has already placed much of its Winter issue online, including this observation
from editor Robin Ramsey:
If globalisation has failed, then we return to the nation state. Do you see anyone on the left thinking about this? I don’t. And no wonder: nation segues into nationalism, and this is the territory of the right and far right. So there’s the big necessary project: how to detoxify the notion of the nation state and make it acceptable to the left.
Ramsey is quoting himself here. The words I've presented above originally appeared in an excellent interview
he gave in 2012.
Let's give a little more thought to the problem of whether globalization stands outside the traditional concepts of right and left. I'm old enough to recall a time when terms like "global" and "international" had Marxist overtones. Marx was among the 19th century radicals who favored a world bereft of national boundaries. That was yesterday's utopia.
We now live in a world in which boundaries decay. Yet the people who stride across those boundaries are hardly Marxists, are they?
As Ramsay noted in the above-referenced interview:
It’s clear that all over Europe (i.e. EU Europe), bar the Czech Republic, the ideology of pre-WW2 classical liberalism is the prevailing view; and quite a few ex-members of Goldman Sachs have been parachuted into positions at or close to the top of EU members governments – Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, France and Greece – to make sure there is no default on Goldman Sachs loans.
So we now have an international economic elite which salutes no flag and which operates high above the concept of the nation-state. But this elite is not an entity that Marx would have cared for. No lefty on earth thinks of Lloyd Blankfein as "our guy."
(Granted, there are some far-right savants who would argue that Goldman Sachs -- and everything it represents -- should
be categorized as a left-wing phenomenon. The Wall Streeters are actually bolshies
: This was the position of Cleon Skousen, the kook who inspired Glenn Beck. The folks who think this way are impossible to take seriously, yet their weird ideas retain a certain popular appeal.)
So the question stands. If you are a liberal, and you don't like what globalization has wrought, are you now a flag-waving nationalist?
Let's make the argument a little more specific. Let's talk about China.
When we mention globalization, most of us immediately think of China. We think of the manufacturing jobs we've lost to cheap Chinese imports.
But the problem of China may be also be construed as a problem of nationalism
. Not globalization.
Yesterday, I heard a National Public Radio interview
with Beth Macy
, author of Factory Man
, a book about globalization and its impact on the American furniture trade. Although I've not yet read the book, the story that Macy tells in that interview is lot more riveting than you might think. (This reviewer
wittily calls her work "A Game of Chairs.")
From a piece by Macy which recently appeared in The New Yorker
In the mid-twentieth century, Bassett Furniture Industries, in Bassett, Virginia, was one of the largest wood-furniture makers in the world. Its name was the one often inscribed on the back of the bedroom suites behind Door Number Three on “Let’s Make a Deal.” The Baby Boom was on, and people needed to furnish the homes they were buying in the suburbs.
Then, in recent decades, came a familiar challenge: Bassett was undercut by imports from Asia and under pressure from shareholders to improve its profit margins. By 2007, it had closed all the plants in Bassett and decided to focus on importing wood products from lower-wage factories in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
An American company that once employed ten thousand people has reduced its workforce by 90 percent. Question: Were the displaced workers victims of globalization -- or of nationalism?
Most people would say: "Globalization. It's obvious." But look closer.
One spin-off of the former Bassett furniture empire was the Vaughan-Bassett factory, run by John Bassett III. (The family dynamics are interesting but have no bearing on our present argument.) In her interview, Macy tells an important story about the Bassett scion, who was particularly perturbed by a Chinese copy of one of his own pieces -- a bedroom set, if I recall correctly.
How (he asked himself) could the Chinese sell the thing for such a ludicrously low price?
Most people would immediately say "low wages," but even taking that factor into account did not suffice to explain the mystery. Bassett investigated. He sent people into China to look into the situation.
Turns out the Chinese government has been subsidizing the factory
-- taking a loss on each item sold in order to destroy the American competition.
At this point, you may now want to fire up Ebay. The ultra-low prices on many of those goods suddenly look rather suspicious, don't they?
This revelation forces us to confront some key questions:
1. Should we continue to use the term "globalization" to describe what China has been getting up to? Maybe it would be better to see their strategy as a form of economic warfare. Nation against nation. Nationalism.
2. As Robin Ramsay says, "the ideology of pre-WW2 classical liberalism is the prevailing view." Neo-liberal ideology assures us that laissez-faire will always win; that capitalism will always make a bedroom set much more efficiently than a state-run enterprise ever could. All right. If that's the case, then why are we being clobbered by state-subsidized Chinese enterprises?
China is still officially communist. And they're killing us.
3. How can American industry be protected if not by state action -- by import tarriffs, by investment in domestic industry? (That's more or less how things worked throughout those prosperous few decades after World War II.) The right would decry such a system as "socialism," while the left would decry it as "crony capitalism."
4. If you are a liberal who thinks that state action is preferable to letting China rape us, aren't you now a nationalist? (This question brings us back to the point Ramsay made at the beginning of our essay.)
5. Since this conundrum does not easily rest on the traditional left-right ideological spectrum, the time has come to ask: Has that spectrum failed us? Have the very labels "left" and "right" prevented us from seeing what is really going on in the world?