“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”- Opening paragraph from “A Tale of Two Cities”
In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote a book entitled Small Is Beautiful. The book was well reviewed and was read by many people concerned with the global ecological disaster, but perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time.
That was after all the time of agribusiness and the widely held idea that “big is always better.” That in turn was integral part of a positivist approach which believes that progress is inevitable, it is always scientific and what comes at the end and is most modern is always the best of all possible worlds.
Now we are more likely to be persuaded by those who insist, as Schumacher did, that a more localized decentralized approach to economics may be the more sensible and humane approach.
The question arises: why is that? Quite simply because economic globalization has taken center stage while global warming is often derided and ignored, more often than not by those who are supposed to be our leaders. Some say that globalization actually began with the era of Western colonialism and imperialism and it is unstoppable like the idea of progress. Closer to us, in modern times, while welcomed and seen as a panacea at its inception in the last quarter of the 20thcentury, it has by now transmuted into a great debate on whether globalization is capitalism at its most pernicious or a promising way to reduce poverty world-wide. The sad truth is that while wealth has been increased it has mostly gone to the one per cent on top of the economic pyramid while the poor and middle class have seen no economic process.
Laissez-faire liberal capitalists of various stripes and assorted entrepreneurs searching for world-wide market opportunities a la Trump naturally support globalization and argue that becoming part of the world economy is the only chance for developing countries and those living in abject poverty at grasping economic opportunities and lift themselves out of poverty. They see absolutely nothing wrong with globalization per se; at best they suggest some reforms in its methods and its side effects on regional cultures. They may pay lip service to regional cultures and even religious heritages and tradition while at the same time deriding them as retrograde but necessary superstitions to keep the people docile and exploitable (hence Marx critique of religion as the opium of the people), but essentially they have reduced human beings to mere consumers within the global market place.
As William James used to quip: do not pay attention to what people say, pay attention to what they do and you will know what they really believe in. People willing to ruin reputations and impugn the professional integrity and career of their critics for an ideology reveal with their ad hominem attacks better than with their scholarly treatises the extreme measure to which they are willing to resort to in defense of their pet unexamined ideology.
And that may indeed be the reason why, on the other hand, the protesters believe that globalization is merely an excuse for big business to run roughshod over the developing world. For them “free trade,” so called, simply enables multinationals to dominate developing markets and push out local enterprise. They call for alternative ways of reducing poverty that prioritize environmental and human rights. They argue that by reducing ancient heritages and cultures to their lowest common denominator one dissolves most conflicts and distinctions among them and trivializes them.
The protesters, who have been at it for the last twenty years or so are convinced that Global capitalization is all about getting the rich to be even richer. They cite examples such as this: ten years ago a US company director got 40 times the wages of an average blue collar worker – their wages are now over 400 times as much. Just 400 families have more than half the world’s theoretical wealth. Yet calling this insanity is sneered at. Capitalism requires expansion, there has to be year on year growth, and that’s simple math: if you must expand your economy by an average of 3% a year, in a hundred years you need to consume in a day what we currently consume in a year.
In the world of culture a dichotomy seems to exist between the world of science and that of the liberal arts and the humanities, something I have written at length in previous articles. Indeed, a novel by a great novelist such as Dostoyevsky or Joyce, or a poem by Dante or Shakespeare represents a world rooted in numerous particularities where people from different backgrounds encounter one another and are trying to connect and influence each other; a world complicated by memories and ambitions and multiple connections and displacements. It’s a world wherein its unique rounded characters refuse simplifications.
On the other hand, what Globalization with its reductionistic tendencies seems to produce is the disembowelment of the complexity of world cultures, forcing their differences into the blender of consumerism and accumulation of wealth, to then regurgitate shallow formulaic platitudes, reducing the narrative of those cultures and their heritage of millenarian religious traditions, to a singular outcome; that of universal consumerism and happiness, Disney or McDonald or soccer games style, where business need not be responsive to the people or to truly democratic institutions but to the happiness of its shareholders. This is achieved by moving factories and businesses to the cheapest labor markets and keeping pays low.
