By John Ralston Saul. Harper’s Magazine March Grand economic theories rarely last more than a few decades. Some, if they are particularly in tune with. John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism ($, Overlook, ) brings a new argument to the debate about economic globalization. John Ralston Saul, Canadian political philosopher and Renaissance man-about- town, has written a book that attempts to answer that question.
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Grand globbalism theories rarely last more than a few decades. Some, if they are particularly in tune with technological collxpse political events, may make it to half a century.
Beyond that, little short of military force can keep them in place. The wild open-market theory that died in had a run of just over thirty years. Communism, a complete melding of religious, economic, and global theories, stretched to seventy years in Russia and forty-five years in central Europe, thanks precisely to the intensive use of military and police force.
Keynesianism, if you add its flexible, muscular form during the Depression to its more rigid postwar version, lasted forty-five years. Our own Globalization, with its technocratic and technological determinism and market idolatry, had thirty years.
And now it, too, is dead. Of course grand ideologies rarely disappear overnight. Fashions, whether in clothes or food or economics, tend to peter out.
Thousands of people have done well out of their belief in Globalization, and their professional survival is dependent on our continued shared devotion to the cause. So is their personal sense of self-worth. They will be in positions of power for a few more years, and so they will make their case for a few more years. But the signs of decline are clear, and since those signs have multiplied, building on one another, turning a confused situation into a collapse.
We have scarcely noticed this collapse, however, because Globalization has been asserted by its believers to be inevitable–an all-powerful god; a holy trinity of burgeoning markets, unsleeping technology, and borderless managers. Opposition or criticism has been treated as little more than romantic paganism.
It was powerless before this surprisingly angry god, who would simply strike down with thunderbolts those who faltered and reward his heroes and champions with golden wreaths, If Globalization has seemed so seductive to societies built upon Greek and Judeo-Christian mythologies, perhaps the reason is this bizarre confusing of salvation, fatalism, and punishment. Transferred to economics, in however jumbled a manner, these belief systems are almost irresistible to us.
The British and French empires had vaunted and defended their power in similar ways from the late nineteenth century on; that is, just as they began to collapse. And as the various nineteenth-century nationalisms declined into ugliness, their supporters increasingly transformed them into a matter of race. Inevitability is the traditional final justification for flailing ideologies.
Less traditional–and a sign of inherent weakness–is the extent to which Globalization was conceived as old-fashioned religiosity. Perhaps the economists and other believers who launched Globalization were instinctively concerned that people would notice their new theories were oddly similar to the trade theories of the mid-nineteenth century or the unregulated market models that had been discredited in And so treating the intervening forty years as an accidental interval, they began where their predecessors had left off: Despite that initial certainty, a growing vagueness now surrounds the original promise of Globalization; we seem to have lost track of what was repeatedly declared thirty years ago, even ten years ago, to be inevitable:.
That the power of the nation-stare was on its way out, to be replaced by that of global markets. That in the future, economics, not politics or arms, would determine the course of human events. That freed markets would quickly establish natural international balances, impervious to the old boom-and-bust cycles. That the growth in international trade, as a result of lowering barriers, would unleash an economic-social tide that would raise all ships, whether of our Western poor or of the developing world in general.
That prosperous markets would turn dictatorships into democracies. That all of this would discourage irresponsible nationalism, racism, and political violence. That global economics collapsf produce stability through the creation of ever larger corporations impervious jkhn bankruptcy. That these transnational corporations would provide a new kind of international leadership, free of local political prejudices. That the rise of global marketplace leadership and the decline of national politics, with its tendency to deform healthy economic processes, would force the emergence of debt-free governments.
By then wedding our governments to a permanent state of deficit-free public accounting, our societies would thus be stabilized. In summary, global economic forces, if left unfettered by willful man, would protect us against the errors of local self-pride, while allowing individual self-interest to lead each individual to a better life. Together, these forces and self-interests would produce prosperity and general happiness.
In a society where Christian dogma had been collappse dominant until so recently, how could people of goodwill not be attracted by this good news–by these promises of personal redemption? And if you add to all of this a multitude of new, technocratic market methods–well, then, the cycles of history would be broken, setting us on a permanent, inevitable course. In the words of a particularly naive believer, history would die.
History was already dead. Globalization ralson in the s from the sort of geopolitical vacuum or fog that appears whenever a civilization begins to change direction, to grope its way around a corner from one waul to another. In geopolitics, a vacuum is not an option. It is the period between options; an opportunity, providing you can recognize it for what it is; a brief interregnum during which individuals can maximize their influence on the direction of their civilization.
