Saturday, March 07, 2009

Globalisation IS inherently unstable

I'm no fan of Eric Hobsbawm, the communist apologist and sometime historian, but I have even less time for those who have no knowledge, or worse, interest in history. Over on The Times comment section, Martin Ivens has a go at Hobsbawm for having a go at globalisation.

Hobsbawm got a hearing on Radio 4’s Today programme to feast on our current woes, saying: “Globalisation, which is implicit in capitalism, not only destroys heritage and tradition but is incredibly unstable.” Forgive me for thinking that globalisation and the market has dragged hundreds of millions out of poverty in China, India and the developing world.

Hobsbawm is wrong about globalisation being implicit in capitalism. It only becomes implicit in capitalism when capitalism transcends national governments, which is corporatism and not part of western liberal democracy. For most of the hundreds of years in which there has been capitalism there has been no globalisation. it only flourishes when socialism flourishes combined with a new communications technology.

There have been three instances when this has happened. Once in the late 19th century with the arrival of the telegraph and Marxism. Again in the early 20th century with the telephone and communism. And today following the development of the internet and progressive liberalism. Other than that, capitalism has muddled along quite nicely without any problem other than the odd short recession cycle.

So even though Hobsbawm is wrong about globalisation being implicit in capitalism he is correct that it is inherently unstable. The "hundreds of millions" dragged out of poverty were thus dragged not by globalisation, but by the application of capitalism in those countries. That would have happened with or without globalisation.

What Ivens is missing though is that the depressions which always follow globalisation cause untold misery for millions more. It was the depression of the thirties caused by the globalisation of the twenties which allowed the rise of fascism and Nazism which killed millions in the forties and led to the suffering of countless millions more.

Even without the wars, the poverty that resulted in the USA as a consequence of the depression was worse than probably anything that nation ever encountered before or since. The USA never stopped being capitalist, but it did stop being globalist - and it recovered and flourished as a result.

Ivens cautions that we should not wish a return to the pre-globalisation days of the seventies as if the problems of those times were related in some way to there not being any globalisation. He is, of course, wrong. Most of the problems we had back then were problems which were more or less unique to our country and not experienced in anything like the same way in the rest of Europe and certainly not in the USA.

Most of our problems in the seventies had socialism at their root - belligerent unions and militant officials who refused to accept modernisation and technological advances that were necessary to make us competitive with the rest of the world in what was the early stages of globalisation (driven back then by the earliest stages of internationalism and our membership of the EU).

Ivens thinks times were grim back then - claiming that the governments were "impotent in the face of terrorism, union militancy and economic decline." Does he think they aren't now? Only this time it's not just the British government - it's all of Europe and the USA too. If he thinks things were bad then he is going to be in for one hell of a shock. As they say - you ain't seen nothing yet!


TheFatBigot said...

One of your very best, Mr Stan, thank you.

It seems to me that one of the greatest weaknesses of Socialism is that it relies on a policy of one-size-fits-all. Inequality is its great enemy, it is the central plank behind the whole construct. Equality is equity, inequality is both inequity and iniquity. Inequality must be avoided at all costs. The necessary consequence of this is that what is good for one must be good for all and what is better for one must be avoided unless all can have it.

And that, I think, is where your case against globalisation is at its strongest. Globalisation is wonderful as a means of spreading ideas, but unless it is coupled with sufficiently localised political power to provide stability it can become a dictator rather than a teacher or facilitator.

I cannot see Hobsbawm's point about globalisation being implicit in capitalism. In a way I think it is implicit in capitalism, but not in the way he says. It is implicit in that the beneficial products of capitalism spread around the globe. But the idea that the destruction of heritage and tradition is a necessary consequence of capitalism is absurd. That is the consequence of a lack of sufficiently local political power. We just have to look at the malignant influence of the EU for proof.

There seems to me a fundamental contradiction in Hobsbawm's position. His Marxist ideal necessarily means one-size-fits-all, which necessarily requires a global influence if it is to come to fruition. It is not enough for it to exist in a few hippy communes. To be a viable political system it must exist nationally and internationally; it must globalise. Indeed, we cannot judge whether it can be a viable political system unless it is tried in more than isolated pockets. His whole central philosophy requires globalisation of its own values.

What he is arguing against is not globalisation per se, but globalisation of something he doesn't like. His preferred form of globalisation would have exactly the adverse effect he complains about.

Yet his is both a political and an economic system, whereas capitalism is an economic system only. There is no way out of the globalisation of Socialism other than counter-revolution, as per the Eastern Bloc on the collapse of the USSR. There is an easy way out of capitalist globalisation because it operates company by company and business by business. Once something is doing harm a solid localised government can say "no".

Stan said...

Thnaks, FB - I think you'r quite right about the equality issue, but this is always very dangerous on any large scale. When you try to create "equality" even on a fairly moderate scale you effectively create a "levelling out". Some might rise up, but others have to drop down. This is the problem in the education system with "dumbing down". The same effect happens with globalisation - you may lift "hundreds of millions" out of poverty in some far off countries, but this has to be weighted against what happens in the richer countries. What we are about to witness is the "levelling out" which will see living standards in the west drop to levels closer to those in the third world. It has to happen - that is the "market" at work. We've managed to put this off to some degree by living on credit, but it was just borrowing time and deferring the inevitable.

You are also right that globalisation is actually a requirement of the political doctrine which Hobsbawm supports - and he bloody well knows that! Marx made it clear, Lenin reiterated it and the progressive liberals have been enforcing it. Globalisation leads to corporatism - which is the preferred method of government - no, the only method of government utlimately available to socialism. Democracy is the enemy of socialism therefore it has to be bypasssed. Globalisation permits that to happen.