Globalisation is good for you


From Red Pepper

Many socialists look to the state as the decisive instrument of social change. Nigel Harris argues that, on the contrary, nation states, with their priorities and resources focused on maintaining power through military might, hold back the reduction of poverty. He insists that globalisation, despite all of its ambiguities, is essentially a liberation from the shackles of the competing nation state. We have to look to NGOs and social and labour movements to constrain the market, he says.

It seems dicey that NGOs and movements would be able to constrain the market in a globalized world, something they certainly can’t do now. Given the recent credit crisis, it’s clear that governments can’t either. Nor can the markets themselves, for that matter. So where will the control mechanisms come from?

We do not know what structures of governance will emerge, but emerge they must. The left’s role is to ensure they are directed to protecting all equally – to establishing the equality of all in the world, and, insofar as national governments survive, that they are obliged to accept the free flow of people internationally and the protection of all within their territories, not merely their supposed citizens.

A key insight here is that the forces of globalization basically oppose and wish to override the nation states. Thus, rather than oppose globalization (a pointless and losing task), we need to make it work for us. What other choice is there, really?

In essence, the left has to help and lead in recreating a world society that corresponds to the new world economy. Within that poverty really can be conquered and war eliminated.

If globalization takes over as the dominant mode from nation states – and I think it will – then the world will be vastly more decentralized. Therein lies the challenge that socialism hasn’t really thought out. In a decentralized world, there will be no powerful states that can manage things, much less be the owners of the means of production. For socialism to stay relevant, it needs to find new ways to address our fast changing and decentralizing world. This Red Pepper article helps find that path.


  1. Toffler argued over twenty years ago that the forces against tthe nation state include both globalization and localization. Given that our planet cannot sustain global trade in agriculture, for example, it’s likely that we will see movement in both directions: the community will rgeain much of its former importance as local sourcing will be essential for many basic products– not to mention for basic survival when confronting the coming climate changes.

    As to controlling the global economy, there are only three possible answers: make the economy smaller than exotysing governments (i.e. reverse globalization), make government larger than the economy (i.e. world government), or live in the growing anarchy of an uncontrolled market. Ultimately I believe we’re headed for the latter– the challenge is how to ensure that it’s fair and democratic rather than a corporatocracy.

    Both Left and (traditional) Right have an interest in democracy– but the Left’s qualifications in this area are somewhat tarnished since Marxism (as practiced) isn’t very democratic, while the Right has been hijacked by post-liberal neocons who don’t like democracy at all.

  2. Marxism in theory is democratic. Worker’s council composed of workers select the candidates, then there’s an election. Not unlike our democracy except there might just be one party with multiple candidates rather than multiple parties.

    But then, the dictatorship of the proletariat is supposed to only be against the bourgeoisie that just got knocked out of power and wants back in, and not against the workers, and for a short time only. Didn’t seem to work out that way in practice though.

    I see both systems having the same problem. How to do you prevent a class of people getting from entrenched in power and not wanting to leave, favoring themselves over the rest?

  3. It’s an interesting question, and one that has as yet no concrete answer. Even revolution isn’t guaranteed to renew democracy, since its leaders are likely to resist giving up the power they gained. There are some ways to make inroads, though: the smaller the power to be had, the less people work at gaining it– so small communities and distributed power work better than decisionmaking at the national or international level. Also participatory democracy is more meaningful for smaller constituencies than larger ones. Town meetings make sense in the small towns where I grew up, but not in large cities like Los Angeles, for example.

    There’s just one problem: in an environment of constant stimulus and stress, many people would rather not share power. They can’t be bothered. One partial solution: outlaw TV and video games.

    (I’ll give up “Heroes of Might and Magic” when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers!)

  4. Bob,

    It’s always great to visit your blog. Always provocative stuff.

    I am now convinced that there are problems with the definitions. “Socialism” is not what is operating in the EU when they restrict both foreign access to their markets and enforce regulatory regimes that foster competition (such as reining in Microsoft). In essence, it is protection of markets from disruptive forces. Although it is VERY difficult to enter EU markets, once you are in, you have a real chance. Companies like GM, Ford and Apple are making most of their profits (almost all profits for GM and Ford) in the EU.

    So, at least they are trying. The US is in bad shape, however. Not only do we not buffer negative influences on the economy, but we oppose regulation and regulatory bodies (such as the WTO and the UN) that might protect our markets from unhealthy manipulation.

    Furthermore, EU regulations do insist that outsourcing be tied to real economic benefits to be gained. The lack of regulations in the US has encouraged the sort of liquidation of industries that has made CEOs rich but eroded the fundamentals of a market economy. If we aren’t producing and exporting stuff, then we are not creating value.

    Even if the dollar were to remain as the preferred currency for trade (it’s losing ground rapidly), it would not be able to sustain a market that supports 400 million people.

  5. One big problem, especially in the States, is that much of the wealth creation of late has just been air. Bundling mortgages and debt and selling them. At least the robber barons built real stuff; railroads, steel mills, oil cartels, etc. But bundling debt into ever more “creative” packages builds and creates nothing.

    If a railroad goes bankrupt, someone will buy it and keep it going. If a CDO or SIV becomes insolvent, no one will ever want it.

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