Monday, July 4, 2016

Globalizing misery. . . .

There is no doubt that many people are angry with the current state of politics and globalization. There was a time not that long ago when working people in Western nations were on the rise; union membership was high, economic equality was better than it had ever been, the tax system was relatively fair (targeting the rich and corporations at least to some degree), and, perhaps most importantly, people depended on the fact that their children would be better off than they had been. For the West, that dream began to unravel some time around 1970 with the end of the long, post-war boom and the rise of 'globalization.'

Whole libraries of books have been written on what happened. The rise of globalization was surely, in part, a inevitable result of technology. Within a capitalist context, technological advances meant that money and production became more mobile. The predictable result of this mobility was that capitalists were able to play to the lowest common denominator in terms of labour and environmental standards. Capitalists made a concerted effort to undermine working-class power everywhere by opening borders for the corporate search for profits.

The result of this globalizing effort was the impoverishment of people everywhere, not just those in the West nations. There is a perception among some (a perception intentionally fed by capitalists) that globalization has been a zero sum game, and that what is lost, say, in the industrial heartland of the US is gained in other countries like Mexico. This is largely false. Developing countries have gained surprisingly little from globalization. Work in so called maquiladoras creates a limited number of jobs, often very poor ones, and pays little to the home nation. Furthermore, globalization has had a concomitant process of urbanization. People have been taken off their land by various processes and those that had some degree of sovereignty and independence (as meager as that might have been) in rural work, have become part of a sea of urban workers with no measurable industrial skills and little to do but work at the behest of anyone that will employ them.

However one sees the process of globalization in relation to the so-called developing nations, one thing is certain, the power of the worker is disappearing, their incomes have stagnated, they have little pensionable income, they work in an increasingly precarious context and they see a very dark future. Meanwhile their politicians (both conservative and liberal) have done very little to improve the conditions of their populations. Instead, they keep selling the very agenda that brought us here in the first place: more corporate trade deals, more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, etc.

It is easy to see how presidential candidates like Sanders and Trump are making waves in a political structure that has atrophied and has become essentially a mouthpiece for the rich. The problem is, of course, that while Sanders promotes cooperation, unity, and an economy that serves everyone, people like Trump are preaching hate, division, and scapegoating. Meanwhile, in Britain, there were some people who voted to leave the EU because of its neo-liberal economic agenda, but it seems that their were many more who voted to leave because they blame outsiders for the decline in relative prosperity and the decline in economic equality.

Many people are angry with what the rich and powerful have done with globalization. This is understandable. The tragedy is that most people don't even blame the rich and seem to be painfully unaware that the fault of their stagnating wages and grim futures lies with conscious and concerted efforts of people like Trump and Boris Johnson, people who have no interest in making things better for average workers, but only seek to enrich themselves.


doconnor said...

Thanks to globalization China has gone from a place where famine was a threat to a place with hundreds of millions of middle class people. If all that manufacturing moved back here, there is no way that it could be absorbed. (Depending on how the revolution goes, it may have to.)

Urbanization has been a force for good, reducing people's environmental impact and increasing their opportunity and making them more accepting of difference. People who immigrate often sacrifice to create opportunities for their children.

There are many ways globalization could have been handled better, so workers in the developed and the developing world could share more of the benefits, instead of much of the benefit going to the rich.

The Mound of Sound said...

Kirby, we're not getting out from underneath this until our mainstream political parties, at least the Liberals and New Democrats, recognize neoliberalism for what it is and the dismal future it holds for our country and resolve to liberate the state and the Canadian people from its grip. Neoliberalism, in all its guises, has become our default economic and political operating system. It manifests in growing inequality, globalism and fealty to free market fundamentalism.

There is a way out and it works. That begins by restating the fundamental tenets of progressivism and then implementing them as government policy. In this way we can even the keel, reinstate a healthy relationship between the citizenry and the corporate sector, restore the essential balance between labour and capital.

This won't be easy. Neoliberalism is all most people under 40 have ever known. They've had no experience of genuine social democracy. It's going to be a difficult process to introduce them to this measure of empowerment. It certainly won't be entirely painless either. Any group released from servitude has difficulties, fears and disputes. The alternative, however, is to continue on until we achieve some form of neo-feudalism and oligarchy.

Owen Gray said...

And the powers that be will work very hard to maintain that general ignorance, Kirby.

Troy Thomas said...

I had written a throwaway joke for a blog post, but refrained as it would've distracted from my main point. I'll share it here.
The socialists create and develop an idea. The liberals steal and poorly implement it. The conservatives ruin and discredit it.

You know, globalization could work, if we were all machines. Otherwise, there's too many moving parts. Left hand loses track of the right hand, and the right hand's off strangling some poor schmuck off in another part of the world, and contracting some hired killers to do the left in.

We're barely more than animals, really, and we have to work at being noble. Otherwise, we descend into our more base instincts. And it's easy to listen to your instincts. It's hard to be a man.

Kirby Evans said...

@ doconnor - . Since the enclosure acts, capitalists have been preaching of the force of good that they tell us urbanization is, and it has always been mostly nonsense. It has always been a tool for capitalists to have a cheap, and wherever possible vulnerable, labour force. But, though it has had its few positive spinoffs, it has, overwhelmingly, been a tool for relative impoverishment of the workers. As for your comments on China, that is mostly spin of the West and the Chinese government. As with the rest of the world, there are more people impoverished today than there were 20 years ago. The fact that there are more people only underscores the abject failure of the neo-liberal model. Furthermore, no one is talking about absorbing Chinese manufacturing. This is a one dimensional view. The issue is the denigration of production in general in which China has played a major part. Another element of globalization has been the dramatic reduction in quality and durability of goods. As real wages declined globalizing producers made quality reduction a primary target because of an ever dwindling wage base. In the end, the question isn't 'where do we produce' but 'how do we produce.'