Posts Tagged ‘Jeffry Frieden’

Gaining perspective on global capitalism

This weekend I finished an amazingly informative book by Jeffry Frieden, “Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.” If like me, you’re in search of greater perspective on the globalization debate, I highly recommend you read this book. Frieden, a Harvard professor, offers a balanced and objective assessment of global capitalism from the origins of the Industrial Revolution through the end of the 20th Century.

I know it was balanced because I remain torn between the two poles of opinion about globalization: On the one hand, global trade has vastly improved the fortunes of many poor countries and their citizens, e.g., South Korea, and more recently, China and India; on the other hand, it has left hundreds of millions behind with little hope of grabbing onto even the first rung of the economic ladder, especially (but not only) across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Indeed, as Frieden demonstrates repeatedly, global capitalism has always produced winners and losers. International trade helps exporters and many of those they employ and can result in greater choice and lower prices for consumers in importing countries. But it also produces losers among domestic manufacturers, farmers and other suppliers who cannot compete with cheaper imports, resulting in loss of jobs and family and community upheaval. This win-lose dynamic has been playing out for more than 100 years.

What’s different today – and what concerns me most – about global capitalism is the deplorable gap between the biggest winners and the biggest losers. As Frieden writes: “By 2000 the richest 1 percent of the world’s population earned substantially more than the poorest half; indeed, the combined wealth of the world’s two hundred richest individuals—more than a trillion dollars—was greater than the combined annual income of the poorest half of the world’s population.”

More than attacking globalization as evil, the issue for me is attacking the weaknesses in the system of international trade and finance that have enabled so much to go to so few and so little to so many. The “globalizers,” as Frieden calls them, clearly emerged victorious at the end of the last century and with the demise of communism, they appear to have unchallenged claim to write the rules of economic behavior worldwide. Of course, as Frieden reminds us, there was a “Golden Age” of global capitalism once before and that all came to a swift and shocking end when World War I began. It took another world war and many years more to re-establish global capitalism’s supremacy.

So the globalizers ought not to take anything for granted, starting with the support of the billions on Earth who have little or nothing to show for the globalizers’ ascendancy to the throne.