Neoliberal Globalization and the Democracy Paradox: The Turkish General Elections of 1999

By Onis, Ziya | Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Neoliberal Globalization and the Democracy Paradox: The Turkish General Elections of 1999


Onis, Ziya, Journal of International Affairs


"The deep sense of uncertainty, and the feeling of rootlessness produced by globalization have clearly contributed to the rise of often authoritarian forms of identity politics to the center stage in the political arena."

Naeoliberal globalization as a late 20th century phenomenon is n inherently contradictory process. It is a process that unleashes tremendous potential for economic growth driven by rapid technological progress, notably in the areas of communications and information technology and is associated with the opening of markets and the rapid expansion of trade and capital flows. At the same time, it is a highly uneven process that tends to aggravate inequality between as well as within countries, by favoring certain regions or social groups over others. The uneven nature of neoliberal globalization is also a reflection or even a byproduct of the different speeds at which globalization occurs. It thus creates disproportionate benefits in favor of the industrialized countries of the North and the small number of semi-peripheral countries or emerging markets, such as Turkey, which are tied to the northern countries through north-south regional blocs. Significant parts of the developing world have been marginalized and left out of this process. Within individual countries, neoliberal globalization tends to create a group of winners who are able to take advantage of access to technology and integration with the world markets. Concurrently, it tends to create a group of losers, who lack the skills and the capacity to adapt themselves to the new environment and, hence, are excluded from its potential benefits. Natural corollaries of this tendency are the growing differentiation within the national economy and the dichotomy of highly prosperous and declining, or stagnant, regions within the same national economic space.

The paradox of neoliberal globalization is that it unifies and integrates while it fragments and marginalizes. Globalization of the world economy finds its most complete form in financial markets; the process has been less thorough, however, in the areas of foreign direct investment and foreign trade. In the latter, in spite of significant recent moves to establish a free, multilateral world trading environment, striking elements of protectionism continue to exist and novel instruments of protectionism are created, notably in industrialized countries, in the form of labor and environmental and technical standards.(1)

While financial globalization constitutes the most successful aspect of neoliberal globalization, labor mobility comprises the sphere where progress to date has been the most limited. Labor mobility applies largely to a sub-group of highly skilled employees. Unskilled or semi-skilled workers are usually confined to their national territories and look to their respective governments to improve their living standards.

The contradictory processes unleashed by neoliberal globalization thus places enormous strains and tensions on the state. In the aftermath of widespread privatization, as well as trade and capital account liberalization, many of the functions that the state has traditionally performed have become obsolete. This is not to argue that the state itself has no useful function to perform in the age of globalization. The state has to modify and adapt itself to the new environment and assume new responsibilities in such key areas as building human capital and technological infrastructure, maintaining macroeconomic stability, creating a competitive environment and regulating financial systems. The "competition state," which requires productive integration with the global economy, however, is a state that possesses limited capacity to provide social welfare. Indeed, attempts to extend the boundaries of the welfare state may result in capital flight and stagnation in an environment where individual nations are competing fiercely to attract the available pool of global capital. …

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