More proof that the New York Review of Books should hire me as a writer. Just after I wrote my post on “capitalisms” I came across this NYRB article by John Gray which reviews three books on globalization:
Though the world’s diverse societies are continuously interacting, the proc-ess is producing a variety of hybrid regimes rather than convergence on a single model. Yet a belief that a universally accepted type of society is emerging continues to shape the way social scientists and public commentators think about the contemporary condition, and it is taken for granted that industrialization enables something like the way of life of rich countries to be reproduced everywhere.
In addition to making the point about how diverse the global economy really is, the article also trashes some other cherished assumptions of the world-is-flat crowd. Drawing from Globalization and Its Enemies, by Daniel Cohen, Gray writes
“Today’s globalization,” he notes, “is ‘immobile.’” Goods are produced and marketed on a planetary scale but those who live in rich countries encounter other societies chiefly through television and exotic vacations. There are politically controversial migrations of poor people from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and from Mexico to the United States, but immigrants still make up only around 3 percent of the world’s population today, whereas in 1913 it was about 10 percent. Again, trade has expanded greatly in the past thirty years but a great deal of it occurs between rich countries. The fifteen longstanding members of the European Union make up around 40 percent of global commerce, but two thirds of their imports and exports are traded within Europe itself. As Cohen puts it, “in wealthy countries globalization is largely imaginary.”
It always helps to put things in a historical perspective, and I do think the world was far more “globalized” at the peak of colonialism than it is in the age of neoliberalism. A point that has often been made by Doug Henwood. (BTW: Henwood’s classic book Wall Street is now available as a FREE download!)
Gray has a bone to pick about the environmental aspects of Globalization, which he feels isn’t adequately addressed by any of the three books under review, but all of them sound like they provide a fresh perspective on an issue that is too often oversimplified by critics and boosters alike.