Ed – This is the third part of a longer eassy by Malcolm Bint, parts one and two can be found by following the links.

What is the Impact of Globalisation?

A third area which dominates current discussion is the impact of globalisation on the sovereignty and autonomy of nation-states. Here again, not surprisingly, there is a diversity of judgement. The inter-nationalist approach holds that the debate about globalisation has exaggerated the extent to which the sovereignty and autonomy of nation states has been eroded. It can be, he argued, that such exaggeration can actually handicap the capacity and undermine the confidence of policy makers who have responsibility for creating and administering national economic policy. For a strong globalist position mistakenly attacks the idea that nation-states are still important in the world economy and can manage their own affairs. The national and international economy can still be managed; and states remain major actors in this process. We do not live in a runaway world.

By contrast, another position taken is that globalisation simply leads to the demise of sovereignty and autonomy, which in many cases it has. The ever increasing power and structure of the EU is a formidable example. But the overall argument is that there has been a reconfiguration of cultural and political power. As McGrew puts it: the sovereign power and autonomy of national governments is being redefined; the sovereignty and autonomy of national governments is locked into a multi-layered system of governance. In this system, states no longer use sovereignty simply as a legal claim to supreme power but, rather, as a resource to be drawn upon in negotiations with transnational and international agencies and forces. States deploy their sovereignty and autonomy as ‘bargaining chips’ in multilateral and transnational negotiations, as they collaborate and co-ordinate actions in shifting regional and global networks. The right of most states to rule within circumscribed territories – their sovereignty – is not on the edge of collapse; however the practical nature of this entitlement – the actual capacity of states to rule – is changing its shape and form. In this account, globalisation involves an historic shift in power away from national governments and national electorates toward more complex systems of regional and global governance. As a result, politics is becoming more transnational and global; and the regional and global deployment of political power is becoming a routine feature of a more uncertain and unruly world.

There are significant differences of interpretation and emphasis in the internationalist, globalist and transformationalist accounts of the consequences of globalisation for the modern state; and these should not he underestimated.  But having said this, all three positions recognize that there has been an expansion of international governance at regional and global levels – from the EU to the WTO – which pose major analytical and normative questions about the changing nature of the world order unfolding at the present time. What kind of world order it is and might be and whose interests it serves and ought to serve, are pressing questions across all perspectives.


Winners and losers?

The fourth area of cross-cutting concerns involves whether or not globalisation generates new patterns of power and inequality in the global order. Again there are differences in emphasis as well as some continuities. It is worthwhile to explore the way the dominance of multinational corporations in global cultural networks can threaten the integrity of peripheral cultures and the position of more marginal cultural groups. But we should waryto warnagainst too simplistic a view of this thesis. In the first instance, major cultural and communication flows from the west to the rest of the world do not simply demonstrate power or domination. Flows can be regional as well as global and flows per se tell us little about impact. Further to this, people, independently of their position and culture, do not simply passively consume the cultural products of multinational corporations. On the contrary, most people creatively engage with these products; they are made sense of through the lens of local and national cultural resources. There is a creative interface between the diffusion of global media products and their localized appropriation. Moreover, national institutions remain central to public life while national audiences constantly reinterpret foreign products in novel ways. There is, thus no overwhelming evidence of a simple pattern of cultural imperialism or cultural homogenisation in the world. The empirical position – including criss-crossing cultural flows hybridity and multiculturalism – is more differentiated.

Likewise there is a complex pattern of winners and losers emerging in the global economic system. The development of regional trade and investment blocs, particularly the Triad (NAFTA, the EU and Japan), has concentrated economic transactions within and between these areas. The Triad accounts for two-thirds to three-quarters of the world’s economic activity, with shifting patterns of resources across each region. However, one element of inequality is particularly apparent: a significant proportion of the world’s population remains marginal or excluded from these networks. Recent research findings reinforce this point. Contrast the fact that over the last four decades, the world’s total product (the sum of all domestic products or GDPs) has quadrupled and the real per capita world product has doubled, with the fact that a large proportion of humankind hardly participates in the world economic system and economic prosperity.  As one author has recently summarized their conditions:

1.3 billion persons – that is 22 percent of the worlds population, lives below the poverty line.  As a consequence of such severe poverty 841 million persons (14 percent) are today malnourished; 880 million (15 percent) are without access to health services; one billion (17 percent) are without adequate shelter. 1.3 billion (22 percent) are without access to safe drinking water. 2 billion (33 per cent) are without electricity; and 2.6 billion (43 percent) are without access to sanitation.

Kelly and Prokhovnik’s account indicates a range of possible interpretations of ‘winners and losers’ from globalisation, ranging from everyone benefiting in the long run to us all being put at risk by international pollution, terrorism and the drugs trade. In particular though, they highlight the particular vulnerabilities that have been identified to the peoples of the poor ‘south’  from exploitative corporations, the unskilled and semi-skilled manual workers of the ‘north’ whose jobs may be exported in the search for cheap labour and women who may become the victims of a global sex trade as well as exploitative employers.

But the patterns of inequality and stratification which dominate today are not just economic or cultural. Political factors are at play as well. It is also interesting to study  how  and why globalisation is creating new forms of political inequality as some states and powers lie at the heart of the contemporary system of regional and global governance and others – essentially those excluded from the G7 and G8 – remain at the edge of involvement. McGrew stresses the way in which the contemporary global order can divide nations, exacerbate inequalities, intensify social exclusion and reinforce cultural clashes. In other words it can encourage and create a more fragmented and unruly world. He also raises the additional question of in whose interests the new regional and global systems govern; and he implies there is ‘a fatal flaw’ at the heart of the existing system of multi-layered global governance – namely, its lack of democratic credentials and legitimacy.

The upshot of the analyses found in the on-going debates on the question of winners and losers in the contemporary world order is that inequalities and stratification patterns are not just economic – profound as these are – but multi-dimensional. That is to say, culture, politics and other social factors interlace with economic factors to produce and reproduce diverse forms of inequalities, major social divisions and conflicts. These phenomena are deeply rooted with highly complicated origins and pose many serious demands – locally, nationally, regionally and globally. If these and related problems are to be addressed seriously, then politics will have to be rethought in certain respects. For we need to take our established ideas about political equality, social justice and liberty – ideas all rooted in the nation-state and the privileged territorial political community – and refashion these into a coherent political project which is robust enough for a world where power is exercised not just locally and nationally but also on a transnational scale, and where the consequence of political and economic decisions in one community can ramify across the globe. On this matter, there might he some agreement among the proponents in the various positions taken,  although the limits of such agreement, concerning many of the details involved are only too apparent.

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