Academic journal article Capital & Class

Reformism on a Global Scale? A Critical Examination of David Held's Advocacy of Cosmopolitan Social Democracy

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Reformism on a Global Scale? A Critical Examination of David Held's Advocacy of Cosmopolitan Social Democracy

Article excerpt

Introduction

David Held argues that 'the focus of modern democratic theory has been on the conditions which foster or hinder the democratic life of a nation', the problem being that 'in a world of regional and global interconnectedness, there are major questions about the coherence, viability and accountability of national decision-making entities themselves' (Held, 2006: 290-91). This is particularly problematic for social democracy because it has traditionally relied upon nation-states to implement domestic policies ostensibly aimed at improving the lives of working- and middle-class people living in advanced capitalist societies. In order to overcome this problem, Held argues that cosmopolitan democracy needs to be established through the reform of existing, and the creation of new, governance institutions at the regional and global levels. The implementation of a comprehensive programme of social-democratic reform remains possible, but only if the global geopolitical order becomes a cosmopolitan democracy. Accordingly, he advocates a cosmopolitan social democracy (CSD) whose main aims are: 'promoting the rule of law at the international level; greater transparency, accountability and democracy in global governance; a deeper commitment to social justice in the pursuit of a more equitable distribution of life chances; and the regulation of the global economy through the public management of global trade and financial flows' (Held, 2004: 16).

Held's advocacy of CSD has developed in response to neoliberalism, Third Way social democracy, and 'radical anti-globalism'. It has been given added impetus by the responses to the global financial crisis and ensuing recession by the world's most powerful capitalist states and economic agencies. For example, the IMF's managing director stated, 'We were very close in September [2008] to a total collapse of the world economy'; and 'The IMF has proposed that governments in a position to do so should act together to inject a global fiscal stimulus equivalent to about 2 percent of world GDP--$1.2 trillion' (Strauss-Kahn, 2009: 1-2). The secretary-general of the OECD similarly observes that 'sound, counter-cyclical, fiscal policies' are required to counter the 'severest financial and economic crisis in decades' (Gurria, 2009: 3). Furthermore, 'the crisis has led to some major new thinking, about regulation and markets, about accountability and ethics, and about the kind of economy we need to build' (Gurria, 2009: 3). This 'major new thinking' is unlikely to involve more than a selective and limited revival of some elements Keynesianism based on a critique of the more obvious failures of neoliberalism, particularly with respect to the regulation of the global financial and monetary system. By 2011, unsustainable levels of private- and public-sector debt forced (or was used as a pretext by) many governments to abandon fiscal stimulus and implement sweeping programmes of fiscal austerity and associated neoliberal policy change, leading to an upsurge of popular resistance. Nonetheless, in this highly volatile global context, policy-making elites may partially implement some of the measures proposed by Held, such as tighter regulation of financial institutions and capital flows; modification of international organisations such as the G20, IMF, OECD, World Bank and United Nations to enhance their contributions to global economic management; and 'the creation of new global governance structures with responsibility for addressing poverty, welfare and related issues' (Held, 2006: 306-7; 2008).

The 2008-9 economic and financial crisis, and the ensuing rejection of some elements of the neoliberal Washington Consensus amongst the world's policy-making elites, ended a decade in which the global justice and anti-war movements vigorously challenged both neoliberalism and the imperialist adventures of the Bush administration. Although the scale of global justice and anti-war protests has declined in recent years, these movements have succeeded in undermining the ideological hegemony of neoliberal policy regimes, and have raised the consciousness of broad masses of people across the globe about issues such as inequality within and between nations; poverty and debt in less developed countries; the undemocratic nature of bodies such as the WTO, IMF, and World Bank; and global warming, imperialism and war. …

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