A Brief Overview and Critique of Globalism:

This cartoon is apt
This cartoon is apt

November 17, 2008 Monday

African- American Studies 112

In his 1970 book Between Two Ages, Zbigniew Brezezinski, asserts that the world is shifting from nationalism to globalism, and that the West would likely be the focal point of this globalism, so long as America pursued her ideals.  In 2001, President George W. Bush would allude to a “war of ideas” where battling ideologies fought for the prominence in foreign and economic policy.  This places globalism squarely where it belongs- amid ideologies.  In Steger’s Globalism, he outlines the tenets of globalism, and its manifestations in historical and current world events.  Most pertinent to this matter is the media- the ideological role of the media in perpetuating and endorsing globalism.  Essentially “imprinting the minds of people with patterns of thought, sets of images and ideas, and frameworks for understanding how life should be lived,” the global media has made globalism more apparently plausible and appealing.

In chapter three of Globalism, Steger outlines the six tenets of globalism:

  1. Globalism is about the liberalization and global integration of markets
  2. Globalism is inevitable and irreversible
  3. Nobody is in charge of globalism
  4. Globalism benefits everyone
  5. Globalism furthers the spread of democracy in the world
  6. Globalism requires a war on terrorism

The first of these contends that globalization is about the liberalization and global integration of markets.  This is clear in the words and rhetoric of the American president- the free market is equated with liberty, thus the first Amendment rights of corporations are treated the same way as the first Amendment rights of individuals- in theory.  This understanding, within a neoliberal framework prohibits government intervention or infringement of corporations’ rights to free speech, free assembly, and the right to petition the government for a “redress of grievances.” Furthermore, the rhetoric lends itself to a peculiar flexibility as freedom, democracy and the free- market are interchangeably used.  Most notably, in the Bush administration’s September 2002, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” freedom, democracy and free enterprise are a national model for protecting “basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom” elsewhere.

Thomas Friedman cites free- market capitalism as the base upon which globalism rests. In the July 12, 1991 New York Times article, “A Symbol of U.S. Business Prowess,” writer Steve Lohr lauds Juan Tripp, chief executive officer of Pan- American World Airways, stating that “Mr. Tripp symbolizes the self- confident globalism of some large American business during much of the 20th century.”

What follows is a relatively detailed account of Mr. Tripp’s business ventures, domestic and international.  In a comic, H. Wuerker aptly describes the phenomenon, depicting an American family; man, wife and son stand with suitcases at their side, and their speech bubbles say respectively,

“We got these cool hats at Niketown in Paris!”

“…and this great shirt at the Disney Store in London.”

“After a great dinner at McDonald’s in Rome, we found these neat shirts at the GAP!”

The irony is not lost upon the average reader; American companies are investing, manufacturing and selling overseas, because of the neoliberal (Thatcher and Reagan) thrust toward the opening of markets.

The second tenet is globalism’s characterization as inevitable and irreversible.  In his article, “Is Globalization Sustainable?” Alfred E Eckes accepts the assumption that Globalization is inevitable, citing Norman Angell:

In light of the present-day belief that globalization is inevitable and irreversible, it is worth recalling that in the early years of this century business and financial leaders had a similar view. They celebrated “economic liberalism” – the deregulation of markets – as the grand panacea. Commerce, like a medical discovery, they thought, served to inoculate all nations with the prosperity and respect for civilization. Perhaps the ultimate statement of this prosperity-and-peace vision appeared in a book published in 1911. The author was Norman Angell, a British peace advocate, and the title The Great Betrayal. In it Angell asserted that “international finance has become so interdependent and so interwoven with trade and industry that . . . political and military power can in reality do nothing.

Eckes’ acceptance Angell’s assertion that “political and military power can in reality do nothing” in the face of international finance and trade’s interdependence buys right into the idea that globalism is inevitable and irreversible.  Steger makes the point that this position minimizes the role of humans in the process of globalization, and depoliticizes the discourse surrounding the matter.  Again, he quotes Thomas Friedman, “Globalization is difficult to reverse because it is driven both by powerful human aspirations for higher standards of living, and by enormously powerful technologies…”

The third tenet of globalism is that ‘no one is in charge of globalism.’  This echoes Engels’ ‘invisible hand’- where interchangeable workers powered industrial production.  This idea serves neoliberal understandings of the role of the government, eliminating the possibility of government- driven globalism.  In December 1997, Le Monde Diplomatique published an article “Disarming the Markets,” which referred to globalism as simply an artificial world state- an entity with supranational reach.  In the article, Ignacio Ramonet says, “The artificial world state is a power with no base in society.  It is answerable only to the markets and mammoth business undertakings that are its masters.”

