Magazine article Monthly Review

Contextualizing Globalization: Comments on Du Boff and Herman

Magazine article Monthly Review

Contextualizing Globalization: Comments on Du Boff and Herman

Article excerpt

In the June 1997 issue of MR, I wrote an essay, "Globalization is an Issue, the Power of Capital is the Issue." Richard Du Boff and Edward Herman, two economists whose work I respect and whose books I have used in my classes, now polemicize against "Tabb's unwillingness to acknowledge that globalization ... has anything to do with the victories of capital over labor...." I wrote no such thing, as readers can verify for themselves by going back to that June issue. Such a view (which I do not hold) is indeed unreasonable and wrongheaded. They in fact attribute a number views to me which I do not hold. They propose "alternatives" and I agree with a number of these.

I suggested the need for a two part analysis as a way of addressing those who think everything has changed because of "globalization" The first, and the project of my essay, was to describe the continuities in the capitalist system. The second project and the one Du Boff and Herman are interested in (aren't we all) is in how the dynamics of capitalism have changed since the postwar era, and the role of the complex developments, generally lumped together into the construct "globalization." They do not think there is any reason for the first of these tasks because while "Tabb may know some leftists who have swallowed the 'myths' of globalization and believe 'there is no alternative'" Du Boff and Herman do not. I'm glad they don't know any such people. I know quite a few and believe that the acceptance, conscious or subconscious, of a view of such inevitability has served to disempower and weaken the left.

They continue that "even if we ever find any we are sure they will be outnumbered by leftists whose first aim is to debunk globalization." What should be debunked? The idea of an all-encompassing all-determining globalization? That is what I set out to do. It should be debunked. But debunk the idea that globalization is happening? I would hope not, because it is occurring. The point is what is not new and what is. Globalization, as they write, and as I argued in my essay, represents a continuation of a historical process.

I quoted the Communist Manifesto on the way "the world market gives a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country." What was true then is more true now. I explained how the two World Wars and great depression interrupted this trend in many ways and that it now has been renewed with a vengeance. I note what has happened to unions (but nowhere say, and certainly do not believe that unions have "abandoned struggles for workers welfare at home"). I certainly did not say that these changes have "little basis in economic fact" or that globalization in the present period "has no significant political consequences."

They make much of my statement that the nation-state has, in theory, the means to control transnational capital. They ask what meaningful relation can that have to practical politics? The relation is that many people believe it unrealistic to think that capital in a global market economy can be so controlled. Before some people can believe and struggle for the political control of transnational capital within the nation-state, they have to be shown, (as economists such as Jim Crotty, Gerry Epstein and John Eatwell have shown) that the obstacles are political, and not some operation of "natural" economic law. Du Boff and Herman write, "Tabb's analysis of the role of the state has a formalistic, and non-Marxist quality." Why? Because I say deregulation and indeed regulation, are not technologically determined but the outcome of class struggle and so of political choices. They twist this to mean that I say: "If the United States has made a 'political choice' to encourage a race to the bottom for its workers or to tie material life more closely to market relations, it can choose otherwise! Let's just do it!" I said no such thing.

The quote they offer from Dani Rodrik is one with which I certainly agree, but as Rodrik also writes (in the same source from which they quote), "globalization is not occurring in a vacuum. …

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