Visions of Globalization: Pretexts for Prefabricated Prescriptions-And Some Antidotes

By Lagon, Mark P. | World Affairs, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Visions of Globalization: Pretexts for Prefabricated Prescriptions-And Some Antidotes


Lagon, Mark P., World Affairs


The authors of the landmark book Power and Interdependence, (1) Robert 0. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., wrote in an essay in 2000,

   "Globalization" emerged as a buzzword in the
   1990s, just as "interdependence" did in the
   1970s, but the phenomena it refers to are not
   entirely new. Our characterization of interdependence
   more than twenty years ago now
   applies to globalization at the turn of the millennium:
   "This vague phrase expresses a poorly
   understood but widespread feeling that the
   very nature of world politics is changing." (2)

As a ubiquitous term, what does "globalization" mean? Some observers emphasize the rapid and free flow of capital as the essential element. Others emphasize labor--that capital flows to where labor is highly productive while relatively cheap, that different parts of the production process can be performed in various far-flung places by multiple sources of labor, and that workers themselves move within and between nations often and more easily. (3) Seeing globalization involving the transcendence of traditional industrial modes, others emphasize the onset of an information age in which the flow of high technology and real-time information are defining traits of the world economy and cannot be effectively controlled by states (whether for purposes of commercial advantage, national security, or political repression). Still others point to nonstate actors' ascending in influence relative to states, whether nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 4 multinational corporations, or supranational organizations.

The implication of the mere use of the term "globalization" is that there is a paradigm shift in world politics. It is supposedly not a shift in our view of reality, but indeed a new reality. In fact, the idea of "international relations" would ostensibly be obsolete since world politics is no longer chiefly the relations between nations. But is this true? As Keohane and Nye explored, theories of how economic interdependence would mitigate the chances of war abounded in the 1970s. (5) Critiques of those models--such as Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics (6)--suggested that commercial interaction was very high between great powers in the early twentieth century, and yet World War I ensued. Were the 1970s, or is our situation three decades hence, any more permanently interconnected or peaceful than the period a century ago?

VISIONS OF POSITIVE EFFECTS

There are four distinct if related visions of beneficial effects of, and opportunities offered by, a "globalized" world. First, there is the expanded pie vision. Because capital flows and the workings of comparative advantage are all the more rapid and automatic, because barriers to trade are futile and are being removed, because technology flows unfettered to new users, the world economic pie is growing. While there are relative haves and have-nots, the increased pie means both are getting a better lot.

Second, there is the information penetration vision. Because of communications technology allegedly available to and applicable by even less developed nations, governments cannot control information. Even states with dirigiste or protectionist policies cannot successfully withhold information and technologies as advantages relative to other states in a zero-sum economic game. Undemocratic regimes can no longer successfully control news media to retain a monopoly of political power. (This is an interesting shift from literature on totalitarianism, such as Jacques Ellul's work, which suggested states could harness cutting-edge technology and the flow of information to enhance their grip on power, as elites had an advantage in the arena of information manipulation.) (7) Finally, some analysts focusing on information emphasize how global communications will heighten intercultural understanding. (8)

The universal solvent vision is closely related.

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