I am reading Globalization and Its Discontents (damn Americanisation’s), the updated version with the advent of Donald Trump, written by Joseph E. Stiglitz. In it he describes how globalisation has seemingly failed the world, producing discontents with the system. In the 2002 edition, it was mostly the developing world that suffered, but more recently developed countries have increasingly opposed globalisation. Stiglitz argued this is due to gross mismanagement, but as he admits later, even well managed globalisation results in “losers” in the system.
I should preface this by saying that the vision Stiglitz has for a proper globalised world is reasonable enough. It’s a case of capitalism still being capitalism (i.e. not great), but done in a way that ensures poor people don’t just die or get violently exploited because why not. He still believes in massive global institutions like the IMF (although he does criticise them harshly) and the World Bank, relies heavily upon the honesty of corporations and States, and obviously does not even consider the concept of worker ownership – to him “socialism/communism” fell with the USSR.
But even if his conception of a properly managed and globalised world were to exist, he acknowledged there were problems:
“In fact, honest academics always pointed out that there would be winners and losers in globalization. When globalization worked well, the standard theory for globalization went, the winners gained enough so that they could compensate the losers and everyone would be better off.” [My emphasis in both cases].
The key word, as Stiglitz himself immediately admits, is could, because history and the current system quite clearly shows that people on the lower end of the wealth spectrum – the losers – are much worse off whilst the rich continue to generate soaring profits. He calls this an “inconvenient truth”, one that apparently the “honest” academics spoke about, but which many (apparently the ones loud enough to be heard) ignored or obfuscated. Milton Friedman springs to mind, although Stiglitz does refer to Chile (Friedman’s happy little South American “free market” laboratory under Pinochet) as a “success”.
I can’t help but think of the old argument that if wealth needs to be redistributed, it wasn’t being distributed properly in the first place. Stiglitz’s self-critique of globalisation, the fact that his ideal system requires there be people who would lose and puts faith in those who win to act out of the kindness of their hearts (because obviously governments don’t do much) is bizarre. You can be as honest as you want about how unbalanced your system is, regardless of its feasibility compared to other systems, but the fact remains that it is unbalanced.
Even if it did work perfectly as intended, the losers are still dependent on people, factors, and decisions outside of their control, which is one of the major talking points of anti-globalisation arguments. In both a political and workplace context, they are at the mercy of a system that is imposed upon them, and considering that system is basically an open invitation to abuse the rules, it’s no wonder discontent has grown.
I am in favour of a globalised world – there is no escaping the reality that we will become more and more connected and intertwined as time goes on. But globalisation in a capitalist framework is rife with corruption and suffering, and even the preferable variants of it leave people behind who have no way to remedy their situation. There is a book by Noam Chomsky called Internationalization or Extinction that I want to get at some point, because given the name it probably describes a much fairer system than that of the average World Bank economist.
I just thought it was worth highlighting this critique of globalisation brought forward by Stiglitz, and pushing it a bit further to suggest that there may be a better framework to implement it than the limited view he appears to have. So far, I would recommend the book Globalization and Its Discontents, even if just to understand the (decent) capitalist perspective on it, and for its condemnations and analysis of how Trump’s policies will worsen, not alleviate, the issues caused by mismanagement.
Liked this? Read The Contradiction of the Zero-Sum Game
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