According to this severe critical view, history has taught us that globalization means only one thing: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Corporate globalization and financial globalization without a buttressing ethical value system which sees the unity of humanity and its nexus to the earth, inevitably becomes dominated by greed and the profit motive. The critics also point out that those societies with the highest standard of living are those which allow some degree of capitalism, but combine it with a strong sense of social justice as exemplified by their social programs designed to help the less privileged and the least fortunate. The richest country in the world may not necessarily be the country with the highest standard of living. It appears that the element of distributive justice, whether it is taken seriously or it is simply ignored and considered unimportant, makes all the difference
Obviously there are two contrasting ways of looking at Globalization and the question arises: are the two views irreconcilable or is a synthesis of sort possible? While the developing world needs help from the developed world, does such help have to come at the price of pollution and unsustainable technologies under the title globalization? Does globalization have to imply that transporting goods and foodstuffs thousands of miles using valuable fossil fuels and creating massive pollution is a good thing? It appears that Globalization as envisaged by the visionless current world leaders and economic pundits measuring wealth and ignoring justice is likely to damage the developing world more than help it.
What the developing and the developed world need are initiatives that allow countries to be self-supporting and less dependent on the vagaries of world exchange rates, transport costs and international sanctions. However those promoting world trade and entrepreneurial capitalism do not want this, they want to the developing world be dependent on to their technologies and trade tie-ins. The problem is not free trade as such, but the unfair way with which it is implemented. It is apparent to any dispassionate observer that far from upholding the principles of democracy, the exigencies of commerce has served often to thwart them. All one has to do is recall that Britain’s colonial adventures in India, China and the East Indies were perpetuated by what was felt to be an inalienable right to force nations half way across the world to trade with them on their own terms.
Some have suggest that socialism is the solution, but socialism is often seen historically tied to the ideology of communism, adhered to by China’s ruling party, and this despite the fact that it is practiced in genuinely democratic countries in Scandinavia as well as in most industrialized democratic countries of the world which have social services that can only be characterized as socialistic, including the US which has social programs such as Social Security, Welfare benefits, Unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid etc.
The Chinese are out to prove that democracy is not necessary for material prosperity; it is mere frosting on the cake, never mind Marx’s injunction that power ought to always proceed from the people, that is to say, from the bottom up and not from the top down. Hence ideological cultural battles invariably and regularly ensue and as it can be expected they become not part of the solutions but part of the social problems of our global village.
In point of fact, the battle between capitalism and anti-globalization, socialism, communism and all the other -ism’s one can think of is quite pointless – none of these ideologies stand up in extremis. A harmonious balance between regulation and freedom in the markets seems to be the only way forward to benefit all with at least a minimum of egalitarianism and distributive justice while preserving and enhancing freedom and democracy.
There is one glaring example that can be brought to bear to better illustrate the unfair business practices of the developed world toward the developing one. Both Britain and the US make strenuous efforts to sell cigarettes to poor countries. They give no health warnings against smoking as they do by law in their own countries. One can easily imagine how the precarious health services of these developing countries are going to cope in 20 year time with all the smoking related diseases we in the West are imposing upon them. I suppose that at that point in time the rapacious entrepreneurs of our brave new world will get busy selling them expensive medicines manufactured and developed in the West.
The major issue with globalization seems to be that corporate chairmen have power without representation. One of them is all set to become the next US Secretary of State. If we were to think of consumerism as a new political idea, corporate chairmen are the politicians, advertisements are the party broadcasts or propaganda, and the products are the manifesto. The result as advertised is happiness, fulfillment and wealth for everyone concerned. Donald Trump has promised as much to the ignorant and gullible and many are now waiting for the check in the mail. Good luck!
This analysis points to the fact that in effect we live in a semblance of democracy but in reality we live in a deterministic universe wherein we have been reduced to consuming automatons and our personhood and our very humanity has been robbed. It is now impossible to vote a corporation out of power. There is something fundamentally wrong in this situation. Branding globalization protesters as “anarchists” playing at revolution, as the media tends to do, will not lead to any solution either. Schumacher made similar points in the above mentioned book.
In this article I have simply outlined the problematic of Globalization as presented by those on opposite sides of its analysis. Those readers who may wish to further deepen their knowledge and even attempt a solution to the conundrum would be well advised to peruse a seminal and influential article by Steven Weber, Naazneer Barma, Mathew Kroenig and Ely Ratner titled “How Globalization Went Bad” which appeared in Foreign Policy of Jan/Feb 2007.
In conclusion let me say this on the present perplexing and ambiguous age of globalization, the era of the so called interrelated “global village” with its Facebook and Twitter and the Internet: it is both the best of times and the worst of times. The outcome, I suppose, will depend on how well we can hold together in our mind those two contrasting notions and wrap them around our minds as a paradox. I sincerely doubt that logical positivists and assorted entrepreneurs will be of much help here, but I would suggest that the novels of a Dickens or a Dostoyevsky, not to speak of sages and philosophers, may provide some hints on how best to bridge the chasm.
