BOOKS: Anyone for globalibation?

BOOKS: Anyone for globalibation? - This selection of polemic contributions to the debate about the overweening power of multinationals ranges from the glib to the disturbing, says Alan Kemp.

by Alan Kemp, business development director at Haymarket
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This selection of polemic contributions to the debate about the overweening power of multinationals ranges from the glib to the disturbing, says Alan Kemp.

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If the bookstand is any guide, 'globalisation' is the topic attracting the most divergent thinking from the most diverse range of commentators The following books all approach the topic from different angles.

Ironically, Naomi Klein's anti-corporate No Logo was a commercial phenomenon. It traced the development of global brands and their commercial, political and moral consequences. Her follow-up, Fences and Windows, is a thinner work, being a selection of articles and speeches made since No Logo shot Klein to prominence. Nonetheless, she shows no loss of edge as she reviews the growth and coalescence, as she sees it, of anti-globalisation activism.

A Canadian, she deprecates most of what she has observed to her south over the past 20 years, arguing that, just when America most needs a window on the world, its corporately concentrated media provide a vanity mirror. In a chapter headed 'America is not a Hamburger', Klein brilliantly mocks the appointment of Madison Avenue's Charlotte Beers as a presidential adviser on foreign relations.

In portraying the protest movement as more than disparate interests held together by what they are against, Klein is less convincing and more cliched. Yet the torrent of challenges to conventional wisdom in Fences and Windows makes it well worth reading.

Bill Emmott's 20:21 Vision takes in globalisation as he crystal-balls the future. Unfortunately, the book owes so much to his editorship of the Economist that to know the magazine is to have read the book. By making the future so dependent on the past, and neglecting evidence contrary to his thesis, Emmott blinkers the reader's eyes.

The thesis? That a rosy future depends on just two conditions being met: America continuing to keep the world safe for capitalism, and capitalism continuing to adapt to its surroundings. Hey presto! Future perfect.

One of Emmott's former writers, Philippe Legrain, provides similar support for globalisation in Open World: The Truth About Globalisation. Fault is found only where the West is at its most imperial in its treatment of the developing world. Otherwise, the book is a flow of figures cataloguing the gains and justifying the pains. Whether the issue is jobs, stability, environment, cultural diversity or poverty, globalisation's real-world short-comings get Panglossed over. If you like simplistic sermons from the pulpit of Adam Smith, Legrain and Emmott are for you.

The World is not for Sale by Jose Bove and Franpois Dufour is seductive without being totally convincing. As they slip into the populist and the polemical, the two folk heroes are positioned too easily as Asterix, and their policy prescriptions are conservative rather than radical. But they have the common touch, seeing no justification for GM feed, growth hormones, water-injected meat or the factory farming that goes into malbouffe (junk food). A troubling read, especially when eating.

Nobody knows the IMF and its Bretton Woods siblings better than George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz. Both describe the roles of the IMF, GATT and World Bank in post-war international reconstruction. Each reviews the displacement of the altruism behind their creation, and their capture (0980) by the so-called Washington Consensus.

But it is not the telling of familiar tales that places On Globalization and Globalization and its Discontents above the rest; it is the fact that both authors are top-table insiders seeking major changes to a system they admire but believe has been betrayed.

Soros sticks with what he knows best, money - proposing changes in the global financial system to provide those at 'the periphery' (the poor) with more of the advantages it confers on 'the centre' (us). His book is as much morality play as policy guide. But where Soros is saddened, Stiglitz is maddened. Former presidential economic adviser and World Bank chief economist, he washes his hands of much of what he witnessed in office but could not prevent.

Hypocrisy and moral hazard are the themes: the IMF bailing out Western lenders at the expense of the borrowing poor; repeated failure to get affordable drugs to Africa's dying; IMF insistence on Third World market opening while the West spends many times more on protecting domestic suppliers than on aid; and the imposition (IMF again) on weak economies of 'medicine' with side-effects that the West would not dream of administering to voters at home.

These last two books are important and disturbing. Get both.

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