Evils of Globalization

For Pierre Bourdieu, France’s leading sociologist of culture and celebrated author, as for many other critics of globalization, what is particularly vexing is the recent retreat of national governments from adequately funding welfare, medical care, housing, public transportation, education, and culture. The neoliberal focus of the past few decades upon privatization, deregulation, and self-help, characteristic of British, American, French, and other advanced economies- practices promoted globally by the unelected and non-democratic World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization (WTO)—beget a wide array of problems: new desocialization policies, promotion of a cult of possessive individualism, union busting, entrepreneurial downsizing, labor “flexibilization,” economic inequality, and erosion of a broad range of protections such as those against foreign ownership, investment, and cultural hegemony.

The quest for maximum short-term profits and reduced expenditures is seeping into every nook and cranny of life.

This economic regime, and “infernal machine” in Bourdieu’s words, employs a new mode of discipline and “domination founded upon the institution of insecurity”, which is today becoming a way of life (not just of labor) for increasing numbers of people across all classes. As a condition of work, job insecurity affects communication, medical, and educational staff as much as ordinary laborers, low-level white collar employees, and, of course, the growing reserve army of unemployed, dislocated, and part-time, flexibilized workers. Across all countries workers are pitted against one another. Ironically, notes Bourdieu, this neoliberal social insecurity, in its transnational spread, provides a tangible foundation for the emerging solidarity of Lilliputians.

They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.

Globalization is fueling “The Great Disruption,” there are finite resources on this planet, and that environmental issues, inequities and financial crises are bringing the world to the brink.

“I look at the world as an integrated system, so I don’t see these protests, or the debt crisis, or inequality, or the economy, or the climate going weird, in isolation — I see our system in the painful process of breaking down…. the rich are getting richer and the corporations are making profits — with their executives richly rewarded. But, meanwhile, the people are getting worse off — drowning in housing debt and/or tuition debt — many who worked hard are unemployed; many who studied hard are unable to get good work; the environment is getting more and more damaged; and people are realizing their kids will be even worse off than they are.” Paul Gilding.

How Globalization went Bad

From terrorism to global warming, the evils of globalization are more dangerous than ever before. What went wrong? The world became dependent on a single superpower. Only by correcting this imbalance can the world become a safer place.

The world today is more dangerous and less orderly than it was supposed to be. Ten or 15 years ago, the naive expectations were that the “end of history” was near. The reality has been the opposite. The world has more international terrorism and more nuclear proliferation today than it did in 1990. International institutions are weaker. The threats of pandemic disease and climate change are stronger. Cleavages of religious and cultural ideology are more intense. The global financial system is more unbalanced and precarious.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The end of the Cold War was supposed to make global politics and economics easier to manage, not harder. What went wrong? The bad news of the 21st century is that globalization has a significant dark side. The container ships that carry manufactured Chinese goods to and from the United States also carry drugs. The airplanes that fly passengers nonstop from New York to Singapore also transport infectious diseases. And the Internet has proved just as adept at spreading deadly, extremist ideologies as it has e-commerce.

The conventional belief is that the single greatest challenge of geopolitics today is managing this dark side of globalization, chipping away at the illegitimate co-travelers that exploit openness, mobility, and freedom, without putting too much sand in the gears. The current U.S. strategy is to push for more trade, more connectivity, more markets, and more openness. America does so for a good reason — it benefits from globalization more than any other country in the world. The United States acknowledges globalization’s dark side but attributes it merely to exploitative behavior by criminals, religious extremists, and other anachronistic elements that can be eliminated. The dark side of globalization, America says, with very little subtlety, can be mitigated by the expansion of American power, sometimes unilaterally and sometimes through multilateral institutions, depending on how the United States likes it. In other words, America is aiming for a “flat,” globalized world coordinated by a single superpower.

That’s nice work if you can get it. But the United States almost certainly cannot. Not only because other countries won’t let it, but, more profoundly, because that line of thinking is faulty. The predominance of American power has many benefits, but the management of globalization is not one of them. The mobility of ideas, capital, technology, and people is hardly new. But the rapid advance of globalization’s evils is. Most of that advance has taken place since 1990. Why? Because what changed profoundly in the 1990s was the polarity of the international system. For the first time in modern history, globalization was superimposed onto a world with a single superpower. What we have discovered in the past 15 years is that it is a dangerous mixture. The negative effects of globalization since 1990 are not the result of globalization itself. They are the dark side of American predominance.