Trade in fake Italian goods costs economy billions of euros
Global trade in fake Italian goods such as luxury handbags, watches, foodstuffs and car parts is taking a bite out of Italy’s economy equivalent to around 1-2% of GDP in terms of lost sales, according to a new OECD report.
Trade in counterfeit goods and the Italian economy estimates the total value of counterfeit and pirated Italian goods sold worldwide at over 35 billion euros for 2013, equivalent to 4.9% of global Italian manufacturing sales. This resulted in over 25 billion euros in lost sales by Italian companies in a year when Italy’s GDP was 1.6 trillion euros.
Past OECD analysis of data from nearly half a million customs seizures around the world over 2011-13 has shown that trade in counterfeit goods is worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, or 2.5% of global imports. US, Italian and French brands are among the hardest hit, and with an economy that thrives on producing high-value products, protected by intellectual property rights and trademarks, Italy is especially vulnerable.
As well as examining the impact of trade in fake Italian products, the report also looks at the impact on Italy of imports of counterfeit goods. It finds that fake imports were worth over 10 billion euros, or 3% of imports, in 2013 and resulted in foregone domestic sales by Italian wholesalers and shops of around 7 billion euros. The fake items were imported mainly from China (50%) and Hong Kong (29%), followed by Greece (6%), Singapore (4%) and Turkey (2%).
The combination of trade in fake Italian products and imports of counterfeit goods resulted in a loss of public revenues in Italy equal to 10 billion euros, or 0.6% of Italian GDP. Counterfeiting and piracy also led to the loss of at least 87,000 jobs in Italy in 2013, equivalent to 2% of the country’s full-time equivalent employees.
The highest losses in sales, in euro terms, in the Italian wholesale and retail sectors due to counterfeit and pirated imports in 2013 were for high-tech electronic, electrical and optical products, followed by clothing, footwear, leather and related products. In terms of market share, the biggest losses were in the watch and jewellery sector, where the counterfeit market caused a 7.5% loss in sales.
The report shows that around half of the fake goods smuggled into Italy in 2013 were sold to consumers who were aware they were buying fake products, with the remaining share purchased unknowingly. The share of fakes bought knowingly in Italy ranges from 15% from food items to 60% for watches and IT and communications devices.
A contemplation on Washington-Beijing trade war
The decision of the Trump’s government to start its research on the devastating effects of China’s measures on the American economy has led to a sharp reaction by the new generation of Beijing Communists. It is clear to everyone that Donald Trump and his companions at the White House have challenged the “open doors” policy of Mao’s sons.
What attracts the attention more than anything else amid this conflict, is the insistence of the US president on protectionist policies on one side, and Beijing’s resistance to these policies on the other side. In other words, Washington and Beijing are going to enter a full-fledged trade war during the presidency of Donald Trump. What has happened so far has only provided the basis for such a controversy. Here are some point that need to be taken into consideration:
Firstly, the withdrawal of the United States from multilateral trade rules in the international system, and the insistence on unilateral economic protectionism, is the result of a special outlook which is dominant at the White House ruling. Economic unilateralism and the pursuit of protectionist policies are two main indicators of Trump’s economic approach in the field of global trade and international economics. Obviously, Trump will firmly stand against the Chinese charges of unilateral protectionism. Beyond that, Trump knows well that if he can institutionalize his unilateral protectionist policies within the eight years of his possible presence at the White House, next American governments will have a very difficult job to change this irregular (but smart) structure. Therefore, the charge of “protectionism” can’t force Trump to retreat from its economic policies towards Beijing and other powerful international players.
The second point is that Trump has entered a new economic confrontation with Beijing which relies on the possible violation of intellectual property rights and other issues related to technology. Pursuing his goals, Trump didn’t resort to changing exchange rates, creating administrative and bureaucratic barriers, anti-dumping laws, direct subsidies to US domestic companies, import quotas, and most importantly, customs tariffs. Rather, on his economic confrontation with Beijing, he focused on the least costly way which was intellectual property rights. This equation is somewhat complicated: The fact is that the President of the United States intends to use terms such as intellectual property in the field of invention and trade as a cover for applying nationalist protectionist policies. In order to complete this process, Trump will further strengthen bureaucratic administrative law in the near future as opposed to importing Chinese goods. In short, Trump’s short-term goal is to create bureaucratic obstacles so that it would be difficult for China to import goods and products to the US .
The third point is about the introduction of customs tariffs against Chinese goods. The Trump government has also increased tariffs on some of the imported goods from China. Trump also subsidizes American producers. However, it is not yet clear that granting industrial subsidies to domestic factories and manufacturers in the United States could lead to lower commodity prices, and more importantly, to increase the productions’ quality.
