While I have tackled the Americanization of the world in other articles (most notably in The Soft-Toppling of Culture), I have never really put any focus on globalization. Globalization is inevitable, to be sure… but is it desirable? Should we be fighting to slow it down or pulling to speed it up?
The answer really depends on what globalization is, and the sad fact that people do not really seem to have any agreement on this. The general concept is that globalization is a trend toward increased flow of goods, services, money, and ideas across national borders and the subsequent integration of the global economy. And that’s the inevitable part. As the world gets smaller due to increases in technology — particularly the media and communications fields — we are going to hear about things on the other side of the world, almost instantly, and be influenced by them.
The problem comes in when we ask which way the ideas and money flow. If there is a constant back and forth, that could be a good thing, opening up cultures to new ideas and new products and ways of using technology. But what if it’s a decidedly one-way system? That may be good or some and horribly damaging to everyone else. And that’s the fear: that “globalization” is a ruse, or a mere euphemism for Americanization, where our ideas and products are exports and foreign resources and money are imports.
Those who doubt globalization is real in its purist form often have a Marxist or anti-capitalist view, seeing that “capitalism… has a pathological expansionist logic”, which by its nature must devour the weak. [Held: 4] This leads to lesser economies becoming more like slave states, and to a growing influence of corporations, some of which make more income in a year than small countries. If we accept that corporations are powerful, this weakens the pro-globalization argument: despite the existence of regulations, corporations are non-transparent entities, and their growth means the decline of democratic interaction from average employees. What good is a vote in government if the more powerful force is private enterprise?
Yes, we have seen the increase of growing global institutions since 1945, but what global power do they have? “Altering the veto and voting structure in the Security Council is a pressing issue for the impartial generation, application and administration of international rules and regulations.” [Held: 108] This, for me, is the key difference between good and bad globalization. As it stands today, the most powerful global structures exist as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations. The United States, with its vast supply of capital, has a strong hold on the World Bank and the IMF, whereas poorer countries do not and are more or less forced to accept decisions that may not be in their interest. Likewise, with a veto power in the United Nations, the United States essentially can act as it pleases without risk of sanction or condemnation. If global government is to be democratic, the veto must be removed and even the “big dogs” ought to be subject to the decisions of the UN council.
In all fairness, it could better be said that the world is ruled by a “cosmocracy”, the world’s political and economic elite. Not all are American. While America tends to have a bulk of the power, with the American President being the “leader of the free world” and most transnational corporations based in America, they do not hold a monopoly on power. Others with a veto in the United Nations have some level of power, though they generally refuse or have no need to wield it. And the growing economies of China and India are giving them spheres of influence in regions once dominated by others, notably Great Britain. However, as groupings such as the G8 or G20 demonstrate, there’s a clear recognition of those who have the influence and those who do not.
With regards to global economics, Held and McGrew believe that “the most pressing issue confronting the guardians of the world economy is how to reform and strengthen the Bretton Woods system.” [Held: 46] This is a curious suggestion, given that there is little one could do to “reform” Bretton Woods. For all intents and purposes, it is dead, and any reformation would have to start from the ground up. They are right that this would be a crucial modification: restrictions on the flow of capital could change the game, and any sort of return to a stable currency might be welcome. I strongly doubt that anything like the “gold standard” could re-emerge, but without this, the power of inflation has spiraled out of control. The American dollar currently holds great power due to its being the official currency for oil purchases, but talk has been around for years that this could be switched to the euro. The outcome is hard to predict.
Is Jim Stark right, when he calls for a global government? I am inclined to think that he is not. While a global government may be valuable for addressing the largest of problems, and a federated globe could signal the end of war, such a structure seems unnecessary. The key, as already indicated, is fixing the United Nations. With the power divisions evened out in that organization, we could see a more civil discussion of important matters. The United States or Russia could not push unilateral wars or protect their allies from criticism. So-called global issues like climate change could be handled on a national level, or through international organizations and treaties. To think such matters would become more simple or less political because of a new legislative body seems naive.
Globalization, then, is desirable if we can change the current system by which it is coming about. If globalization is little more than a euphemism for the West’s tentacles being felt in all other countries, we have not succeeded in anything more than legitimizing imperialism. However, if those who cannot contribute economically can still contribute a voice — in recognition of their basic human dignity — than globalization may well be worth pursuing, and we can embrace the inevitable with a sense of calm and joy. Which one will prevail remains to be seen.
Held, David and Anthony McGrew. Globalization / Anti-Globalization. Polity Press, 2002.