The argument could be made that globalism has a base in society, and that the media is what roots it there.  Acting as an intermediary, the media presents ideas in a manner that is appealing to its readership/audience, and the ideas can be socialized.  One can see this clearly in advertising- by casting the product as a part of the image of the American affluent lifestyle, the product becomes desirable.  In the same manner, casting globalism as a pathway to progress, growth and the spread of democracy overrides the less heard objections with louder justifications.

The fourth tenet of globalism according to Steger is “Globalism benefits everyone.”  At its face, this “truth” seems innocuous enough, but the sweeping generalization should unsettle any conscientious reader.  Surely globalism does not benefit everyone.  If it did, then why did the middle class shrink, and why is 90% of the world’s wealth concentrated in some 10% of the population?  Why are Tibetan cowboys burning the grassy plateaus that ensure their livelihood in a time when the commodity price of lamb is soaring?

In the face of American grain companies’ feedlots, which undermined the local production of cattle, and contributed to the sky- rocketing costs of meat, and the increasing scarcity of meat in the local markets in the Lhasa, Qining and Xiahe town dwellers.  Meanwhile, businessmen in Beijing can order a ribeye steak meal for $4.

Similarly, why isn’t Ghana seeing more of the investment Uniliever pours into its country?  Does it make sense that the Finance Minister cannot draw up a national plan without ascertaining Unilever’s investment forecast- that to do otherwise would be “an exercise in fanciful thinking?”

In the media, articles attesting to this “fact” that globalism benefits all are harder to find.  In the SF Gate, December 16, 2007, James Lull wrote the article, “Globalization, Media Aiding Rape Victims.”  The main point was that a Saudi woman who had been gang- raped and accused of adultery was acquitted under by a government under intense scrutiny by the global community.  And that without the globalist system, this could not have been achieved.  Joseph Stiglitz takes a similar stance in his September 16, 2006 article, “How Globalization could help Ease Global Warming.”  By utilizing globalization as a framework for the regulation of carbon emissions and other forms of pollution, global warming could benefit.  In short, globalization would be GOOD for the environment- despite the overseas investment and manufacturing by corporations that often leaves areas with the pollution characteristic of industrial production.  Exploiting the existing global structure would yield positive results.

The fifth contention is that ‘globalism furthers the spread of democracy.” The focus then reverts to rhetoric and ideology.  Democracy, free trade, free enterprise, free markets and liberty are considered equal and interchangeable across the board.  In the January 8, 1965 Time Magazine article “The New Isolationism”, Senator Richard Russell, then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, charged that, “only a short time ago the most enlightened men in both parties made it a cardinal principle that the US must assume, if not downright seek out, global responsibility for freedom.”

In light of the failing effort in Vietnam and in the Congo, this was a rarer (public) lapse in the faith in the United States’ ability to spread democracy through direct involvement and covert operations on the part of a prominent politician.  The striking quality of this statement is perhaps found in the proactive search for the “global responsibility for freedom.”  It is as though some unnamed entity authorized the United States of America to define and distribute ‘freedom’ to the rest of the world.  The spread of democracy, one would note, is not a factor wholly, or partly dependent on US involvement and intervention; rather this democracy usually follows a violent or prolonged (or both) process- either a transition from colonialism or authoritarianism.  Then the word ‘democracy’ begs for definition; is it a participatory, representative government?  Or it is merely a buzzword for a government that is complicit with the United States’ policies?  The linkage between democracy and capitalism (free market economy) is not so clear.  The world’s second largest economy is China- and China is a communist government with an increasingly capitalistic economy and commerce sector.  In Europe, the welfare states tend to more authoritarian governments where the governing body intervenes more freely in corporate matters (France or Germany)- yet they qualify as democracies.  Overall, the simpler words within the rhetoric of globalism, “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” serve a purpose in placating doubts with their positive connotations.

Lastly, the idea that globalism requires a war on terrorism.  While this post September 11, 2001 conception stands on its own right, it invalidates the third claim that “nobody is in charge of globalism.”  Surely, if one nation, one of the few nations with sufficient manpower and influence to wage wars against terrorism all over the globe in order to defend globalism- that nation is in charge of globalism.  In his February 2, 2004 lecture at the University of Richmond, Muqtedar Khan explained that terrorism was seen as a possible impediment to the spread of globalism, thus needing to be eliminated.  In the post 9-11 period, there was a fundamental shift from the discourse of geo- economics to more geopolitical understandings of current events.  Rather than referring to the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the buzzwords on the tips of politicians and pundits’ tongues were CIA and Al- Qaeda.  The Los Angeles Times reported on November 30, 2005, that “US Military Covertly pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press.”  Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi, staff writers reported that the United States military was paying off local news papers to print articles passed off as objective journalism by independent journalists.  This method of propaganda dissemination counters the US officials’ pledge to promote “democratic ideals, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of corruption and dictatorship.”

In this manner, the US military sought to impress the minds of Iraqi citizens with newspaper headlines like, “Iraqis insist on Living Despite Terrorism.”


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