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although I knew instinctively that Wolf must be wrong - globalization doesn't always work and not all the time (Stiglitz had a b
on 3 October 2015
I re-read this book recently because it had bugged me ever since I first read it about 10 years ago, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me (apart from the breathtaking de haut en bas and the conflation of anti-globalization nutbars with nuanced opposition), although I knew instinctively that Wolf must be wrong - globalization doesn't always work and not all the time (Stiglitz had a better balance. He talks about globalization's "discontents").
This time I nailed it. First of all, the title is misleading. Wolf actually declares in the text that he confines his survey to "economic" globalization. Secondly, he is quite deceptive in his description of how he arrived at his belief that that there is not enough (economic) globalization: essentially, he was a trendy-leftie who saw the light after reading Hayek and Schumpeter etc. and converted after a stint at the World Bank to a strong believer in the "market economy" and "liberal democracies". He studiously avoids the word "capitalism", but that's what he's talking about. In sum, Wolf is, like so many other left-wingers, a champagne socialist who covertly seeks to justify his conversion.
So far, so good. His arguments for economic globalization and more globalization of market economies and liberal democracies are fine. Capitalists would find little to disagree with. The problem is that he actually conflated economic globalization with other types of globalization, such as cultural globalization, the benefits of which are much less obvious. The problem is that economists are trained to treat people in their quaint models in the same way as widgets - as completely fungible - without making any concessions to different languages, cultural preferences, shared history or climate. They see a short-term labor shortage in an advanced industrial country and immediately they want to ship in vast numbers of unskilled labor from failed states half way across the globe. So they tend to foist arguments for economic globalization onto other areas too, meaning that they tend to support mass immigration, open borders, free movement of people etc. which lead to strife and conflict. What is needed is a balance: global trade at arm's length. I am happy to trade with coffee traders in Sana'a or detergent makers in Guangzhou, but I don't necessarily want to live cheek-by-jowl with them, even if I could speak their languages or eat their food, and they probably feel the same way (champagne socialists don't have this dilemma, because they can enjoy the benefits of globalization while shileding themselves from the social chaos it leads to).
Another shortcoming of the book's thesis is that Wolf makes almost no reference to sources from any other disciplines than Economics. This is typical of economists, but is dangerous because of how influential they are in setting policy. If Wolf had consulted leading scientists, he would have realized that most of them are saying that rapid globalization is destroying the planet everywhere you look: the oceans are being depleted of fish, the forests and jungles are being cut down, population growth is out of control...Economics doesn't deal with these issues very well because it treats air and water, vital for life, as "externalities" (goods that are so abundant they are treated as free, even though in the aggregate, they can no longer be), and scarcity as solveable by substitution. The trouble is that you can't substitute a jungle once you've cut it down: the ecological crash it causes is irreversible.
So in sum, Wolf is at the least disingenuous and needs to do a bit more deep thinking.