[GegenStandpunkt Index]

The myth of "Globalization"
The World Market as an Objective Constraint

[translated from GegenStandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4–99, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]

1. An idea makes it big…

When a word becomes a slogan, it starts getting treated as a concept. Yet, just because it gets used over and over again doesnít guarantee that those who use the word, who consider it to be so meaningful, have actually conceived anything. In fact, people never start with an explanation of what exactly the discussion is about when they haul out their clever word. On the contrary, a proper slogan indicates someone in the know, spares the need for any further comment, and demands general agreement; this, no doubt, explains the popularity of slogans among those of our contemporaries intent on earning a bit of irrefutability for their otherwise quite personal opinions. On the other hand, slogans have earned a bad reputation among people mindful of the bad habit of using some shorthand to avoid reasons and explanations, and to kill off any attempts by others in this direction. To those who occasionally want to know something more precisely, fiddling about with slogans is a dishonest manner of discourse. It is a way of conjuring up necessities without any sensible basis and demanding general recognition for them — necessities that are in no way as necessary as the so eagerly bandied-about slogan would suggest. On the contrary, these necessities are intended to conceal interests and intentions that really deserve no recognition at all, but rather closer examination.

The slogan "globalization" has been spared any such suspicion. The intellectual community populating editorial offices and universities makes lively use of this "concept" as an argument; and thereby spares politicians and businessmen — the leading authorities of "democracy & market economy" — from accusations to the effect that they merely use their litany of "globalization" to justify what they would do anyway but for different reasons. Ever since governments and leading industrialists each started admonishing and urging the other to take up the challenge called "globalization," a considerable amount of literature on this topic has appeared:

*

If, as is here the case, scientific publications cannot be distinguished either from opinion pieces or from the harangues of soapbox orators, then the campaign for proper respect for "globalization" has gone down well. It means that this idea is making headway, and as is always the case when an inspiration catches on, does so because humanity is spared the unreasonable demand that something essential needs to be changed. On the contrary, the changes that globalization theorists report on have long since taken place, or are already under way anyway. The diagnosis of "globalization" is accordingly dedicated to those who are now and then mentioned as being responsible for the enormous upheaval. The process of globalization is described as being "to a great extent the result of decisions that states have made in the past and are still making. It is the governments, which have step by step torn down the bulwarks around their economies and continue to do so (liberalization of foreign trade)." Itís just possible their aim was and is to enable lots of companies to expand their business internationally: selling and buying, investing, merging and so on. Not that globalization theorists donít know that, but it just isnít important for the considerations they are intent on circulating. Neither do they attempt to explain the calculations coming into play in the modern world market in such a way that one could learn how governments and capitalists cooperate as well as get in each otherís way. Nor are they concerned that governments — bent on foreign trade in commodities, money and capital — together with the calculations of experienced businessmen make binding laws for the production and distribution of wealth around the world. They simply take it the other way around, putting themselves in the position of the decisive authorities of the world economy to certify to them that they have succumbed to foreign "entanglements." Thatís why the diagnosis regularly leads to the worried recommendation that state and capital should take care, bearing in mind how dependent they are on the worldwide course of business. Giving themselves the air of neutral observers, globalization thinkers discover that the world market is indeed a market and thus an organized competition, in which the achievements of companies and nations do not complement one another — wouldnít that form of "dependency" be a fine thing! — but rather, in the form of growth measured in money, exclude one another. And this outstanding discovery is designated as the very newest and latest objective constraint at the end of the twentieth century! Merely mentioning the slogan "globalization" is thus tantamount to, and understood as, a demand for one and only one practical conclusion: companies and states that make the whole world serve their interests are under enormous pressure — after all, they could lose out in the competition — and have to pay close attention to their competitiveness. Quote: "But in an extensively liberalized world, even whole states compete as production sites against each other in commodity and labor markets due to [?] their different social and societal relations. For that reason itís even being discussed in Germany whether the [nation] is economically competitive …" Unquote.

This is really remarkable. Finally, at last thereís supposedly something truly new happening in this world of capitalistic haggling with its charming contrasts, familiar to and beloved by us all, between poverty and wealth, work and power. A veritable upheaval has unfolded before our very eyes: the void left behind by "imperialism," which made its exit long ago, has been filled by globalization — and whatís the outcome? The leading authorities of "democracy & market economy" are now experiencing the phenomenon of globalization, which they themselves had laboriously developed, as a regime of tyranny; the brave new world categorically forces them to stand up to international comparison. And in order to prevail despite the dependency they find themselves in, they must do almost exactly the same as they were intent on doing for their success long before the alleged turning point in the world economy at the end of the twentieth century. That hurts, but it canít be avoided — not to mention for the many walk-on extras of the world economy who, for their part, are dependent on their nationsí and economiesí success. The guardians of their homelands and their employers carry the responsibility for them — as the means, as the victims, as the appendages, so to speak, of every competitive endeavor.

