The Three Waves of Globalization

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/17/2007 07:12:00 PM
In a review of recent books by Rajan Menon and Daniel Drezner, the Economist seems to find novelty in the idea that globalization is not all it's cracked up to be. Menon champions a strong American unilateral policy in the belief that international organizations are pretty much useless in this day and age--just as the neoconservatives do (or is that did?) On the other hand, Drezner advocates that states use their powers to shape international organizations to better cope with problems with increasingly transnational dimensions like pollution and food safety. In this context, Drezner highlights the point that states--especially powerful ones--still make the rules. While I subscribe to this viewpoint, I must point out that there is a well-developed, chiefly English literature stream on globalization that has covered this ground much earlier. In it there are three waves of globalization:

The hyperglobalist view holds that we live during the "End of History" (Francis Fukuyama), where the "World is Flat" (Thomas Friedman), and the "End of the Nation-State" (Kenichi Ohmae) is at hand. Supposedly, it is now global finance and corporate capital--not states--that exercise decisive influence over the organization, location, and distribution of economic power and wealth.

The skeptical view cautions against making such sweeping claims about the totalizing nature of globalization. Most notable among those holding this view are Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson who put "Globalization in Question." They point out that, actually, the volume of trade as a percentage of national income was higher in most European countries during the pre-WWI era than it is now. They further add that trade and FDI activity has largely been concentrated in North America, Europe, and East Asia--hence, what is called globalization is in reality just regionalization.

The transformationalist view propounded by the likes of David Held and Anthony McGrew as well as Colin Hay attempts to find a middle ground between the hyperglobalist and skeptical views. It puts current globalization trends in a longer-term perspective of what occurred well before our epoch--like slavery and the creation of nation-states. Power struggles among nation-states and with other actors such as terrorist organizations and multinational corporations are ongoing, but they are now conditioned by the time-space compression of modernity in its many guises. In this view, globalization is a contested arena where there is no teleological certainty that states will disappear or that states will maintain largely undiminished power over their internal affairs. Rather, in Colin Hay's apt description, globalization is "a tendency to which there are countertendencies."

Most likely, as Drezner points out, globalization is not a wholly unique phenomenon that is washing upon us to remove all else, but the latest in a series of events with far-reaching and uneven effects. I am wary of claims that "everything is different now" because they seldom are so. Here is an excellent summary of the globalization literature that was written by Held and McGrew for the Oxford Companion to Politics. It's a shame that the work of English academics sometimes gets overlooked, even by their own press (tsk tsk the Economist), but there is a lot of valuable work being done here across the Atlantic as well.