained some degree of traditional culture. Even in societies that had already been impacted, like India, you had a lot of cultural identity and a history of relationships to scale that were really different. It was an economy of small-scale institutions. That has been wiped out by economic globalization with the invasion of franchises and giant institutions that have taken over the land.
London: I remember a full-page ad in the New York Times during the height of the NAFTA debate a few years ago. A long list of Nobel laureates in economics and the various sciences expressed their support for the free-trade agreement. How is it that so many “experts” could speak out in favor of something that has such damaging effects?
Mander: … I don’t know what Nobel laureates have thought about this subject very much. I don’t know how many of them could talk about structural adjustment programs, for example. Very damn few of them would even know what it means. They just think that it’s a good thing to unify the world. They think the idea of all the cultures getting together and merging into one big happy culture is how to save the world. It’s kind of a left-over of communism, on the one hand, and the new federalism on the other. And, on the third hand, it’s a funny distortion of pluralistic democratic ideas.
But they’re wrong. Globalization doesn’t work. There is lots of evidence of that. We’re on the verge of an ecological catastrophe of stupendous proportions. There is a terrible degree of alienation at large in the world. There is a tremendous amount of violence. Everybody is at each other’s throats. How could they possibly think that this has been good? This whole process has been terrible, and the process of globalization only makes it much worse. It’s preposterous to think that anything good is going to come from this.
London: Some people feel that now that communism has collapsed, free-market capitalism may be next. After all, the economy can’t continue to grow forever — at some point, an exponential curve has to either level off or crash.
Mander: I think that if I say “Yes, we have to rethink capitalism,” then it gets reduced to, “Oh, he’s anti-capitalist.” It’s not capitalism in particular that has to be rethought, it’s the whole economic structure. The global economy is not capitalism. I have a master’s degree in economics, and I know this is not capitalism. What we have now is a centrally controlled economy. The only capitalism that takes place is among the people who have no part in the real benefits of the system — you know, t he people at the lower rungs have some capitalism going with small stores and so on. But, basically, the great part of the system doesn’t function in a capitalist manner. It’s not a socialist manner either. It’s some kind of hodge-podge of connections that have been put together for greasing the skids of advanced development and growth and corporate benefit.
Free trade? Free market? We don’t have either of those either. We have some kind of combination. What we have is a corporate take-over of the rules and a lot of corporate authority.
Mander: Yes, a corporate economy — an economy that is good for corporations. It’s not capitalism exactly, and it’s not socialism exactly, and it’s not anarchy either. It’s a different of system of organization in which corporations exercise the control and reap the benefits.
London: How do we respond to the forces of globalization?
Mander: Well, if the car is about to go off the cliff, the first thing you do is stop the car. We’re about to go off the cliff and we’ve got to stop the car. That’s number one. Then we have to find a road map — where to go next. A lot of people are already looking for this road map.
The question that is most interesting to me, and the only that seems to make sense is: if globalization doesn’t work, what about localization? I think relocalization is absolutely inevitable. It’s going to happen one way or another because the global economy will break down, even if we don’t organize a mass movement about it. It simply doesn’t work. It can’t sustain itself. It’s going to fall apart and disintegrate — I hope sooner rather than later — so a certain degree of relocalization is going to take place automatically. I’m a little worried that it might also entail the growth of fascism here and there, as local powers gain real control. But I don’t think that’s an argument against relocalization, just against the wrong kind of localization.
What’s necessary is that real power and real economic control be reduced very far down so that people have real control of their lives, and so that the technologies and forms of organization that they use don’t assist the process of globalization.
This is a long and fascinating interview well worth reading in full.
The last two paragraphs are particularly prescient in 2016. American voters, participating in a general election in November, are worried about the loss of jobs overseas. British voters will be voting in a few weeks’ time on recovering national sovereignty or staying in the expanding European Union.
Speaking of Europe, The Guardian published an article on May 25 about the rise of populist and nationalist leaders across the Continent. There are more than most people think. The paper posits that it is because people no longer trust mainstream political parties.
We also perceive conventional politicians as being in globalists’ pockets to some extent. One needs the other in order to push their projects forward.
Tomorrow: Globalism as seen in 2005