*

Politicians and leading businessmen quickly noticed how useful the new ideology was. After all, their job isnít merely restricted to making decisions. It is also always a matter of giving the rest of the world — which is always afflicted by their decisions — good reasons for the use of their political and financial power. And this slogan handed them a reason on a plate: a reason that makes no fuss whatsoever about their responsibility for the conditions of life of the entire community, a reason that therefore at best allows only for the demand that they do "their job" well; a reason that exempts the fundamental rules for the capitalistic dealing with labor and for political calculations with money and power from any further discussion, in that it transfigures the bearers of political and economic control into mere executive bodies for objective constraints at whose mercy they stand; and finally, a reason which promotes them as honest heirs of Martin Luther (who stood there, and couldnít do otherwise)1 by claiming that the acquisition of money to the exclusion of others and the accretion of political power were never their aim, but rather just an inescapable method of competition. Even for the dumbest politician or industrialist who otherwise only distinguishes between plus and minus, such a reason is just what the doctor ordered — so to speak, the multi-tool for justifying whatever measures the managers of state and capital can think of. Ever since this slogan became available, absolutely everything — from wage and spending cuts to privatization and the launch of a new European currency, is passed off as a reaction to globalization.

2. … and finds suitable material

Subsuming every capitalistic affair under the category of competitive pressure is, from the standpoint of logic, a clear case of abstract thinking. Nobody is really interested in this point, however; at any rate not from the point of view that said thinking shows certain defects in its judgment concerning the world market and its movers and shakers. Abstract thinking is unpopular because it isnít "concrete," which is understood these days by educated people as a call to supplement their slogans with a collection of examples so that everybody is able to understand what is thereby meant.

In our case, for example, misunderstandings would possibly have arisen had the pundits of globalization simply pronounced: "On the world market, where we are active, there is competition!" This might not have been met with the desired, unanimous response, something like: "Well, if thatís the way things are, then there really isnít any alternative." Instead, a curious youth might have even raised the question: "So, what is your competition all about then?" — and found an answer; namely, that competing is somewhat the opposite of international "cooperation" and "division of labor;" being rather only the form in which the nasty business of making money at the expense of other people and nations takes place. Yet in our case, it hasnít come to that, since young and old have been successfully hoodwinked — by the slogan of "globalization" and the flood of examples coming along with it. The latter demonstrate "concretely" to the audience what exciting upheavals it is witnessing, thereby showing what you supposedly canít rely upon any more due to globalization, what kind of difficulties those at the top have to contend with, and how many objectively-constrained situations meanwhile reflect globalization at work. In the end, everybody, from bankers to tabloid readers and unemployed voters, frankly wishes nothing more than that the world economy could, at last, be controlled — by whom is not in question. The responsibilities have already been assigned; what is required is, of course, carrying them out responsibly.

a) Every study on "globalization" feels obliged right off to strike the blow that will somehow unsettle the citizenís mind. Each text deals with globally active capital that is allegedly beyond the control of a political power sadly restricted to its national sovereign territory. "Diminishing government influence" is one of the more feeble findings. More thought-provoking is the assertion that the state can no longer fulfill its tasks, even less so democratically (meaning with the people participating somehow) when the economy is run by multinationals. This is not at all meant as a critique of the system, as it would have been decades ago, but rather spurs concerns for the state of health of the nation. Some just as urgently illuminate the problem that has arisen with globalization with the warning that the state is endangering itself by gambling with its sovereignty. This hits home; this is just what you get for single-mindedly not paying attention to the economic symbiosis of business and state power. But when globalization theorists get to their point, they show rather little concern for everything they already know so well. Certainly nobody need tell them that states have indeed exercised their sovereign power in "paving the way" for domestic and formerly foreign companies to go about their global business. Nor would they take it for an eye-opening pronouncement were the aim of market economy internationalism to be recited — that growth is supposed to come about by earning money abroad at the expense of foreigners. Nor have they in any way failed to notice that the governments of market economy democracies, for each of whom the status of "leading industrialist nation" is beyond doubt, have indeed during the last decade pursued their budgetary, monetary, and economic policies in a very sovereign way; and further that there is no lack of "influence" as far as events beyond their borders are concerned. So is there no way of getting one up on the folks spreading the myth of the weakness of states by reminding them of the achievements of "national states" in the creation and utilization of the world market.

