the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2003 March 10


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It would be harder to find a more enthusiastic supporter of globalization than self-described globalist Thomas Friedman. To him, globalization is primarily economic in origin, but profoundly political in implication. It is also (a) good, and (b) irresistible. Globalization is good in that it is democratic, democratizing, liberating, and significantly improving the world economy and its inhabitants’ standard of living. But since it is irresistible, it hardly matters whether it is good. We had all best learn to cope with it, don our Golden Straitjackets, plug into the Electronic Herd, and accustom ourselves to a life lived at tremendous speed and with tremendous uncertainty. Had Friedman substituted culture for economics, I would largely have agreed with him. The world is coming together; technology has made this inevitable. But it no more has to reflect one economic view than economy at the local level; and our globalized society will be a far richer place, as it is now, than an economic focus suggests. The speed that technology permits us does not speed up our ability to make decisions, and as we discover ourselves making hasty and ill-informed decisions and having them instantly implemented thanks to technology, we will learn to force ourselves to slow down. The transformational position is mistaken; we are not suddenly stepping outside of our own stately history. We may be in the midst of a revolution, but we have been there before. Even the most drastic revolutions left most of the world untouched. And humanity remains in charge, as it ever was.

Globalization of finance

Finance, though a small part of globalization, is a very good example of our ability to alter the apparent reality of its inevitability. Technology, particularly the internet, innovation, including bundling strategies like Brady Bonds, and the emergence of a capitalist system worldwide have combined to make financing by the entire range of investors available to the entire range of investment opportunities. Some, as Friedman, would see this as democratic and democratizing, but structuralists are right to focus on its potential to create instability and dependency in those economies that most need stability and independence. Long-term investment capital, if provided under a transparent régime and with a clear knowledge of the economic value of the enterprise, can be a good thing, can provide the resources for development in neglected parts of the world ― resources whose origin, likely as not, is ultimately derivative of the colonial exploitation of those same parts of the world, as Jubilee South would argue. Speculative capital, on the other hand, is unhealthy, brings benefits only to the speculators (‘investors’ is a misnomer), and sometimes not even to them. The liberal argument is that, beyond the matter of principle (id est, investors should have an absolute right to buy and sell anything that is available anywhere at any time), there is an economic benefit to the world system and to developing economies that comes from capitalism and the Washington Consensus. Capitalism promotes global growth and investment facilitates development, and both are largely good for all economies.

In February, अटल बिहारी वाज्पेयी Atal Bihārī Vājpējī endorsed the Tobin Tax at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. This tax, supported by Robin Round and originally proposed by James Tobin, would place a small tax on each financial transaction, often limited to currency exchanges but equally applicable to enterprise investment. The latter issue can also be dealt with through a Chileno-style investment deposit, a large (in Chile’s case, 30%) surcharge refunded after a fixed period (in Chile’s case, one year). It is necessary, by whatever means, to eliminate speculation in developing markets. What the states involved must recognize, what भारत B‛ārat is recognizing, is that the benefit that comes with external investment, itself debatable, does not come from capital that can literally be present one minute and withdrawn the next, and positioning developing countries and their enterprises to be dependent on volatile capital is in fact counterproductive. The Tobin Tax and the investment deposit are simply more creative (and more lucrative) methods of ending speculation than a simple ban ― they make speculation unprofitable. Any investment that flows under the revised system will be available for the longer term, perhaps long enough to see through a project from proposal to profitability. As for currency exchange, this has benefits for investors (allowing a shelter of wealth, for instance), not for overall economies, and even overall economies don’t benefit from currency speculation. The sooner ended, the better.

Sovereignty and democracy

For persons living under undemocratic régimes, international integration and integrational institutions are going to be just as involuntary as everything else in their lives. It will not be easy to change that, though unlike Robert Kaplan I strongly feel we should. But for the democracies of the world, globalization of laws and economy is just as democratic as they choose to make it. Citizens’ input will be felt to the precise extent that they offer it. Democracy does not give much weight to individual voices; but those voices, when raised, govern equally a state’s domestic policy and its international policy.

