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Understanding Globalisation

National Perspectives on Globalisation edited by Paul Bowles, Henry Veltmeyer, Scarlet Cornelissen, Noela Invernizzi and Kong-leung Tang;


Understanding Globalisation

Dev Nathan

he two books are part of the publisher’s International Political Economy series. They cover a lot of ground, with most regions (the exception is Oceania) represented. The National Perspectives book has contributions on Brazil, Mexico, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia, Japan, UK and US, plus one contribution on indigenous peoples. Each of these contributions is also written by a person from or residing in the countries covered. The coverage of the Regional Perspectives is also as extensive – north America, central America and the Caribbean, south America, western Europe, central Europe, the Arab World, west Africa, east Africa, southern Africa, south Asia, south-east Asia and east Asia. With such wide coverage, the two books together would make useful reference material.

As one would expect, the various chapters are held together by some moreor-less common approaches, even if there are some differences in perspective. The two Introductions and concluding ‘Lexicons’ draw together some of the main themes.

There is an underlying conception of globalisation – based on the policy of neoliberalisation, as it is now commonly

Economic & Political Weekly

may 3, 2008

National Perspectives on Globalisation edited by Paul Bowles, Henry Veltmeyer, Scarlet Cornelissen, Noela Invernizzi and Kong-leung Tang; Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke and New York, 2007; pp xii + 220, £ 45.

Regional Perspectives on Globalisation edited by Paul Bowles, Henry Veltmeyer, Scarlet Cornelissen, Noela Invernizzi and Kong-leung Tang; Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke and New York, 2007; pp xiii + 221, £ 45.

called. Liberalisation of trade (free trade), opening up of financial markets (free capital movement), and flexibilisation of the labour market. As the concluding Lexicon paper in the national volume puts it, “Globalisation as a neoliberal straightjacket has persisted as the dominant perspective from the southern country authors in this volume…” (National Perspectives, p 206).

The equating of globalisation with a particular policy, the neoliberal policy, is something quite common in the literature on globalisation. At the same time, it is also as commonly accepted (even by the writers in the two volumes) that east Asia, and China, in particular, did not follow the neoliberal policy. Did they, therefore, reject globalisation, or did they adopt a different, and even more effective policy, for globalisation?

If instead of a global neoliberalism, a global neo-Keynesianism were adopted, would the economic process at work cease to be one of globalisation? The identification of a particular policy with what is a

change in the world economic structure or process (however defined) is insufficient to build the kind of “critical” analysis that is claimed for the books.

Increasing Global Inequality

There is criticism in the two books, a lot of it valid, of a policy doctrine, that of neoliberalism. But there are also some points, often repeated as a mantra, of the effects of globalisation, e g, growing inequalities and poverty (National Perspectives, p 10); globalisation contributing both to the growing inequality within and between countries (Regional Perspectives, p 21). Poverty, and inequality within and between countries are three different concepts and they might well move in different directions.

Poverty, defined as those below a normative standard of living, might well go down, as has happened in most of Asia, including China and India. Inequality between countries could be defined either as just the differences between per capita incomes in different countries, or as per capita incomes weighted by population. When we use the weighted measure of inter-country inequality, the rise of per capita incomes in the large economies of Asia means that there is a fall in inter-country inequality.


But what is also clear that there is rising inequality within countries, including China and India, and the OECD as a whole. In the Latin American countries, inequality is both high and rising. What this means is that global inequality (which means inequality measured on a global basis of each person, more accurately, household, counting for one, irrespective of location) is definitely increasing. This increasing global inequality is something that should be a matter of concern.

The point with regard to the books under review is that general statements are made about poverty and different types of inequalities, without adequate differentiation of the differences in trends for these measures. If these measures are not adequately differentiated, the reasons for these supposed effects are also undifferentiated. For instance, the effect of the neoliberal regime of globalisation is said to have “continued production of poverty in the developing countries by shrinking their prospects of economic growth” (Regional Perspectives, p 11). This is a strange statement to make in the face of the economic growth of most developing countries in Asia. Of course, there are reversals, as with the late 1990s Asian economic crisis. But despite that reversal, the overall record of the developing countries of Asia has led, over the past few decades, to faster growth than in the rest of the world, and in developed countries in particular.

One of the chapters in the two books (the paper on Brazil in the National Prospectives book) does make a distinction between the different effects of globalisation in different regions, “an impulse to growth for the Asian giants, restricted growth in Latin America” (p 15). Unfortunately, however, this difference is put down to “financialisation” of Brazil. There is no discussion of the differential industrial policies of the two groups of countries.

Different Experiences

Some of the chapters in the books do deal with differences in industrial policies and the framing of industrial policies that could result in benefits in terms of employment and growth. The chapter on South Africa points to the necessity of industrial policy based on three sectors: those that have potential for value added, advanced manufacturing and labour-intensive manu facturing. Such industrial policy would be a departure from neoliberalism, which only emphasises supposedly getting the macroeconomics “right”. Interestingly, the papers on the UK (National Perspectives) and the EU (Regional Perspectives) also bring out the importance of industrial policy; for the UK, not to save old industries but to boost new ones (National Perspectives, p 169), and of building west Europe’s “orientation in globalisation … based on and guided by competitiveness” (Regional Perspectives, p 67).

In the case of Ireland, building industry based on competitiveness, did not mean abandoning the European model of “everinclusive social partnership” (p 64). Unfortunately, there is little detail on what this “ever-inclusive social partnership” entails in the case of Ireland. Just as there is no discussion of the very different experiences of the Scandinavian countries, which have managed to maintain international competitiveness without increasing inequality and while retaining their social welfare system.

Finally, however, the papers in the two books, interesting as they are, do not add up to a “critical” analysis of globalisation. The authors criticise neoliberalism, but that is not the only policy that can go along with globalisation. Further, to be critical it is not necessary to show all the effects of globalisation on people everywhere as being negative. There can, for instance, be a decrease in poverty along with an increase in inequality. Recognising such contradictory movements can be a beginning in a critical analysis of globalisation.


may 3, 2008

Economic & Political Weekly

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