Rolling For a Strike
Globalization is About to Sink, and the Tidal Wave Could Drown Us All
2016 has made way for a new year that, with some luck, will prove to be less tumultuous than its predecessor. 180 celebrities died by the Hollywood Reporter count; the UK became the first country to actively bow out of the European Union; and failed business tycoon Donald Trump unexpectedly won the elections from a suspect candidate who stood – above all else and unfortunately for her – for the traditional Washington state of establishmentarian affairs.
Many of the upheavals occurring around us seem to be a long-awaited reaction against the old world order, compliments of alternative offerings, alternative media, and a public more aware than ever before of what once was privy to only the select. And when examining the new world order, it seems that globalization may soon become its first victim.
How the World Rolled Into a Globe
Globalization groupies say that it’s made Americans wealthy and given them the highest standard of life in the world, that it’s done away with militant unions, government interference and communism. But has it? And is the demonization of government and unions justified? In fact, how high are US living standards compared to other Western nations? Not very, if we judge by the current ills striking America’s Middle Class.
Although the rise of Trump and the emergence of Brexit are far from the death knell of “globalization”, the term is certainly becoming a byword for pure evil. Actually, though, it’s been around for quite some time – and never quite as the blessing its adherents would have us believe. Some would trace the trend back to the explorations of the 15th to 17th centuries when Europeans began disseminating their ideologies, religion, and mainly economy throughout Asia and the Americas. They were also busy importing ideologies from the Far East, but few seem to pay much attention to that. The term itself was first mentioned in a 1930’s article on education. Incidentally, the term “corporate giants” appears nearly 40 years before that.
Globalization gobbled its first major energy bar in 1944, when the Bretton Woods agreement left the entire financial world in the hands of the US dollar, making it the world’s major reserve currency. This meant that the US could run up debt without its currency being devalued. Meanwhile, it also exported its financial, economic, political, cultural and social systems to – well – everywhere.
The globalizing fashion peaked in the 1970s, becoming a buzzword in the 1980s, and achieving an official definition in the year 2000 – all thanks to developing technologies and widespread travel. At that point, the International Money Fund decided to finally define “Globalization’s Four Pillars” – Trade, Transactions, Capital & Investment (notice that morality, religion, culture etc. were basically tossed aside). And eight years later, financial journalist Thomas Friedman stated that globalization had become a major political force thanks to outsourcing, supply chains and an entirely new economic structure that was taking over the world. His Greek contemporary, Takis Fotopoulos went a step further and warned that globalization had created open and deregulated markets, but also a new transnational elite that was supplanting the nation-state.
The Hand that Rolls the Ball
Enter the Multinational Corporation – an enterprise that owns and/or controls the production of goods and/or services across several countries and, by proxy, the national economies surrounding them. This kind of entity could not have existed before the birth of supranational institutions, like the UN, the World Trade Organization, the G8 and the European Union.
But again, these large companies were foreshadowed by creations such as the Dutch East India Company, the Royal Africa Company, Hudson Bay and others. These trading entities were the tools by which European nations exploited the rest of the world. During the age of empire, they stripped emerging nations of their wealth and left them void of resources, infrastructures and any semblance of human decency.
An End to Poverty… & its Rivals
Consequently, globalization was going to have a hard time boasting its charms, since it is inexorably related to colonialism. And clearly, the rubber stamp of globalization – the Multi-National Corporation (MNC) threatens our nationalistic pride and individualism. But the recent backlash against globalization seems to be motivated by much more than preconceived notions.
A 2005 poll shows that negative news articles on globalization increased in number from 10% of the total published before 1991, to 55% in 1999. What makes this strange, though, is that the view of globalization is more positive in Africa and Asia (70%) than it is in Europe and North America (50%).
Jeffrey Sachs’ book, The End of Poverty, explains that globalization is a powerful tool in fighting corruption, gender, ethnic and caste inequality, AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and hunger manifest in the less developed world. Unfortunately, reality shows that usually, economic opportunity does not translate into anything beneficial to the masses, evidenced by Oxfam’s annual reports on developing countries.
Scratching the Golden Surface
Although the world’s poor have seen some benefits from globalization (food, literacy, life), most of the riches have gushed towards the rich. Most Western middle-class members, on the other hand, saw neither material improvement nor profit, and many even have regressed. Most middle classers have seen their incomes eroded and their standards of living drop.
Their future looks bleaker than ever before, and their proximity to the rich only makes their plight more evident: as the wealthy shoot ahead to realms unimaginable by the working man or woman, they suddenly feel stuck, their children lacking meaningful education, their homes mortgaged beyond redemption, and any hope for the future, dashed by taxes, failing pension funds and zero interest (at best) on savings. Suddenly a cheaper television set and more junk food seem empty.
Over recent decades, the Anti-Globalization movement has been growing steadily – primarily amongst the middle classes in the West, but also amongst lower classes in Africa and Asia. The main thrust of the movement is against corporate capitalism, and it finds expression in protests that invariably become newsworthy at economic summits. Thus the sudden newsworthiness of meetings of the WTO, IMF, G8 and the World Bank, and – of course – the annual Davos fling next Friday.
