HOME  |  CONTACT US  |
 
Globalization and Its Discontents

by Joseph Stiglitz
282 pages,
ISBN: 0393051242

Fences and Windows:
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate


by Naomi Klein
296 pages,
ISBN: 0676975518

On Globalization

by George Soros
191 pages,
ISBN: 1586481258


Post Your Opinion
Money, Three Ways
by Shane Neilson

Naomi Klein, doyenne of green-haired suburboradicals. George Soros, billionaire philanthropist. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-winning economist¨all three of these authors are quite concerned about what we all want¨wealth. Each is even more concerned with the moral dimensions of wealth¨less what we want, and more what we should have and others should have.
Klein is the junior correspondent of the group. The most mediogenic of these figures, she has written the most vapid volume, one well suited to sound bite culture. Klein damningly describes the book's creation with the following: "These columns, essays and speeches, written for The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications, were dashed off in hotel rooms late at night after protests in Washington and Mexico City, in Independent Media Centres, on way too many planes." The book's premise then amounts to grabbing a headline (a protest, say, or a coup) in order to make one under deadline. The subtitle of Fences and Windows raises an immediate red flag. As a book of rapid-fire "Dispatches", it isn't a reasoned or sustained argument for any unifying principle other than that most tired of recent stances¨"Globalization is bad." Instead, it's a collection of newspaper columns and speeches Klein wrote on the campaign trail, so to speak, as the de facto spokesperson for her movement.
Perhaps Klein is also tiring of her college-guru status, for she seems embarrassed about her book. The very first words to be found within are these: "This is not a follow up to No Logo, the book about the rise of anti-corporate activism that I wrote between 1995 and 1999." Well, what is it then? A non-follow up? As the book released chronologically after No Logo, it follows No Logo, although it is clear that the movement in quality is not "up" but down. The real Naomi Klein did write this book¨unless the corporations replaced her with an identical clone, one equally bent on their destruction.
The ideological failure of this book is total. Klein immediately sets out her soft targets in the prefaces:

When schools were underfunded or water supply was contaminated, it used to be blamed on the inept financial management and outright financial corruption of individual national governments. Now, thanks to a surge in cross-border information swapping, such problems were being recognized as the local effects of a particular global ideology, one enforced by national politicians but conceived of centrally by a handful or corporate interests and international institutions, including the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Oooh, the dirty threesome. Klein casts them as three of the horsemen of the apocalypse, along with the quotation's other unmentioned baddie, the United States of America. Say their name in a negative context enough, blame them enough, and people may begin to believe that all the trouble in the world is the result of ill-meaning bankers and financiers at America's beck and call. The logic at work in Fences and Windows is insipid, at no higher level than that of a basic word-recognition capacity. A global conspiracy is tautologically assumed by definition; because the words "International" and "World" appear in the names of the WTO, IMF, and WB, they must be guilty. They smack of globalization!
Fences and Windows espouses an intellectual sloppiness that approaches dishonesty. Linking world bodies to world poverty isn't fair if only their names are invoked as a preliminary in order for our intrepid cultural reporter to cut to scenes of abject poverty. The meat of the WTO's destructive policies are never linked to endpoints. Guilt is assigned, but never reasoned out. Worse yet, not a single word is applied to the task of treating her targets fairly. The acronymic bodies are presented as uniformly evil and counterproductive. If the IMF did indeed do this and that bad deed, Klein writes out the negative consequence as if it were foregone and deliberate. To her, the Four Horsemen are solely out to profiteer, their nefarious natures incapable of implementing any beneficial policy, or even any mixed ones. Aren't the debtor¨and often undemocratic¨ governments to blame somewhere in all of this? Follow this logic:
No wonder so many who sang Argentina's praises in the past are now rushing to blame its economic collapse exclusively on national greed and corruption. "If a country thinks they're going to get aid from the United States, and they're stealing money, they're just not going to get it," George W. Bush said in Mexico last week. Argentina "is going to have to make some tough calls."

So "some", but especially the U.S. and dumb W., think that Argentina has a corruption problem. Klein writes in the following paragraph:
Argentina's population, which has been in open revolt against its political, financial and legal elite for months, hardly has to be lectured on the need for good governance. In the last federal election, more people spoiled their ballots than voted for any single politician. The most popular write-in candidate was a cartoon character named Clemente, chosen because he has no hands and cannot steal.