Strangely, it is the World Trade Organization that most clearly makes this argument. The WTO is accused by many of being undemocratic, and has reasons for defensiveness. The accusation is based on the supremacy of WTO rulings over domestic laws, a supremacy that is a feature of other international treaties also. But the WTO is correct that the democratic states of the world signed up to its system of trade liberalization and accompanying restrictions through the democratic processes in place in the states themselves. If citizens have an issue with the WTO, or the UN, or the International Criminal Tribunal, they can take it up with their own governments. They have the ability to change their governments, or even to change the ways their governments make decisions. And having that power, they have the power to influence the decisions of governments while in office. Citizens can lobby during the negotiation and ratification process. As the United States has proven, with the 京都 Kijouto Protocol and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, states can always withdraw from institutions if their governments no longer believe in these institutions’ benefits. And since there is a strong ― not one-to-one, but strong nonetheless ― correlation between the world’s democracies and its developed countries, democracies are much more likely to have gotten a beneficial deal from trade liberalization. As Kofi Annan and others point out, it is precisely where developing countries have a comparative advantage ― low-wage, labor-intensive industries such as agriculture and textiles ― where the illiberal protectionism of subsidies and dumping persists.

The problem of dictatorship existing within globalization is a serious one, but it has more than one aspect. One is the belief by many that global integration, even on an apparently-unrelated matter such as trade, promotes the spread of democratic values. The argument on trade, and it is persuasive, is that economic development that comes from trade liberalization will foster the growth of an educated middle class, and historically this group has eventually demanded democracy, and been successful (recent examples include 臺灣 Tâi Oân, 남한 Nam Han, and Chile); furthermore, a free market cannot fully function without free access to information, including the full global discourse of ideas, and authoritarian states cannot procure the benefits of market-driven growth without relaxing their control of ideas. Technology and the facilitation of information has the ability, as Friedman notes, to spread democratic ideals directly. He gives too much credit to the indirect imposition of democracy through the imposition of capitalism, and has too much sympathy for those living under dictatorships whose strategy relies on such imposition. Ultimately ordinary individuals will have to put their bodies on the line. Education more than prosperity brings individuals to that point. Prosperity gives confidence, but it also creates an interest in the status quo, and the middle class takes part in pressure against authoritarianism not because it can afford to do so (it arguably has too much to lose), but because it is no longer intellectually beholden to the propaganda of the régime.

Structural adjustment expectations are a good thing; the problem is that they are targeted towards the wrong goals. Instead of demanding, as a condition for participation in the global system of trade and finance, that states become capitalist, the industrial powers and their institutions should be demanding liberal democracy. Liberalizing theories are at least moderately credible, but they do not carry the force of deliberate policy. The West should send the signal that the most important thing developing countries can do is reform politically, and those that have behaved liberally and democratically should be accordingly rewarded. By emphasizing economics over politics, by following the thinking of Robert Kaplan in showing a willingness to impose capitalism but not to “impose” democracy, we are endorsing the idea that authoritarianism is a people’s choice and that tyranny is an internal matter. Both ideas are wrong. Tyranny is ― or should be ― a greater transgression than protectionism or socialism, if those policies are transgressions at all; and the assertion that self-determination can be said to exist where democracy does not is patent nonsense. The masses are democratic by definition; they cannot be said to want something in opposition to their own will. They may, as Fareed Zakaria suggests but fails to show, sometimes favor illiberalism and powerful leaders. But they will demonstrate that only through a direct electoral consultation, and if they have not been consulted, they cannot be said to have consented. And without that consent, globalization in all of its other aspects will be an imposition, as has too often been the case in world realities past.

The international system

Friedman believes that the Cold War as the operative order in the world has given way to globalization, that the latter is a different but equivalent form of structure to the global relations among individuals and especially among states. Benjamin Barber believes that globalization is only one possibility, McWorld, a uniform, bland culture of commercialism, and he contrasts it with Jihad, a disintegration of the world according to sectarian lines; both possibilities are “bleak, neither democratic”. Samuel Huntington believes the Cold War bipolarity has yielded to a civilizational multipolarity, while Fouad Ajami counters that the nation-state was before and remains the basic unit of the international structure. And Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes that integration is taking place, and should take place, through cooperation and coordination of parallel elements across state lines, or “transgovernmentally”. Common to all of these views is the understanding that the world is governed by a system more orderly than the nebulous exercise of six billion human wills. If that system exists, it is more complicated than anything on offer, since among other things it includes elements of all those mentioned above. Even the ideological divisions of the Cold War remain; and during the Cold War things were much more complicated than a bipolarity of hegemons.

