Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.
to e-mail us:
support the site
buy us books !
In Defense of Globalization
general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author
- Return to top of the page -
B : decent overview of pros (and cons) of globalization
See our review for fuller assessment.
- Return to top of the page -
The complete review's Review:
Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization begins very defensively: opposition to globalization is the first thing he tackles.
The first chapter is titled -- almost plaintively --: Anti-Globalization: Why ?, grouped in a first section worried about Coping with Anti-Globalization.
then informed refutation of the fears and follies that animate the anti-globalizers, we cannot adequately defend the globalization that many of us seek to sustain, even deepen.But it's an odd approach: before it's even entirely clear what he understands by globalization he's attacking its attackers. Unfortunately, also, his focus is on how anti-globalization manifests itself, and far less so on the arguments for such a stance. He pretends to be open-minded, suggesting he's willing to listen to the reasoning of the anti-globalization protesters -- but we have to take his word for it:
I talk with them at every opportunity; I find enthusiasm, even idealism, but never any ability to engage concretely on the issues they take a stand on.Without any examples or sense of how these conversations go, of their supposed inability to engage concretely, Bhagwati isn't exactly convincing on this point. Surely, the anti-globalizers must be able to express some rationale (even if, examined more closely, it proves entirely irrational) -- but, at least initially, Bhagwati doesn't allow readers to judge for themselves. He seems certain that he is deserving of the benefit of all doubts -- but his own approach, trivialising rather than countering the beliefs of the opposing camp, undermines his credibility. The absolute lowpoint comes early on, when he writes:
It has gotten to an almost farcial level where if your girlfriend walks out on you, it must be due to globalization -- after all, she may have left for Buenos Aires. These critics need to be asked, with a nod to Tina Turner's famous song "What's Love Got To Do With It": what's globalization got to do with it ?What indeed ? But note the outrageous rhetorical twist here: "these critics", he complains of -- but he's the one with the ridiculous example (of blaming a romantic break-up on globalization). Surely, the vast majority of anti-globalizers do not attack globalization by saying it is the cause of their break-ups, but rather have reasons that are in some way more closely related to the actual issue. Yet Bhagwati tries to put exactly that picture -- of the whiny, self-centred, irrational moron (who can't even hold onto the girl !) -- in the minds of readers. Talk about hitting below the belt.
Fortunately, that example is, indeed, the lowpoint, and Bhagwati is on much firmer (and fairer) footing when he considers policy implications and discusses the benefits (and costs) of globalization. Still, far too often, he states rather than argues or explains, offers too little supporting evidence, and does not consider counter-arguments. Typical is a passage such as:
However, I would argue that seizures of people and property are not the way to organize the protests, but that the methods of non-violent resistance advanced by Mahatma Gandhi and practiced so well by Martin Luther King Jr. are the better way.While certainly a supportable position, Bhagwati offers no further explanation of why he believes this is the better way. Yet when he states his position he doesn't say: "I think" or "I believe", he says: "I would argue" -- and then doesn't. He does not seem to have any understanding of what it means to argue a point: this is certainly not how to do it. (That the position favoured here is not entirely clear-cut should be obvious from the unfortunate fact that the two men he holds up as non-violent exemplars both got themselves killed: at least a bit of justification is necessary when people are told to follow role models whose roles led to their murder; those are footsteps one should surely be wary of treading in, regardless of how noble the cause.)
Bhagwati understands that globalization comes with some costs, and he strongly believes in policy solutions to make the transition to free-trade regimes less burdensome on those hit hardest by it. He doesn't call for the immediate abolition of all trade restrictions, trying, for the most part, to keep real-world consequences in mind and not focussing entirely on airy theory (which can sound sensible but, put into practise, can have devastating local effects). Significantly, he is very much pro-free trade, but much more chary about free capital flows (especially of short-term capital).
Bhagwati shows a lot of interest in the role of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and his repeated reminders about the differing interests, goals, and abilities of NGOs from developed countries versus those from developing nations is particularly valuable, as it introduces issues Western European and North American readers may not be familiar with.
In chapter after chapter Bhagwati discusses the main areas where globalization is sometimes thought to have negative consequences, including poverty, child labour, the environment, women's rights, the transition to democracy, culture, and wage and labour standards.
The analyses do cover most of the concerns, and suggest that, overall, the benefits of globalization clearly outweigh the costs. Nevertheless, too often Bhagwati insists the problem is not globalization but the policies which are (or rather: which aren't) implemented in conjunction with it that are at fault when and if things go bad: "that domestic policies, which the poor countries could change, are the source of the problem". Common sense might dictate other, better policies, and popular and NGO pressure can force governments to institute necessary safeguards to prevent the effects of freeing up trade from impacting the economy and individuals too harshly; unfortunately, not all governments are as vulnerable or open to common sense or outside pressure (though, as to the latter, one of the nice things about globalization is that it does make them more so) -- and proper policies and safeguards are not always obvious, nor do even academics and professionals agree on them. Soviet (and Indian) five-year plans used to have many supporters (even among Western economists), and powerful special interests make even incredibly costly (in all senses of the word) subsidies in the foremost capitalist countries sacred cows that are near-impossible to get rid of.
