Although Joseph Stiglitz’s book Making Globalization Work came out more than a year ago, I did not read the book until the past week. However, the book is so important that I must write about it for my readers.
For many people, globalization is a fairly black and white issue: either you are for it or against it. I have been a critic of globalization in its present form here, here and here. While a few who have commented on those articles believe that this meant I was against globalization, that is not in fact the case. I am just against globalization in its present form because all governments have so far acted in what they perceive to be their best national interests, when in fact they are acting in their own very narrow national and often, corporate, interests and have left most of their own citizens behind. This is especially true in the case of the US government which, as Stiglitz outlines in this book, has acted mostly as a proxy for large corporate interests, putting the interests of most Americans and everyone else behind those narrow interests, and without much regard for the consequences.
Stiglitz is very candid about how these interests, for the most part, are in fact contrary to the interests of other countries and the vast majority of US citizens. This is very admirable as Stiglitz played a major role in the US government, serving as chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors in the Clinton administration and then in the World Bank, where he served as chief economist until January 2000. He is remarkably candid in his observations:
For much of the world, globalization as it has been managed seems like a pact with the devil. A few people in the country become wealthier; GDP statistics, for what they are worth, look better, but ways of life and basic values are threatened. For some parts of the world, the gains are even more tenuous, the costs more palpable. Closer integration into the world economy has brought greater volatility and insecurity, and more inequality. It has even threatened fundamental values.
This is not how it has to be. We can make globalization work, not just for the rich and powerful but for all people, including those in the poorest countries. The task will be long and arduous. We have already waited for too long. The time to begin is now.
These two paragraphs work for the citizens of all countries, not just the US and China.
Stiglitz comprehensively covers the problems with globalization chapter by chapter:
- Another World is Possible
- The Promise of Development
- Making Trade Fair
- Patents, Profits and People
- Lifting the Resource Curse
- Saving the Planet
- The Multinational Corporation
- The Burden of Debt
- Reforming the Global Reserve System
- Democratizing Globalization
Step by step, he looks at the current situation and its inequities, and proposes remedies so that globalization will work not just for the rich, but for the poor as well. His remedies are well thought-out and balanced, and also very well presented.
My question is: What are the chances of their adoption? I would say that I am not sanguine about the chances. There are too many variables at work, and so far, politicians have not shown the capability of national leaderships to rise above narrow interests. Even when it comes to narrow interests, they do not do the right things.
For example, let’s look at global warming, a problem which is literally becoming more serious every year. This will quickly lead to a series of cascading events which will rapidly spiral out of control, threatening the very existence of humanity as we know it. While there are very well-meaning people who want to do more to clean up the environment, they lack the basic understanding of economics to understand what needs to be done.
Essentially, we are keeping the costs of energy production artificially low by not figuring in the costs of environmental damage and healthcare upfront. This is the reason carbon emissions in China are running out of control.
Governments’ policies in pursuit of cheap energy are literally destroying future generations all over the world, since they will have to shoulder the costs of cleanup.
If there are future generations.
What is the real cost of economic development if future generations have to pay in shorter lifespans, lower quality of life, and a much more hostile environment where the people who are left are crowded into the relatively habitable parts of the planet?
Making Globalization Work shows that the future does not have to look like Mad Max. But are we smart enough to avoid it?
If you are interested in the future, then you must read this book.