The only certainty, barring a catastrophic destruction of our material civilization, is that technology will increasingly render the world a unified setting where all of these stories take place at once. The advances in transport, broadcast, and direct communication do indeed make the world smaller, and bring us closer together in a cultural sense. An example, not an analogy but an illustrative part of the whole, is the process of language division and assimilation. Most of the languages in the world have sister languages with a common ancestor no longer in existence. At one point, that common ancestor was spoken by a single people. Language evolves over time; changes in usage spread throughout the people in the ordinary course of communication, and the language, though changed, remains unified. But when in time the people divides itself into units so geographically separated that communication between the units is no longer possible, each unit’s language undergoes separate evolution, and eventually the two units will no longer be able to communicate. This was the process for almost all of human existence. But with our newfound ability to travel and communicate across the entire distance of the earth, this process of division has ended. Now, with broadcast and the internet connecting peoples, those language groups that were evolving separately (but not yet separate) are now evolving together. Instead of increasing distinction among Anglophones, for example, there will be increasing uniformity. Eventually everyone will use a single broadcast standard.

But this does not mean that we will share political ideology, religion, national identity, tastes, folkways, sense of humor, or any other characteristic that is found to vary so widely among language groups. It only means that the ideologues on either end of the political spectrum will be able to group themselves globally, and reinforce their distinction on that scale as they have historically done at the national level, with the vast uncommitted middle serving as the subject of contention. Religions old and new will compete on the global scale, with formerly-dominant regional religions finding themselves with peers for the first time in millennia; but they may also develop a common parlance of, for instance, ethical monotheism. Because culture is inherently conservative, there will be no rush to abandon the nation-state, to dismantle it in favor of something larger or, for that matter, something smaller. The identification that most individuals still feel for their state will not dissipate any time soon. And the power of the nation-state, as Ajami and Slaughter note, remains like no other, for the moment at least. Civilizations were a factor during the Cold War, and continue to be so, though Huntington misidentifies the boundaries of civilizations, and overstates the case, largely because civilizations as he defines them do not hold much loyalty from individuals; they are much more likely to identify with other groupings, and the civilization remains an underlying cultural influence only. The nation taken as a cultural and to some extent racial grouping, distinct from though often confused with the state (a confusion encouraged by the states themselves), is the primary point of identification for most individuals, as it was during the Cold War and will be for perhaps centuries. But this does not presage a world of factional Jihad, since not enough has changed. The nations are the opposite of new, even when they have been ignored by the rest of the world, and the states whose power suppresses and attempts to supplant them are not done with the project. The transgovernmental interaction that Slaughter describes serves more as a vehicle for globalization, like the internet, than a controlling factor; it will merely facilitate the grouping of like interests and the conflict of opposites on the global scale, in new layered fora. Economic globalization will certainly proceed, but the supposedly-unitary economy of the United States indicates just how long a process this sort of integration is, with class and regional differences that show no sign of disappearing.

Globalization is a process, of course, not a result. The question is, might this process eventually lead to a unified, uniform world? In some fields, certainly so, though not so soon that the answer is much more than academic. In time there will be a single language for the world. The world will have what we would recognize as a single state and economy, though our modern standards consider integrated what is in fact far from it. It will still be a place of great diversity, though, if less so than today. It will be diverse enough to lead to conflict, even violent conflict. And there will be contention of all other degrees on all levels, as there is now. Relative to their own reality, our descendants will be liberal and conservative, rich and poor, highbrow and lowbrow, restless and content. They will be, in other words, human, and when they study our era they will find it interesting, fragmentary, and possibly revolutionary, but essentially their own familiar world. Being human, they will be far more likely to wonder if perhaps their time is the great moment of transformation, which of course it will not be.



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