Some of the issues are very complex, the influence of globalization on the environment perhaps most of all. Bhagwati barely hints at the fundamental problem environmentalists presumably have with free trade: its very success. Increases in economic activity (the production and consumption of more goods) almost inevitably have negative effects on the environment: more factories, more cars, more waste products, more greenhouse gases, more chemicals used in more agricultural production (though, as he points out, farming is one area where the effect can actually be positive, as agricultural production moves to areas which don't rely as heavily on fertilizers, etc.). Because free trade is so successful -- i.e. makes for increased economic activity, often dramatically so -- the environment fares more poorly than it otherwise would. It's not a great argument, but probably deserving of some attention. (Bhagwati does correctly point out that a protectionist or self-sufficient regime -- as practised for some time in in the Soviet Union or India, among other places -- is no guarantee the environment won't come to great harm -- though, again, harm almost only comes with increased economic activity.)
Bhagwati does do a quite good job of explaining why the labour consequences in developing countries -- questions of child labour, women in the workplace, wages, and unions -- must be seen in context, and not merely through Western eyes and standards. Particularly good is his discussion of the different incentives developed and developing workers, unions, and companies have in labour protection being considered in globalization treaties and the like: self-interest, rather than actual fairness remains the dominant factor (here as elsewhere), and powerful (and media-attention-getting) Western forces tend to have an enormous edge here.
Bhagwati is also willing to acknowledge that there are certain sectors where, under the cover of the ideal of free trade, policies that aren't necessarily desirable or positive for poorer countries have been pushed on them -- intellectual property protection, for one. In part they are bad policies on all levels, even the solely domestic level in countries such as the United States, but the strength of, specifically, pharmaceutical multi-nationals has threatened to impose untenable conditions on poorer nations. Bhagwati notes that public pressure during the Doha Round negotiations led to some concessions; nevertheless this is an issue that will continue to be problematic for free trade proponents. (Current intellectual property and copyright protection is likely most vulnerable to the argument that it is bad for all nations, not just poor nations, but those with vested interests have proven very capable at parrying all reasonable efforts to impose a more sensible protection regime.)
For Bhagwati, free trade isn't an end in and of itself, but rather: "an often powerful weapon in the policies we can deploy to fight poverty." In certain areas (aspects of intellectual property protection) he essentially admits the failure of free trade as practised now, and he repeatedly warns against too fast integration into the global financial system without adequate protection against capital outflows (not exactly a new problem, and one fraught with difficulties as well). He does emphasise what should be largely obvious: overall, free trade is the way to go. It will improve the average lot of citizens, and makes for the possibility of incredible gains -- a possibility that a protectionist economy, or one that strives for self-sufficiency just can't offer.
Nevertheless, too often Bhagwati trusts in that major caveat: sensible policies must be implemented to take advantage of the opportunities globalization affords and to protect those who might suffer short-term (or even long-term) hardship from a change in the rules. Some of this is sensible -- and not even that difficult to implement:
In my view, the Bank should automatically trigger support when the WTO's Dispute Settlement Mechanism brings a significant loss of income and attending adjustment problem for producers in poor countries who have lost market access.But even he admits the World Bank, "crippled now by overreach", probably won't be doing this any time soon. And, unfortunately, the even more vital domestic regulation (and implementation of these safeguard policies) also isn't something one can put much faith and hope in.
In Defense of Globalization does, ultimately, offer a decent overview of many of the current globalization-issues, and Bhagwati -- when he focusses on actual examples and argument -- makes a good and sensible case for why an open world is better than a closed one. The presentation isn't as clear as one might wish, and what's meant to pass for humour (?) serves more to confuse than lighten things up (recall the: "nod to Tina Turner's famous song 'What's Love Got To Do With It' " and similar asides that perhaps work better in his lecture-act). Extensive references do point the interested reader to additional sources regarding many of the points he makes; nevertheless, a bit more clarity and depth to some of the arguments is sometimes called for.
Globalization is a big, messy issue, and so is Bhagwati's book. There is a lot of interesting and useful information here, but it's not as obviously convincing as it should be.
- Return to top of the page -
- Return to top of the page -
Jagdish Bhagwati is a leading economist. He teaches at Columbia University and has written extensively on international trade.
- Return to top of the page -
© 2004-2011 the complete review