Deglobalization, or finding a way forward backwards

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In other words, deglobalizers aim to put paid to the cycle of financial capitalism touched off in the early '80s, championed by then-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan. Some are even bent on ending the era of American ascendancy, which commenced in the late 19th century when the US gradually became the leading world power to the detriment of China. "We are at a stage at which the dominant orthodoxy, that of the pure and perfect market, is no longer capable of producing new ideas. And it's alternative currents that are taking their place," insists Costas Lapavitsas, a Greek economics professor and associate Dean at the University of London's Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, and who is another champion of deglobalization.

A formidable challenge underlies this whole enterprise, however: that of restoring political authority against the sway of the all-powerful markets and rating agencies. In the conclusion to a recent study, Frédéric Lordon, a research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), ventures a forceful definition of the movement: "If globalization is ultimately nothing other than the dissolution of sovereignties by the mercantilization of everything, then deglobalizing means repoliticizing."

But what does deglobalization look like on the ground? The term is so vague that one can broadly make out at least four main currents with different concrete proposals - proposals that are not necessarily very new, but which are all arousing renewed interest.


1 - Protectionism

In the face of unfettered free trade, some economists, emboldened by the crisis, have taken up their walking sticks to follow in the footsteps of Friedrich List (1789-1846), a pioneering German theorist of economic nationalism, and extol the benefits of protectionism. Trade barriers need to be thrown up again, they argue, to protect national industries from the low-wage competition abroad, especially China. In this sense, deglobalizing involves reinstating national borders.

After all, they point out, it is competition with companies in the South that has weakened the pay-bargaining position of wage earners in the rich North and consigned wage hikes to the back burner indefinitely. The pay squeeze has, in turn, diminished purchasing power and demand in Europe, hence the current economic doldrums on the continent. It follows that to defend employees' rights, their industries need to be shielded from the competition.

So Jacques Sapir, a fervent protectionist, suggests "renationalizing our economic policy" by imposing "country- and industry-specific levies". Demographer Emmanuel Todd argues roughly along the same lines, though he continues to hold out for what he calls "intelligent" trade barriers to be drawn around Europe as a whole, if possible: "In a world at war over payroll costs, Europe has the right to take a protectionist turn," he said in a recent interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.

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