What caused that particular void? Globaism a quarter century of social reform had globlism the liberal elites exhausted. The need to manage a multitude of enormous new social programs that had been put in place in a democratic manner–an ad hoc manner–made it difficult for political leaders to concentrate on the main line; that is, to concentrate on a broad sense of the public good.
The Collapse Of Globalism: And The Reinvention Of The World by John Ralston Saul
Instead, governments were caught up in the endless and directionless details of management. Or perhaps the cause of the vacuum was the resulting reliance of those political elites on technocrats, who understood little of public debate–in fact, distrusted it–and so drew the leaders into isolation. In either case, most Western leaders seemed confused about what to do next.
They had come to the end of a chapter of social progress. And they could not have been less prepared for a religious counterattack upon their ethical motivations, particularly not one in which the classic Judeo-Christian ideas of the sacred had been converted into economic inevitabilities. These theoretically new economic ideas were now scarcely recognizable as the simplistic economic arguments of colllapse The religious fervor had been blended with sparkling waves of new technology and with masses of microeconomic data, all presented as fact.
Relaunched in this way, as three in one, one in three, the old ideas seemed new. Caught up as the liberal elites were in the instrumental rationality of program management, they responded to this attack with superior, stolid, and unimaginative rejection, instead of speaking out for the public good, they defended administrative structures.
The effect was to cpllapse tired and discredited market arguments seem young and agile and modern. One comic sign of the coming era was the creation, in in a Swiss mountain village called Davos, of a club for European corporate leaders. There they could examine civilization through the prism of business. Soon businessmen were coming from around the world.
Then government leaders and academics flooded in, looking collaapse investors. Business leaders, politicians, and academics alike seemed to accept without question the core tenet of Davos: Davos was just a weather vane, a superficial and self-important version of a royal court, but when the Gnow the Gwas created inits aim mimicked that of Davos: Never before had the great nations so explicitly and single-mindedly organized their core relationship around naked, commercial self-interest, without the positive and negative counterweights of social standards, human rights, political systems, dynasties, formal religions, and, at the negative extreme, supposed racial destinies.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the French president who organized the first G6 meeting at his official country residence, Rambouillet, was the very model of the European technocratic economist. And his approach dominated. But what actually opened the door to Globalization was the economic collapse of the depression that never was.
The reigning technocratic obsession ralwton management and control meant that we all had to be reassured. So we were told that this was just a recession. Then there was another recession, then another, and on and on, always minimized, always about to be resolved. The social reformers, who dominated within almost all political parties and governments, denied themselves the right to goobalism back and deal with the situation as a whole.
They had lost the intellectual breadth and the emotional balance to do this. And so they gradually lost their right to lead.
As for the new force or ideology that came forward to fill the vacuum, it involved an all-inclusive strategy called Globalization–an approach that contained the answer to every one of our problems.
It was delightfully seductive. It contained simple, sweeping solutions and, as with all successful religions, lodged ultimate responsibility in invisible, untouchable hands. Thus Globalization required no one to take responsibility for anything.
This transcendent vision quickly filled the vacuum. I first heard the variety of personal passivity produced by this belief system on French national television in a speech by Giscard d’Estaing. He had been elected as a new-style political leader–a brilliant economist. He was to lead society via the economy. But he came in just after the collapse, which included high inflation and unemployment.
After a year or so of struggling with the collapse, Giscard went on television to tell people that great global, indeed inevitable, forces were at work. There was therefore little that he could do. This was the beginning of the mania for public declarations of impotence by democratically elected leaders. Globalization became their excuse for not dealing with difficult issues, for not using their levers of power and large budgets to effect.
They made the forces of inevitability credible. Globalization had brilliant proponents–Mrs. Thatcher first among them, and economists like Milton Friedman, but also growing waves of new-style managers and consultants. These people had a multiplicity of roles. They briefed public- and private-sector leaders, organized the structures that implement policies, and ran these structures on a day-to-day basis.
And their basic theory was–is–that modern methodology is universal. What’s more, these methods are preferable to the untidy business of democratic argument and personal will, whether that is a matter of personal opinion or personal choice.
In other words, they were engaged in the classic struggle to promote method over opinion; that is, form over content.
And so, as always happens when form is dominant, a variety of ideal experiments were undertaken. Around the world, civil services were shrank, public and private sectors deregulated, markets released, taxes cut, public budgets balanced.
Corporations began growing in size by merging and remerging. This Gigantism was considered necessary for success in a new world market. Trade grew by an astonishing multiple of twenty.