So, not only do "some" think the country corrupt, the Argentine populace does so too. Where's the big a-ha! here?
The idiocy continues (though I'm skipping ahead a few pages) with Klein's castigation of the current Liberal government policy directing significant funds towards our borders to improve the flow of goods in either direction and make our country safer. Klein writes,

When Canadians accepted cutbacks to health care, unemployment insurance and other social programs, we were told that this austerity was necessary to attract foreign investors. We weren't trading our social programs for free trade, the boosters said¨on the contrary, only free trade would generate the kind of prosperity needed to rebuild our social programs. ButÓ it turns out that the budget surplus will not be used to make people more secure. It will be used to make people more secure, to "keep our borders open" as Martin said. The proceeds of cross-border trade are going back into the border itself: to make it a terrorist-fighting and free-trade-flowing superborder. This, it turns out, is the legacy of all those years of belt-tightening: not a better society but a really great border."

What's Klein arguing here? That the border should be more closed? That thousands of Canadians should lose their jobs so that they can happily benefit from expanded social programs? That improving border security actually doesn't make Canadians more secure? That it's unimportant to improve screening for potential terrorists? That a terrorist attack of unprecedented magnitude should breed national security complacency amongst our leaders? Only a zealot can argue so poorly.
And inchoate is not, by definition, definitive. In the essay "What's Next?", Klein describes the anti-globalization movement as diffuse and non-hierarchical, asserting that a lack of overarching ideology is a healthy sign of survival, even strength. Musn't a movement be articulate in order to achieve anything productive? What is it that Klein et al. wants? A Perfect Globe (minus theűization), a blue-skies calendar with a perpetual series of conference dates marked on it?
Klein convincingly indicted corporatism in her first book. This tack is also the strongest line the author takes in her non-follow-up. Corporate abuses are commonplace, lying like fodder for the contemporary cultural journalist. Where Klein's claws slip is on the governmental side of things. Corporations may indeed be faceless evils, but governments aren't, and governments are malleable institutions by nature of their accountability. Why is Klein so hard on the organs of these governments which give money by the trillions to creditor nations? Public good lies somewhere in the sum equation, even allowing for the obvious corporate trade-offs.
An ugly theory long applied to the Atlantic Provinces after the seat of Canada's economic power shifted to Ontario is that the East has a "defeatist attitude" because of inherent financial incentives to collect unemployment. Apply the same principle to international markets: should we automatically assume that because the Western world gives someone money, we should expect that the act will lead to independent wealth-generation in the target country? Furthermore, should there be some strings attached to this lump sum in order to keep the recipient country honest, or should the money be given freely, with no expectation of repayment? Should the beneficence of debt relief precede the fact of debt¨should the 'rightness' of providing loan money preclude the obligation to pay back loans according to the terms negotiated? To Klein and her fellow foes of globalization, debt relief is a holy writ; stand against it by asking any questions and be "branded" a foe.
In Fences and Windows, every culpable suit is tied to a corresponding civilian sad sack Klein meets on the streets during her jaunts at home and abroad. These unfortunate individual cases are of course tragedies. Klein is so absolute in her loyalties, and so uncompromising in her beliefs when she writes, "Economic analysis is supposed to be about the peg to the dollar, 'pesoification', and the dangers of 'stagflation'¨not children losing homes or elderly women's gaping wounds." I'm entitled to be the same. Where is the old stomach lady you met in Buenos Aries now, Naomi? Do you correspond? Did you give her money to fix her "gaping wounds"? Is she to pay you back? Really, how easy is it to write these columns? To go to some poor place and say: "I have literally seen the wounds inflicted by the West!", then recline amidst the media morass, stomach filled by the fees your polemics command?
Klein maintains that the anti-globalization effort is "Óan intricate process of thousands of people tying their destinies together simply by sharing ideas and telling stories about how abstract economic theories affect their daily lives." Heartfelt sharing while experiencing the mucous-membrane burn of tear gas is undoubtedly a good thing, but authoritative policies are the reason why protestors are rubbing their eyes. With more attention paid to these policies, an actual follow-up could be written. Klein could use this follow-up to address what she would have organizations like the WTO and the IMF do, bearing in mind that a successful protest is not one that results in "shutting down" a meeting of financial representatives; a successful protest is forcing those representatives into a dialogue. Unlike the movement she espouses, in her next book Klein will need to be articulate and not exclusively anti. When this happens, governments will have to respond in a manner other than with security measures. I daresay the book that will effect this change must be greater than serial one-offs.

George Soros' tone in his book On Globalization is largely opposite to that of Klein's. He's got a plan. And as a billionaire, he's got the authority on money matters buttressed by a lengthy row of zeros. He's also the world's preeminent philanthropist, being one of the most generous men in history. In his book, Soros lays out an actual platform for change in a veritable bonanza of financial planning. He writes:
I have spent most of the last five years studying the defects of globalization and have written several books and articles on the subject. My last book, Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism, was rather weak, however, when it came to prescribing solutions. This book is meant, in part, to make up for that deficiency.

