ALLAN PATIENCE. Is globalization ending?

Apr 11, 2017

It is the fashion to declare that globalization is coming to an end. Evidence for this includes: nationalism being on the rise; protectionist policies making a come-back; borders being slammed shut; populist politicians multiplying at rabbit-like rates. Trump and Brexit, it is said, are the isolationist tips of two vast metaphorical icebergs that both represent populist hostility directed towards the idea of a world that would be one.    

As the Cold War ground to a bitter end, an amazing and wonderful new golden age was said to be dawning – the age of globalization. The proponents of this jejune exuberance – for example, Professor Francis Fukuyama in the United States – preached that this meant liberal American values would soon be welcomed all round the globe, ending age-old divisions and conflicts.

Countries would start cooperating with each other via all sorts of complicated free trade deals, removing trade barriers in order to inject new vigor into their economies. Global capitalism would flourish, trickling prosperity down to all. And a major presumption in all of this was that the United States (the sole superpower left standing at the “end” of the Cold War) would benignly preside over globalization’s grand design: America – the shining exemplar of freedom, democracy and the American way for the rest of the world to emulate!

But of course all that soon came crashing down. Fukuyama’s fantasy turned into a raging nightmare. Global politics fragmented into multi-polar anarchy. Terrorism morphed into its various evil forms. America’s seemingly invincible military power got bogged down on several fronts – in Afghanistan and Iraq initially, and then all over the place. Iraq turned out to be an appalling disaster caused by gratuitously inaccurate intelligence and bald-faced lies told by some of the most egregious politicians in recent memory: Tony Blair, George W. Bush, John Howard …

The catastrophe that was the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq has only been surpassed by the horror that is now Syria. America’s moral gloss was indelibly stained when gruesome evidence of CIA sanctioned torture at Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay and other American offshore prisons came to light.

Then there is China’s re-emergence as a major Asia Pacific power that has begun to challenge the United States regionally and – perhaps – globally.

On top of all this we had the 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis exploding among the world’s economies like a pack of synchronized suicide bombers. Its parentage was by neoliberalism out of Reganomics. What a disaster! What a mess! The US economy nose-dived. Its middle and working classes bore the brunt of Wall Street’s arrogant profligacy and grossly inflated sense of entitlement. Since then the Fukuyamian “ideal” of globalization has flopped and folded all over the place, planting the seeds of a populist revolt that has yet to be played out.

At the core of this revolt is a deep-seated hatred of the very thought of globalization. That hatred is still boiling in the embittered hearts and damaged minds of the victims of dying manufacturing industries and big banks’ myriad ponzi schemes. “Make us great!” is the mantra of these victims as they look to Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage or Geert Wilders, or even Pauline Hanson (God help us!), to lead them into a new, securely bordered Promised Land that locks out refugees, terrorists, and just about every other kind of foreigner. Talk about false prophets …

So is the end of globalization nigh? Fukuyama’s stale version is certainly on the ropes. However there is another way of understanding this vague thing called “globalization.”

The eminent American scholar Richard Falk (Predatory Globalization – A Critique) provides us with two very useful characterizations of globalization. The first he labels as “globalization-from-above.” Its master puppeteers are the CEOs of America’s too-big-to-fail banks and transnational corporations and their political sidekicks whose tentacles reach into just about every corner of the global economy. In the process they have amassed huge wealth for themselves while generating some of the worst levels of socioeconomic inequality in world history. Their cynicism is second only to their avarice.

The point however is that “globalization-from-above” is in its death throes. May its riddance be very good indeed.

The second form of globalization identified by Professor Falk is “globalization-from-below.” This refers to the reaching out to each other by ordinary folk across distant cultural, religious, political and economic boundaries. Aided by the Internet and social media they are finding comfort in strangers across divides whose bridging not so long ago would have been unimaginable. People everywhere are finding that they have values, hopes, demands and rights in solidarity with comforting strangers on the other side of the world.

This development is described by John Keane (Global Civil Society?) as “the sense among many millions of the world’s population that they are living within a civil society that stretches to all four corners of the planet.” It’s sparking into life in a whole range of international social movements advocating, inter alia, human rights, identity freedoms, nuclear non-proliferation, global peace, war on poverty, and solutions to global warming. These are the kinds of things that are at the very heart of “globalization-from-below.”

“Globalization-from-above” is fake globalization. The populist anger now being directed against it is completely understandable. It will – it must – die. However, “globalization-from-below” is here to stay. And it will grow, exponentially. What we may be witnessing is the potential birth of a cosmopolitan world in which cultural differences will increasingly be recognized as part of the wonderful mosaic that is an authentic global humanity.

The days of the narcissists and bullies at the commanding heights of “globalization-from-above” are numbered. They should be afraid – very afraid. I think they are already.

Dr Allan Patience is a Principal Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences in the University of Melbourne.

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