Anti-globalization supporters point at the continued exploitation of the weak in underdeveloped countries, and at the advancing salaries of upper tired employees (5% of the whole) compared to the regressing salaries of lower tired workers (the other 95%). They point to the fact that 85 residents of this earth own more than the other billions of humans combined. Some also point to the various forms of destruction that large corporations are wreaking upon the environment. Social media is the movement’s main platform since most mainstream media is controlled by large pro-globalization corporations.
You Gotta Roll DOWN the Hill, First
As proof of its strength and the irrelevance of the billions, globalization is now rolling into its 2nd phase: if before, physical jobs could be outsourced abroad, now, virtual jobs can be, too. More and more internet jobs are now in the hands of semi-skilled workers who once answered help lines, and more and more tasks can now be executed from abroad by remote control.
Trump may end up bringing the factories back to America, but they will be void of human workers. Already, doctors perform heart operations using robots, electronic appliances clean the floor unaided, taxis drive themselves: Tomorrowland is here and we didn’t even notice when we lost control.
And even if Trump can stop jobs from leaving US shores, there is little he can do about intellectual property and simple know-how making its independent way out, only to return as a robot-driving protocol developed and initiated from heaven-knows-where in the un-attackable cyberspace.
Fundamentalists, Xenophobes and Racists – oh my!
From the beginning, globalization was all about making maximum profit through minimum investment. Cheaper goods and rising living conditions were all a byproduct. And everybody bought into the balloon until the turn of the present century. At that point, the prosperity began to run out. Less and less people could feed at the trough, and those close by made sure their rations did not diminish – pushing aside the weak. Debt since 2000 has been increasing, wages have been stagnating, and the only thing growing is the Wall Street bubble, propped up by cheap cash that had been earmarked for investment, but ended up in someone’s pocket.
Job security is more a problem than ever, especially with falling unemployment rates primarily ascribed to the advance of the freelance market. In spite of a Brookings research paper that claims productivity in the US is increasing thanks to automation and in spite of unemployment, it too is on the decline, decreasing by half every year since 2007. And worse than all of the above, the governing classes have managed to drive a wedge between the upper middle classes, from whose midst most of the press and cultural ideologies arise, and the lower middle classes, who have been watching their prospects dwindle into nothingness. Both are frustrated, disillusioned and isolated. Though whereas the former vent their frustration in words, the latter – lacking the word-power – have voted. For them, globalization was always a bluff, and now they are calling it.
The reaction so far has been less than heart-warming. Of all the excellent reasons the UK had for leaving the EU, only the fear of immigrants was the one that swayed the masses to the point of deciding a public referendum. The vote for Trump was a vote against everything that was not Trump – the establishment, the politicians, the business people who he took such care to distance himself from. And if the masses once again realize they have been lied to (this time by ‘one of their own’), neither words nor polling booths may be enough to calm the keg of powder from igniting.
Leadership that Listens
On January 17, the World Economic Forum will convene for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. One would be hard pressed to find a location more disconnected from reality than this little Swiss chalet town; but 2,500 leaders from across the world will hopefully turn some attention towards the fact that the branch they are sitting upon show severe signs of breaking. The theme of the meeting this year is “Responsive Leadership”. The organizers define this as teaching leaders to “recognize the increasing frustration and discontent among those not experiencing … progress.”
Considering the fact that those attending have more interest in maintaining a system that has treated them so well and is paying for their room and board in Switzerland, chances are that the ‘responsive leadership’ theme will remain not much more than a theme.
Globalization has succeeded in making the rich very wealthy. It may even have alleviated poverty and raised life expectancy amongst the impoverished. It has failed to deliver any added value to middle classes. And since middle classes are emerging in more and more places around the once-impoverished world, the numbers of disenfranchised just keeps ironically growing.
This year, for the first time ever, a Chinese president will attend the Davos event, indicating that, even with its economy under pressure, China sees its role in the global economy growing. In spite of early-in-the-year havoc caused on the world economy by its slowing growth, China’s political system and its economy are one of the few anchors of stability the world can for now rely upon. It has managed to establish an alternative to the World Bank – the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which now includes Finland, Turkey, Britain, Australia and many other nations not worried about angering the US. China even seems sincere in its pronouncements over global warming; its pace of poverty reduction has been admirable; and it is gaining allies throughout Africa and other developing nations.
Globalization may have just entered its third phase – one unencumbered by the populism of Europe and the US but rather led – perhaps cynically, but certainly determinedly – by the Red Dragon. And clearly, the US has noticed.
Donald Trump may try to cozy up to Russia in an absurd hope of creating an alliance against the “red menace”; he may try to blame China’s currency manipulations for the failure of his millionaire cronies to be responsive leaders; but the loss of jobs and the ensuing profits from cheaper costs in his pockets have nothing to do with Chinese policies. He might, instead, try to tackle the Chinese reluctance to uphold intellectual property rights – which is perhaps closer to the point. But that too would be like swiping a gnat off the back of a patient with stage IV Melanoma. Try as he may, under current conditions of empty rhetoric and flatulated balloon finances, neither Trump nor his soviet associates stand much chance of calling the next hand.