Pax Economica: ... to the Extent That Globalization Translates into Americanization, What Kind of Canada Is in Store?

By Lapham, Lewis H. | Behind the Headlines, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Pax Economica: ... to the Extent That Globalization Translates into Americanization, What Kind of Canada Is in Store?


Lapham, Lewis H., Behind the Headlines


I have read Gwynne Dyer's article on Globalization and Nation States (Behind the Headlines, vol.53, no.4, summer 1996) and know that he frowns on medieval analogies, especially those of Ridley Scott and William Gibson. But in the United States at the moment economic and political arrangements are beginning to seem distinctly feudal. The larger corporations employ as many people as lived in 13th century Florence or 14th century London, and their servants pledge allegiance not to the American flag and the republic for which it supposedly stands but to IBM or Citibank or Time Warner. It is the corporation, not the state, that bestows the gifts of meaning and purpose as well as the comforts of pension, medical insurance, golf club membership, and foreign travel. The transnational economic order assumes the ecumenical place once occupied by Holy Church, and the world divides, unevenly but along only one axis, between the nation of the rich and the nation of the poor.

National identity becomes a sentimental novelty, comparable to a picturesque background for a trendy movie or an important bar, and the American oligarchy increasingly has less in common with the American people than it does with the correspondent oligarchies in Germany or Mexico or Japan. Manhattan's Upper East Side belongs to the same polity as the 7e arrondissement in Paris; the yachts moored off Cannes or the Costa Brava sail under the flags of the same admiralty that posts squadrons off Newport and Palm Beach. An American plutocrat travelling between the Beau Rivage in Lausanne and the Connaught Hotel in London crosses not into another country but into another province within the archdiocese of wealth. His credit furnishes him with a lingua franca translated as readily into Deutsche marks as into rials or yen or Swiss francs, buying more or less the same food in the same class of restaurants, the same services in the same class of hotels, the same amusements and the same conversation, the same politicians, dinner companions, newspaper columnists, and accordion music. Content among computers and fax machines and megatrends and cellular phones, the possessing classes recline at their ease behind the barbicans of a safe interest rate. On the other side of the walls, crouched on the desolate heaths of the third, fifth, and ninth worlds, the peasants, known to the French policy journals as the `terminally impoverished' tear at one another for bones.

A similarly feudal spirit distinguishes the institutions that regulate the conduct of international trade. At the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, the operative principle is the rule of oligarchy, and the power of decision rests with relatively few people who confer behind closed doors to fix the prices of silk and wine, linseed oil and wheat. The European Union makes no secret of its resemblance to a medieval guild. The sixteen unelected members

of the governing directorate formulate the rates of exchange (for goods as well as currencies) that affect the lives of 340 million people in Europe, and the elected parliament that sits ceremoniously in Strasbourg serves, without authority to make or unmake the laws, as an ornamental chorus meant to sing the praises of democracy.

The traditional idea of a frontier suggested something solid and heavy - a wall, a barricade, a fence, a pile of stones. Frontiers were meant to preserve the past, to hold in check the movements of people and the passage of time. The portfolio of old theory doesn't fit the new sets of fact, and the modern forms of mass immigration, joined with the velocity of modern communication, yield a new equation in human energy. The frontiers become as abstract as modern paintings; patterns of thought and habits of mind pass as easily between peoples as photographs of Madonna and the formula for bottling Coca-Cola. How then does a nation state design such a thing as a foreign policy, much less a sphere of influence? …

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