Turning point?

November 9, 2007

I have been blogging on “globalisation” for almost a year now. I intended to somehow get to the essence of the process, grasp it, explain it, pin it down. I have ended blogging about individual countries, France, Europe, Russia, China. I have made short inroads into energy, development, WTO and trade issues, immigration. I realised how much I became a promoter of global economic integration. I oppose every type of politics that stops people from plugging into the buzzing stream of international interaction.

What am I saying now, taking stock after a small year? No deep philosophical insights. I simply end up finding globalisation is about people – from individuals to multinationals – doing things across borders. This activity is primarily economic. But it cannot be insulated from other activites ranging from culture to leisure. Technology (IT, transport, etc) makes it easier, quicker, better. Economic exchange has the same effects as cultural exchange: it is mutually enriching. Poor countries tend to be poor because a great number of factors stops them from being plugged into the global flow of goods, services, knowledge, people. Be it walls on the US-Mexican border or corrupt governments and ruling elites who cannot accept that their fellow citizens could get rich and put their power into question. It’s all the same: it is about stopping people from doing what is best for themselves. More broadly, globalisation is simply modernisation across borders. The process is certainly not easy. It means adapting, recurrent social and economic change, more individualism. But remaining isolated and stuck in time is worse.

The second conclusion I make is that on the matter of globalisation, there are two view points: the global and the nationalist; or the one that thinks that growing together is best for all and the one that sees the world in compartments and wants it to be kept that way. This goes beyond Right and Left. I clearly adopt the first point of view. International politics for this is difficult: it is probably impossible to build working and legitimate political institutions that accompany globalisation. We rely on good national governments. The hard fact of sovereignty cannot be wished away (although personally I wish it away – but to be replaced by what? Empires?). International organizations end up being irrelevant bureaucratic machineries. The UN is probably the saddest example of how such institutions grow sclerotic. So I watch upon “global governance” propositions with much scepticism. Not for the principle, but because of the biased agendas behind it (generally Western social-democratic interventionism that not everybody agrees with), and scepticism about established bureaucracies being able to adapt to new realities and be accountable.

So: national governments that support an open world are crucial. Such governments need to be open, democratic, and not meddle into people’s activities. This, for my friends-and-family from the left, is also valid for economic activities. I can no longer stand statements about “global business undermines democracy”. It is undemocratic, corrupt, governments working with businesses that they use in order to extract rents from them that are a threat to freedom. These businesses end up capturing government policies. This is the case of Total in Burma, Gazprom in Russia – unglobalised countries. Not Coca Cola. Business is opportunistic. It will abide by the rule of law where the rule of law prevails. It will not in the opposite case.

And what about the environment? All that globalisation-induced economic growth leading to deterioration of the environment? Let me  respond with a quote from one of Those Awful Neoliberal Economists here: “Most economists believe that any negative effects of growth on the environemnt can be alleviated with wise environmental policies, like making polluters bear the costs of their deleterious effects on human welfare, and so we don’t actually have to stop economic growth to preserve the environment. This is a good thing, because stopping growth would be very bad news for the poor everywhere”. (William Easterly in The Elusive Quest for Growth). Again, democratic, richer governments where the rule of law prevails are generally better at tackling environmental issues. China has a big challenge here.

So, there we are. The conclusions are simple, after all.

What next for this blog? I am not quite sure yet. I no longer want to spend my time convincing my French and other European friends that globalisation and markets are forces for good. I am a bit at a turning point. I am maybe now more into concrete, more focused issues. My new job with ECIPE influences this. I am absorbing a lot of new information that is much drier than at FT Business back in London. One thing I am sure about: I am building an even stronger case against European inertia. Brussels as bureaucratic European capital and Belgium as largely unreformed country stuck somewhere in the 1970s are the perfect observation points! Let’s see what comes out of this modest blog in its coming new year of existence.

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One Response to “Turning point?”

  1. Mark Hand Says:

    I’ve enjoyed the posts so far – if you decide to stick with the globalization topic, I won’t be disappointed!
    Thanks Mark! 😉


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