The other gulf between Klein and Soros is that Soros's approach is balanced. Soros considers each international body in its turn, registering their pros and cons in an even tone. Whereas Klein is one-sided, Soros identifies the faults in both kinds of arguments. A general example:
I was stimulated to embark on this undertaking [this book] by what I saw as an unwitting alliance between market fundamentalists on the far Right and antiglobalization activists on the far Left. They make strange bedfellows, but between them they are well on their way to downsizing or destroying the international institutions we already have.

Where Klein and Soros converge is in their mutual desire to effect positive change in the world. Soros writes, "I believe the book in its final version puts forward a constructive agenda that the public could support and the governments of the world implementÓ[t]he scheme will not cure all the ills of globalization¨nothing will¨but it should help to make the world a better place."
They also agree that what Soros terms as market fundamentalism, the idea that it is best to allow the 'invisible hand' of the marketplace to wave its invisible wand and magically make things better¨in underdeveloped countries subscribing to mandated financial principles¨is based on unreliable assumptions. Yet Soros documents the folly of such a strategy by referring to the literature, as opposed to simply buying an airplane ticket and checking out the public mood in the country of the week. Though Soros confirms Klein's observation that a system which "liberates capital instead of people" is undesirable, only Soros provides a well-reasoned debunking of such a system. He argues that laws and a general sense of civility, the bond of cordiality between human beings, cannot be left to a market system because "[m]arkets are designed to facilitate the free exchange of goods and services among willing participants, but they are not capable, on their own, of taking care of collective needs such as law and order or the maintenance of the market mechanism itselfÓ[m]arkets are amoral." In other words, how we treat each other must be separate from how we buy and sell from each other.
Soros' major thesis is that the money machine has roared ahead of morality, and that while market fundamentalism is in ascendancy, concern for the economically disadvantaged is not. International financial institutions have indeed prospered, espousing a bottom-line gospel, a means of doing "business without judgement." He believes that there should be international political bodies whose business lies at the moral end of things, in the redistribution of wealth to benefit the poorer man.
He states, moreover, that the chief problem facing developing countries is their own political systems, a fact often ignored by globalization-demonizers. Soros believes that a global financial system more ethically-oriented than the present would act not only to encourage economic gain amongst participants, but also better governance.
Soros is the ultimate globalizer; he wants an "open" society, as argued in his previous books. Yet in the achievement of such a goal, our national identities would necessarily be eroded. This is the central problem or advantage in Soros's thinking, depending on one's view. If the sewing together of culture into one homogenous quilt appeals to you, then you'd agree with him; if you abhor the loss of political sovereignty which would follow since regulatory bodies would be empowered to reverse local decisions, then you're out.
Soros believes that globalization, properly instituted, is not a zero-sum outcome, but instead capable of accommodating both profit and charity. The rich reap rewards while the poor become less poor. He envisions a system of redistribution, based on the creation and implementation of international rules and agencies designed to enforce an institutionalized form of transaction-based aid.
The chief difficulty with Soros's proposal is that nations would effectively surrender their sovereignty if they subscribed to his more moral system, basically a tax on foreign reserves. The number of international trade bodies would increase, and there would be more regulation. Soros's system would appear unfair to developed countries at the outset, and so the chances of his proposal being implemented in the current climate are small. The United States has a long history of fiercely protecting its own financial interests with impromptu tariffs, refusing to join international initiatives that are of obvious benefit to the world in general (The International War Crimes Tribunal, The International Land Mines Treaty, the Kyoto Accord are a few recent examples). The recent climate of U.S. unilateralism in military (Iraq) and trade matters (The Softwood Lumber dispute with Canada, the bizarre restrictions on imported steel) makes the prospect of the big guy voluntarily adopting financial restrictions unlikely.

Stiglitz and Klein have similar attitudes since both are fierce critics of globalization. However, Stiglitz differs from Klein in that he defines his terms, he references his quotes, he elucidates the inner workings of the institutions he takes to task (as well as providing a brief history of those institutions, their original mandate and pattern of practice), and he makes a sustained argument for what he believes. Stiglitz writes,
One should not see unemployment as just a statistic, an economic "body count," the unintended casualties in the fight against inflation or to ensure that Western banks get repaid. The unemployed are people, with families, whose lives are affected¨sometimes devastated¨by the economic policies that outsiders recommend, and, in the case of the IMF, effectively impose. Modern high-tech warfare is designed to remove physical contact: dropping bombs from 50,000 feet ensures that one does not 'feel' what one does. Modern economic management is similar: from one's luxury hotel, one can callously impose policies about which one would think twice if one knew the people whose lives one was destroying.

