About the speaker: Anthony Giddens is Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science and has served as an advisor to both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bill Clinton. He is known around the world for his writings in the areas of sociology, politics, and social theory, and he is the author or editor of more than thirty books, which have been translated into as many languages. Giddens' most recent volume, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives, was published by Routledge in 1999. Other recent works include The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1998) and Beyond Left and Right (1994). Eight books by other authors, including one four-volume study, have been specifically devoted to Giddens' work.
There can be no doubt, argued Anthony Giddens, that we are living through a period of great political, economic, and social change?a period that may well be as significant as the changes wrought 200 years ago with the origins of Western industrial civilization. The concept that best captures the current process of change is globalization?a reorganization of the basic institutions of society, from the family to structures of governance. Globalization is a term that has become pervasive in politics and popular discourse, but its widespread use is only a recent phenomenon.
"The debate now is about the consequences of globalization, not about the reality of globalization."
The early debate on globalization in the mid-1980s sought to determine if this concept was an accurate description of changes that were occurring. On the one side, skeptics of the notion argued that the degree of global integration had been greatly exaggerated and that there was nothing fundamentally new about the globalism that did exist. Global trading markets, currency exchange, mass migration, passport-free travel, and an international cosmopolitan culture were all features of the world 100 years before. This position appealed to the traditional left, for if there were no change in the international environment, then there would be no need for concurrent changes in institutions and no need for new left politics. On the other side, "hyberglobalizers" trumpeted a world of dramatic transformation and new global dynamics?a world dominated by corporations and technologies, where government has no real power and people have no faith in traditional politics. Giddens argued that this debate is now a thing of the past. "The debate now is about the consequences of globalization, not about the reality of globalization."
In today?s great globalization debate, all sides accept that the world has been transformed in a fundamental manner. Currently we are witnessing much more cross-border trade in physical commodities and an even more dramatic increase in trade in services and information. Yet Giddens argued that "it is a fundamental mistake to conceptualize globalization in purely economic terms?. Globalization, I think, is fundamentally social, cultural, [and] political, not just economic." Globalization is about macro-systemic changes in the global marketplace and the nature of sovereignty, but it is also about the here and now, about transformations that affect our daily and emotional lives.
"Instantaneous communication changes almost everything. It invades the texture of everyday life, but it also provides for the restructuring of other institutions."
Giddens argued that the driving force behind globalization is the information revolution. "Instantaneous communication?changes almost everything. It invades the texture of everyday life, but it also provides for the restructuring of other institutions." The outcome of this revolution is a highly complex set of processes that often take contradictory shapes, but one can simplify the concept of globalization with a three-fold image. Globalization pulls away from the nation-state, removing control from national governments in such areas as economic and trade policy. But globalization also pushes down from the state, allocating new resources for local economies, facilitating the emergence of local cultural identities, and strengthening sub-national units of governance. Finally, globalization squeezes sideways, creating new cultural, economic, and political regions that cut across national boundaries. Barcelona, for instance, is a city in Spain, but it is also the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region with many cultural and economic ties to southern France and with special status in the European Union.
Common but contradictory conceptions of globalization portray the process either as a conscious policy-driven practice that can be reversed, or as an exogenous force that nobody can really control. Each of these visions is only partly true. Deliberate government policy is an essential driver of globalization, but its impact cannot be reversed through government policy. Nor is globalization the untamable force that marginalizes the masses, spreading inequalities and trampling on humanity while it benefits the few at the expense of the many. There is merit in protestors? recent claims that globalization is producing unacceptable insecurities in the world?but there is also a role for government to guide the process so that numerous benefits are spread widely and ordinary people are the real winners.
To outline his vision of government steering globalization for the benefit of the many, Giddens presented three sets of points. First, the critics? notion that corporations now rule the world is an oversimplified statement of a more nuanced phenomenon. Corporate influence in trade and economic policy may be on the rise, but this form of "globalization from above" coexists with "globalization from below"?the empowerment of these corporations? opponents in civil society, who make use of the same technologies to organize globally and exert their own political influence. The rise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has created an important form of countervailing power in the world economy; they are part and parcel of the process of globalization. Corporations such as Monsanto and Shell have shown that they ignore NGOs at their peril and that their activities are increasingly transparent to those groups that would monitor and contest them. Furthermore, the traditional image of powerful corporations running the world does not take into account that power and influence in the global economy change rapidly; the top ten corporations twenty years ago bear no resemblance to the top ten of today.
"By and large globalization can be a medium of increasing equality. It is not simply condemned to be a medium of increasing inequality."
Second, Giddens contested the oft-stated claim that economic globalization and free trade exacerbate inequality. Judging by naked statistics alone, inequality in the world has grown in recent years. However, if one includes quality of life measurements such as literacy and health in the definition, global inequality has actually declined. Even in countries where increasing inequality does coincide with a period of globalization, one cannot conclude that open markets are necessarily at fault. In the United States, inequality (measured narrowly) was on the rise from 1970 to 1995, but studies suggest that only a small portion of this increase can be traced to free trade. Ten to fifteen percent is due to technological change and decreasing demands for unskilled labor, but the major driving force is change in family structures?the growth of single parent families in a country with only a limited welfare system. Looking at the world as a whole, there is no clear relationship between open or closed economies and inequality. Statistics do seem to indicate that poor countries with open economies have enjoyed higher growth rates, and it is fair to say that no country has prospered while disengaged from the world economy. The question for developing countries is not whether to engage, but on which terms to do so.
