Monday, 13 June 2011

"Globalisation's pull" - or push?

Writing in the New York Times ‘Intelligence’ column, under this title, Roger Cohen argues that ‘more globalisation is coming, whatever the reactions against it’, including those arising from the persistence of the ‘virulent’ nation state.

He cites the very recent suggestion by Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European central bank, that there will be, in the foreseeable, if not quantifiable, future a European finance ministry empowered to set economic and fiscal policy in the seventeen eurozone states. To describe this, as he does, as a ‘radical’ proposal is to ignore its congruence with a long history of the gradual usurpation of formerly national powers by the EU. He is right to say that the euro was a ‘political project’ aiming to take Europe ‘a step closer to a United States of Europe’, but those propelling such projects have always misjudged their strategy, ignoring the extent to which such covert moves would stoke up resentment at the ‘democratic deficit’ at the heart of the EU and bolster nationalistic sentiments.

Whatever the logic of a European finance ministry to make sense of monetary union, there would seem to be no foreseeable chance of its making headway against not only popular but also governmental resistance. Indeed the tendency would seem to be towards the unravelling rather than the consolidation of monetary union in the EU. How many ‘peripheral’ countries now privately regret not having stood outside the euro like Britain?

Some observers would disagree with Roger Cohen and see the forces of globalisation as more of a virus than those of the nation state – in the speed and covertness with which it has spread, in the damage it has inflicted upon the host body, and in its immunity to antibiotics.

To argue, as he does, that the popular uprisings against corrupt governments in the middle east represent a ‘globalised’ popular sentiment against strictly ‘national’ corruption is surely stretching his thesis to breaking point. The popular movements may have been emboldened by successful uprisings in neighbouring countries, but they do not seem to have seen themselves as having a transnational identity. The idea of pan-Arabism was something fostered by autocrats, whilst they not only bolstered their personal control of the nation’s people and resources, in defiance of nationally accountable institutions, but personally profited to huge and corrupt extent, with the willing collaboration of foreign powers (mainly western democracies), global corporations and finance houses. It was not the people of Saudi Arabia who benefited from the financial ‘arrangements’ with BAE Systems, so nimbly protected from legal scrutiny by Tony Blair.

Most of the popularly driven national political developments in recent decades have been against the tide of supra-national consolidation, towards more ‘national’ states that their peoples feel can be made more answerable to their will and wishes, or that are simply less sclerotic as social organisations – in the UK, the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Sudan, and China itself not immune.

Globalising institutions are of course different beasts to supra-national states, but ultimately they may answer to the same popular demands. Ultimately all systems have to manipulate people. The supranational powers of the IMF, the WTO and even the EU, and the like, have been won covertly without popular consent or even sometimes awareness. They are usually strongly allied in their interests with globalised trade and finance – and so we return to Greece and the eurozone. In many cases these interests and institutions are coming under severe strain from diverging individual national interests, governmental as well as popular and political elites will at some point recognise that their interests do not for ever coincide with those of financial elites.

Finally, I would agree with Roger Cohen that the universal appette for the fruits of technology does promote globalisation, although the picture chosen (perhaps not by him) to illustrate his article, of two women on Segways passing a protest camp in Madrid, is to me suggestive of the thought that such appetite may at some point come to seem relatively feeble.