G&ID is a highly personal book that surpasses Soros's in sheer readability. Whereas Soros writes in disjointed paragraphs, each expressing a single idea but usually only tangentially related to the paragraphs that come after, Stiglitz is a world-class economist whose literary style can engage even the non-specialist. Presiding as chairman of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers and later as chief of the World Bank, Stiglitz can be trusted to know of what he speaks. (His Nobel Prize for Economics and the high regard shown him by fellow economists also comes to mind.) The book is largely the story of Stiglitz's struggle to combat his perceived enemy¨the IMF and the alternately evil or misguided actions of its functionaries. Therefore a slight credibility problem arises. Because the IMF and the World Bank are separate institutions, one expects a certain amount of animosity between rivals. The example of American security services is instructive here: Although the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Security Agency all have different official mandates, while sharing the basic purpose of protecting Americans, they also often act in opposition to one another. Turf wars occur frequently, information sharing is avoided, and one-upmanship continues to be the usual practice. Likewise, the IMF and World Bank, with their structurally different mandates, compete in pursuing common goals¨both are supposed to act to decrease world poverty. One surely intuits Stiglitz's brio when reading his uninterrupted criticism of the WB's sister service and his strange abstention from criticizing his own institution. Stiglitz adopts a line that is often too strident¨which is ironic considering his concerns about the IMF's "inviolate orthodoxy." After describing what is wrong with focusing on inflation as the be-all marker of a country's economic health, he writes, "To most economists, inflation is not so much an end in itself, but a means to an end: it is because excessively high inflation often leads to no growth, and low growth leads to high unemployment, that inflation is so frowned upon. But the IMF often seems to confuse means with ends, thereby losing sight of what is ultimately of concern. A country like Argentina can get an "A" grade, even if it has double-digit unemployment for years, so long as its budget seems in balance and its inflation seems in control!"
But those may be better markers of performance than those available prior to IMF's heavy involvement, when Argentina couldn't lay claim to any number of macroeconomic signs of health.
Another instance occurs in Stiglitz's discussion of the Botswana post-independence experience. In the face of a looming financial crisis following many years of relative prosperity, Botswanians¨who had arrived at their economic model largely without the help of world financial institutions¨decided to impose austerity measures on themselves. Stiglitz then lampoons an IMF team dispatched to Botswana around this time: "The IMF mission that came in 1981, quite amusingly, found it very difficult to impose new conditions, because Botswana had already done so many of the things that they would have insisted upon." These fiscal restraints revived the Botswana economy, begging the question: is Stiglitz arguing that IMF policy works? Pick-and-choose examples undermine Stiglitz's assertion of malfeasant globalization, but only somewhat; the author musters too much evidence of poor economic advice (advice that could only be offered in a Heller novel) to do too much damage to his thesis. His strongest argument is made when he reveals the manifest disparity between developed and developing countries' positions vis-a-vis the IMF. As an insider to American economic policy in the 1990s, Stiglitz regularly received the wrong-headed advice of IMFers and ignored it because he could. To a captain of the most powerful nation in the world, IMF displeasure was of small concern. But in a developing country dependent upon IMF clearance of loans, the relationship is shown to be a little different. Think of a parent-child relationship and you get the idea. Ignore pappy Fund's orders and you get grounded. Literally.
Rarely do academics make such a great contribution to scholarship and public service; this book also attests to Stiglitz's literary skill and ability to craft a convincing argument, no doubt honed in the grudge matches, attempting to catch the ear of the American president and stop the IMF from immolating world economies. This is the book that slays globalization as practiced by the IMF; all that remains to be done is the enlistment of another eminent thinker to write a more balanced take on recent financial history, for Stiglitz is compromised with a partisan voice¨albeit a very compelling one.
At the core, each of these three books possesses an activist agenda. Soros's moral arguments form the foundation for his proposal of a financial system designed to rectify imbalanced wealth distribution currently in effect; Stiglitz's indictments of past policy provide an evidential framework for criticizing globalization; Klein's reportage does little more than update us, correspondent-style, on the most recent protest. Both of the policy-laden books were written by worthy Americans who proved themselves masters of the real and academic markets. These latter books made me revisit Fences and Windows and think that Klein's heart may indeed be in the right place. But like the Sixties, man, it's not enough just to have been there. ˛
footer

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us