In this light, Giddens echoed Joseph Stiglitz? recent call for a third way in development policy, charting a middle ground for the state between the dirigiste model and free-market orthodoxy. Pointing to the success stories of Korea and Ireland?both of which developed rapidly with the helping (but not stifling) hand of the state?Giddens expressed an optimistic view of globalization and income distribution. "By and large globalization can be a medium of increasing equality," he argued. "It is not simply condemned to be a medium of increasing inequality." Rich countries are obligated to help, Giddens maintained, but the governments of poor countries must also commit to economic restructuring. In no case is disengagement from the global economy the way forward for the developing world.
"Globalization is not sustainable, that?s one of the points that the critics in Seattle were making. We have to make it so, and I believe that collaborated action of well motivated left-of-center governments is important."
Giddens? third point followed closely on his second. Far from being rendered irrelevant, government still has an important role to play in the process of globalization; if anything, it is even more important in today?s world. The goal for policymakers, however, is not just a traditional leftist policy of expanding national government. Government?s role must be rearticulated, and this is where the "third way" comes in. "Third way politics is really an attempt to argue how you can make left-of-center values count in a world of fundamental transformation where traditional leftist policies have lost their purchase," he noted. "Globalization is not sustainable, that?s one of the points that the critics in Seattle were making. We have to make it so, and I believe that collaborated action of well motivated left-of-center governments is important." The window of opportunity for such collaboration is now open, but its future depends upon the fate of progressive modernizing governments in the U.S., Britain, Europe, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Korea, and Taiwan.
In addition to enlightened policy at the national level, managing transnational problems of the future will require effective global governance. While acknowledging the challenges inherent in such cooperation, Giddens expressed optimism at the prospects for global governance and highlighted the European Union as a pioneering endeavor to create transnational democracy. In short, the goal of governance (global and national) in today?s world should be to ensure that the sources of power in society remain in balance. "In my view," he stated, "you can?t have a decent world where any one of the three?core institutions of society dominates the others. You don?t want a society dominated by markets, you don?t want a society dominated by government, [and] you don?t want a society dominated by civil society either."
In conclusion, Giddens sounded a note of caution about learning from mistakes of the past. In today?s world, no one should be overly sanguine about the rosy prospects of globalization while ignoring the fact that it will take concerted effort to achieve this vision. Looking at the beginning of the twenty-first century, one discovers eerie analogues with the start of the twentieth, a period of globalization in its own right that witnessed many of the same predictions people are making now. In the early 1900s, visionaries also proclaimed the end of the nation-state and the obsolescence of war, predictions that were rapidly belied by events that would ensue. This earlier era of globalization spawned the most violent century in recorded history, and there is no guarantee that our own future does not hold more of the same. Still, Giddens argued, "I do believe that we?ve got the obligation to try again, that 100 years ago there was at least some possibility of creating a decent, harmonious, reasonably integrated world society. I think that this is a much more intense age of globalization than it was before?and I believe this time it?s at least conceivable that we might succeed."
Attendees initiated a lively discussion in the question and answer session following Giddens? presentation. One asked about the likelihood of a significant backlash among Europeans against the United States? role as dominant world power, and what impact this might have on political alliances. Giddens acknowledged pockets of anti-Americanism in Europe and said that the future direction of this sentiment was somewhat unpredictable, but he surmised that Europeans would actually miss enlightened American leadership if the U.S. pursues increasing isolationism in the future. As educators and shapers of public opinion, we have a responsibility to build a more enlightened globalized world, and American leadership is an important component of that.
Anthony Giddens takes questions from the audience.
Two members of the audience addressed the theme of globalization and inequality. One questioned Giddens? distinction between strict economic inequality and quality of life, suggesting that the two are really quite inseparable. Giddens acknowledged the relationship between these two factors, but he maintained that quality of life does depend on more than just income distribution. Two countries with similar levels of economic inequality, he argued, can come out very differently on quality of life measures. Another attendee suggested that what really matters to the poor is not inequality or equality, but reducing absolute levels of poverty. In response, Giddens affirmed the importance of both redistribution and growth. The upper strata may amass significant amounts of wealth during their lifetimes, he noted, but we should not let them pass all of this wealth on to subsequent generations. Redistribution is not the entire answer, however; growth is also crucial. If the gains of economic development can be shared by the poor, everyone will benefit.
Several other issues were raised during the Q&A session as well. One member of the audience noted a "governance gap" in development policy and asked about the role of non-governmental organizations. Giddens acknowledged that NGOs have an important role to play in governance, but that many NGOs are not themselves democratic and that we cannot run the world through NGOs. We still need to shift to a more sophisticated notion of governance, he argued, involving collaborative action of political leaders of the right persuasion. Another attendee asked about the role of the corporate world in globalization. Giddens replied that he would like to see a new form of responsible capitalism that could profit while spreading the benefits of globalization. Neither the Rhineland/Japanese model of responsible capitalism nor the American style of shareholding capitalism is the right model for the future, he argued. He suggested we take another look at the European social model as practiced in Scandinavia. As for specific policies, Giddens encouraged stricter regulation of tax havens and banking practices, to diminish capital flight, improve national economies and also spread social benefit.
Finally, one audience member noted the importance of immigration to continued economic dynamism and asked how Europe would manage this issue. Giddens responded that immigration is perhaps the most fundamental problem to face European democracies in the future. Structural racism runs deep in Europe, and the region has no real history of assimilating ethnically different groups. It will be hard, Giddens noted, for center-left governments to avoid being pulled to the right on the issue of immigration. The only solution, he surmised, is to combine strict immigration control with good treatment of immigrants once they have arrived. Without this policy, Giddens argued, he didn?t see how the left could continue to hold power in Europe.
Report prepared by Taylor Boas