What links a former prime minister, a former chief economist and an academic? They have all recently written about globalization. The current wave of globalization started roughly at the beginning of the 1980s and coincided with new approaches to economic policy—notably Thatcherism in the United Kingdom, Reaganism in the United States and the ‘opening up’ of China driven by Deng Xiaoping's reforms. In My life, our times Gordon Brown traces how these developments overlapped and affected his political trajectory. Brown was first elected to parliament in 1983 and was actively involved in politics and government, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently as prime minister, for the following three decades. To some extent Gordon Brown—who, with Tony Blair, developed New Labour and implemented a market-friendly economic agenda—embodies the dichotomy between global markets—and the idea that they can create a more prosperous world for all—and nation-states, which Dani Rodrik discusses in Straight talk on trade. Brown was, and remains, an unrepentant supporter of multilateral trade and of global governance through global rules and institutions, which are, according to Rodrik, ‘the mantra of our era's elite’ (p. 16). Brown is a globalist and thus unlikely to score many points with today's populists. As Theresa May famously stated, ‘if you are citizen of the world, you are citizen of nowhere’. All this is the backdrop against which Stephen D. King sets his book Grave new world, concluding that globalization and liberalism—and the world that we have known since the Second World War—are over. It is the end of history, according to King, meaning ‘our version of history’, for ‘those of us living in the West’, of steady and continuous progress. King frames his analysis in institutional terms and argues that because ideas underpin institutions, when the former begin to shift ‘with alarming regularity’ as today, the latter risk collapsing. We are now on the brink of another sustained period of turmoil and disintegration, similar to the one which ended the golden era of globalization, which lasted from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the First World War. As the political narrative of the last few years has made clear, inequality, mass migration, new technologies, fiscal austerity and competitive monetary policy are all factors of disruption and triggers of disruptive politics. This sorry state of the world, for King, is the result of a series of policy mistakes and the unconditional belief in the benefit of globalization—which were fuelled by many economists who should have known better. Rodrik frames his argument in similar, albeit not conceptually aligned, terms. For him the idea—or utopian presumption—of managing global markets through governance is delusory. Globalization, democracy and national sovereignty cannot be achieved simultaneously, we need to choose a combination of two: globalization and democracy, without national sovereignty; or globalization and national sovereignty, with constrained democracy; or democracy and national sovereignty without globalization. I have a great deal of sympathy for Rodrik's argument that there is thin empirical evidence for the benefits of globalization, and that costs to local economies and communities are disregarded. Rodrik reminds policy-makers of the preferences and trade-offs made when designing and implementing policies. In democracies these preferences are expressed by voters, but multilateral trade agreements and multilateral financial safety nets often stamp on democracy, citizens' rights, cultures and identities. There are plenty of examples that show how ‘one size fits all’ simply does not work. Rodrik is also right to criticize structural reforms—a key tool of neo-liberal policy-making. The crisis in southern European countries, with Greece at its core, illustrates how structural reforms are seen as the solution regardless of the underlying problems, the sequencing of interventions and even their expected impact. But I find problematic Rodrik's approach to Europe, starting with the concept of the nation-state. Is it the right unit? Do ethnical, cultural and linguistic divisions within states not require some consideration? Moreover, Rodrik seems to rule out the possibility that the EU can provide a reference and a sense of direction when national politics is too dysfunctional. Greece and Italy come to mind, especially when, at the peak of the sovereign debt crisis in 2011, non-elected technical governments replaced the elected governments which were unable to manage the emergency. Was it non-democratic interference? Or was it a necessary intervention in order to preserve democracy? These are all important questions that Rodrik's book raises. As for the solutions, there are plenty of untested suggestions. Those put forward in Grave new world are the weakest, as they revolve around increasing global governance and new institutions, which are unlikely to find traction under current circumstances. This leaves Gordon Brown and his fair, compassionate and progressive domestic agenda, where market failures are addressed through policies, rules are put in place to preserve and maintain public goods—from financial stability to environmental sustainability—and where different dimensions—local, regional, national and international—are included. A still compelling agenda, and perhaps what we need for the post-globalization world. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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