Basically, this is the critique that comes with protectionism. Accordingly, making barriers to imported goods and the introduction of punitive tariffs can endanger consumers and even the government in the long run. Due to lack of competition with imported goods, the owners of such industries practically have no incentive for increasing the quality of their manufactured goods, and the competition formed in the domestic market is also not usually a dynamic one. This rule also applies to the imposition of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.
China is buying the most Treasurys at the US government auctions since 2011. It wasn’t without a reason that politicians like Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate in the 2016 presidential election, have warned against economic opposition with China. In such a situation, the United States full-fledged trade war with Beijing can be interpreted as a major business and economic mistake.
Undoubtedly, the open-door policy is against the approach taken by trump based on protectionist economy. Since 1899, China has been pursuing an open door policy for its economic development. The open-door policy would allow for a system of trade in China open to all countries equally, and no country has particular privilege over other countries. This approach is in contrast to the monopolistic economic thinking (based on unilateral protectionism). Unilateral protectionism is not only opposed to the open door policy, but also directly targets the principles of liberal economics.
Finally, the adoption of unilateral protectionist policy by the Trump’s government will be followed by the Chinese retaliatory measures, which will further lead to a devastating trade war between Beijing and Washington. Many American economists warn against this economic confrontation. Many American economists have argued that Trump has embarked on an economic war with China, without creating the necessary requirements inside the country. Hence, Trump’s protectionist policies can’t improve the US domestic industry. Alan Tennyson, a well-known American businessman who has been supporting Trump during the presidential competitions, is now firmly opposing the imposition of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and believes that it would be an unplanned intervention in the US economy.
Many American economists are criticizing of Donald Trump’s protectionist approach in this equation: all these economists are warning about a major economic war between the United States and China. The conflict between Washington and Beijing, based on Trump’s unilateralist policies, can redefine the economic ideas of both countries. “The emergence of modern protectionism” or “redefining open door policy” can be the objective outcome of this conflict. On the other hand, China and the United States will probably both use the tools and methods in the economic conflict, which contradicts their economic red lines in recent years.
In such a situation, we will witness a lot of changes in the economic and business structure of both countries. It should not be forgotten that in the field of economics and commerce, many revisions occurred during international disputes, and not in the stabilized international markets. It should be acknowledged that this conflict isn’t going to be limited to Washington and Beijing, and their trading partners, voluntarily or involuntarily, will enter this war.
First published in our partner MNA
Deeper reforms in Korea will ensure more inclusive and sustainable growth
Short-term prospects for the Korean economy are good, with an uptick in world trade and fiscal policy driving growth, but productivity remains relatively low and the country faces the most rapid population ageing in the OECD area, according to a new report from the OECD.
The latest OECD Economic Survey of Korea looks at recent economic developments, as well as the challenges to ensure that the benefits are shared by all. The Survey projects growth of about 3% for the 2018-19 period, and lays out an agenda for ensuring broader-based and more inclusive growth going forward.
The Survey, presented in Sejong by the head of the OECD Korea/Japan Desk, Randall Jones, highlights the need for new policies to help the government overhaul the traditional export-led growth model and to promote innovation led by SMEs and start-ups. It discusses reforms to the large business groups (chaebols), to achieve higher productivity and more inclusive growth, and proposes policies to enhance dynamism in SMEs and boost entrepreneurship. It also outlines the key challenges for reaching higher levels of well-being.
“Korea has rebounded after several years of sub-par growth, and the expansion is expected to continue,” Mr Jones said. “However, the traditional economic model of manufacturing and export-led growth is running out of steam. The challenge going forward will be to develop a new growth model that addresses today’s economic and social polarisation and leads to a more sustainable and inclusive economy for all Koreans.”
Despite the important role of the large business groups in Korea’s economic growth, the Survey says that a more balanced economy with larger roles for services and SMEs would promote inclusive and sustainable growth. The Survey suggests that strengthening product market competition, by relaxing barriers to imports and inward foreign direct investment and liberalising product market regulation, would reduce rent-seeking behaviour by large firms. Corporate governance reform is also necessary.
Beyond chaebol reform, the Survey identifies measures that would enhance dynamism and productivity growth in SMEs, including regulatory reforms, better access to credit, changes to the insolvency framework and improvements to the vocational education system.
The Survey proposes a range of potential reforms to boost well-being in Korea, including measures to expand female employment; labour market reforms to break down the segmentation between regular and non-regular workers; policies to reduce elderly poverty; and the use of economic instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
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