Despite many an exaggeration in their portrayals of the world market, where big business high-handedly pursues its free trade ventures while condemning the state to respect its concerns, the ideologists of "globalization" still never go so far as to put forward a critical theory of the world economy that would maintain that states no longer had a role to play in the movement of internationally engaged capital, much less shut themselves out of it! On the contrary, it is precisely in depicting the stateís predicament, thanks to the global economy, that they discuss nothing but the necessity of government action that worldwide "integration" demands. They unfailingly end up with proposals to their favorite state power recommending what use they ought to make of their power. The preparation of a country qua business location for "competitiveness" is as obvious for them as is their own governmentís forceful interference in the governmental business of other nations — after all, these are the undeniable requirements of "globalization."

The advantage of limited perception for the formation of a theory is not to be underestimated. People who, in their view of the contemporary world economy, content themselves with the observation that there "is" competition have obviously already made up their minds. First of all, they find it quite correct that capitalists all over the world try for business success at home and abroad because growth, on which jobs and well-being all over the world depend, results from this success. As far as this goes, they have no problem admitting this is capitalism; after all, why deny something when there is no alternative? Secondly, they take it for granted that states, indeed especially states, "live" on this business success and so, in the interest of their own power, simply have to clear away any and all barriers to business. Thatís why they stick to the hollow phrase that there is no way back from the internationalized economy. Thirdly, they agree that states must see to it that enough of the cross-border accumulation of capital accrues for their own balances of payments and budgets, which puts them into conflict with like national capital sites. Fourthly, they want their favorite nation to firmly ward off the risk of coming up the loser. The friends of globalization never weary of warning against the risk that their country could fall behind in the competition of nations should the proceeds of the globalized economy end up being delivered to the wrong address. So that without any theory of imperialism they come up with a forceful call for politico-economic nationalism, and without any sense of shame they — after having discovered competition to be an "objective constraint" — recommend imperialistic practices.

b) People at home in the dialectics of the risks and opportunities of "globalization" are animated by an ideal that they demand their nation realize: politics must see to it that the international rough and tumble of capital takes place smoothly, and that the economic success achieved thereby coincides with the increase of power of their favored nation(s). And it is not only competitorsí parallel efforts that make a bad impression on those who sympathize with the successful national utilization of the world market. Danger also threatens from another corner; namely, from a very powerful creation of international capital. Of course, weíre not talking about the billions of human beings who have been turned into dependent variables of global growth and who have plenty of good reasons to get the regime of the market economy off their backs. No, we are talking about finance capital, which is profitably shuttled back and forth among all the nations. This branch of the markets has repeatedly raised suspicions among fans of the globalization myth — always in those cases where business fails. In this respect, the attention paid to the markets that deal with money and debts and nothing else has turned out to be as scanty as that paid to the rest of capitalism.

The main thread running through the warnings about this financial sphere likewise concerns the experience of helplessness that the directors of the market economy have to undergo. Yet these troubles havenít materialized as they have in the conflicts with competitors due to their achievements; rather, economic interests are damaged in this case once "investors" of money capital fail in their trading in currencies, shares and derivatives. Globalization theorists are from the start in agreement with economic policymakers and industrial managers that the services provided by finance capital are indispensable — services that, however, only come about when the calculations on profit-yielding scraps of paper and computer-expedited orders work out. Once some banks go bust, a stock exchange crashes, and a currency gives up its purchasing-power ghost, then they know it all, but the other way around — after all, theyíre on the receiving end. Due to the effects on their own business, the "markets" come in for severe criticism. This has its comical side too, considering that the authorities that not only provide the international credit business with "products" to trade in and speculate with but also take an active part in it complain about what these "markets" are doing to them:

3. The effects of the globalization debate

Considerations about the practical difficulties that plague economy and nation in their efforts to become big and strong on the world market have one virtue: regardless of the quality of the judgments, they are recognizable as efforts to contribute to the success of projects being carried out. Such considerations are always appreciated.

But they also have a disadvantage. As a corroboration of the calculations that have already been made by the authorities, as an outline of strategies which have long since been pursued, they are superfluous.

However, such well-meant offers are not refused by political and economic authorities merely because there is no demand for them. In order to get the nation qua site for capital accumulation shipshape for advancing against competing nations as categorically as possible; in order to make common cause with the competition in the IMF and elsewhere in watching out for erroneous moves of the markets so as to establish a bit of world order — for these initiatives, the decision-making masters of the world market certainly wouldnít have needed hundreds of publications on "globalization." Once, however, the members of the politicizing intelligentsia have wasted so much paper on the success of capital and state, which they see as standing or falling with timely responses to "globalization," then the issue can be stood on its head. From this point on, every rationalization and merger, every international venture, from the launch of a new currency to a war, is a response to "globalization."

Notes

1."Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders!" Apocryphal remarks of Luther at the Imperial Diet of Worms, 1521.


© GegenStandpunkt 2002