A fuse has been lit to ‘deglobalize' the planet, with increasing calls for protectionism, the championing of local production and for an end to the euro. But is a giant step backwards really the way out of the current economic crisis? The leftist economists who think so don't all agree on how to go about it. Ludovic Lamant presents the arguments of four leading schools of thought on deglobalization.
The Earth may no longer be as flat as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman fantasized in his 2005 best-seller The World is Flat. The upheavals wrought by the US subprime crisis and the world recession have recast the contours of what was becoming an increasingly level global playing field. With calls abounding to re-erect trade barriers, prioritize local production and give up the euro, the hour seems to have come round to dethrone free trade and ‘deglobalize' the world.
After the ‘anti'- and ‘alter-globalization' movements, the idea now is to ‘sever' the ties of globalization forged since the 1980s. Why? Because globalization has not lived up to its promises. But now, after the flood, should we really take one giant step backwards?
To be sure, ‘deglobalization' is still a hazy concept, and has come to serve as a catch-all for left-leaning thought ranging (in France) from the likes of philosopher Edgar Morin and demographer Emmanuel Todd to socialist politician Arnaud Montebourg and economist Frédéric Lordon. Each envisions the post-crisis road map for deglobalization through his own particular prism. "Deglobalization isn't a strategy yet. It's a malleable concept. And not everyone defines it the same way, [but] according to their own interests," sums up economist Jacques Sapir, who has just unleashed a caustic critique of the status quo in his book La Démondialisation (Deglobalization).
One of the official coiners of the concept hails from the Philippines. He is Walden Bello, a sociologist, activist and founder of the Bangkok-based NGO Focus on the Global South and author of a book entitled Deglobalization: Ideas for a New World Economy (right) published in 2002. As he explained at the time in an interview with the New Left Review, he views deglobalization as an "alternative to the World Trade Organization". He went on to vilify the WTO as "an opaque, unrepresentative and undemocratic, non-transparent organization driven by a free-trade ideology which, wherever its recipes-liberalization, privatization, deregulation-have been applied over the past 20 years to re-engineer Third World economies, has generated only greater poverty and inequality".
His recipe in a nutshell: "In world terms, then, we call for greater decentralization, greater pluralism, more checks and balances." The ultimate objective is to bolster local autonomy against the supremacy of the major international institutions, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the WTO.
The world economic crisis that first erupted in 2007 breathed new life into the concept of deglobalization - and endowed it with a whole panoply of definitions. Nonetheless, all its proponents do share one basic conviction: that the neoliberal brand of globalization, hitherto touted as an inevitability, has led the planet to disaster. Long gone are the days when US economist and 2009 Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman could trumpet forth from the rooftops that "globalizationis not to blame".1 Over and above David Ricardo's old law of comparative advantage, Krugman extolled the tremendous economies of scale to be gained by extending international trade all across the planet. The present-day crisis, however, is systemic - financial, social, environmental and energy-dependent - and Ricardo's classics have since been shelved.
"Deglobalizing means undoing what the conservative revolution did," sums up Jacques Nikonoff, ex-president of Attac France and author of Sortons de l'euro! (Let's Leave the Euro, 2011). "Concretely, it amounts to giving the labour force a place in society again." The reference here is to how valued added gets shared out, which in the 1970s used to be by and large equitable, and even to the advantage of employees, but which was subsequently distorted to boost corporate profits. So deglobalizing is about bucking that basic trend (which in France began in 1983) towards padding dividends to shareholders at the expense of wages and capital expenditure.
1: This is the title of the French translation, La Mondialisation n'est pas coupable, of Krugman's Pop Internationalism (1997).