miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2009


Prasenjit Maiti*

The contemporary globalizing State can be compared to Janus - it has a robust face in the developed North but an almost impotent face in the developing or underdeveloped South. So globalization necessitates a dialog between the rich and the poor outside its essentialist assumptions (homogenizing or exclusionary) of an uneven power discourse as specters of Good Governance and Structural Adjustment Programs (Gary and Mayo, 1995) haunt most Third World postcolonial democracies (Ray, 1989, 1996) today. While there are contentions that aggressive market forces make it difficult for welfarist governments to protect their citizens from transnational actors that are as elusive as their hot money (Rapley, 1996), there are also counter-arguments that institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or even the World Trade Organization actually safeguard citizens from the administrative limitations of their respective national governments (Keohane, 1998). There appears to be a consensus, however, that powerful markets tend to undermine political élites at home (Barber, 1996; Cox, 1993; McGrew, 1992; and Slater, 1996). But does this also suggest that national governments have been so thoroughly undermined today that the Global Village can eventually replace the State?

Globalization has been described (Kegley Jr. and Wittkopf, 1997: 249) as the “intensification of economic, political and cultural relations across borders” that is noticed in the following pieces of evidence: the average daily turnover in foreign exchange increased from $200 billion in the mid-1980s to approximately $1.2 trillion in 1996; net capital flows to developing countries grew from an annual average of $44 billion for the period 1983-88 to $197 billion in 1996; and Foreign Direct Investment increased from $10 billion to $91 billion (Echeverri-Gent, 1997). However, it has also been noticed (Lee, 1996: 382) that “the worldwide gap between the rich and the poor has become a vast chasm. Both within and between countries, the rich grow richer at the expense of the poor.” Lee adds that the share of income of the poorest 20 percent of the global population has fallen from 2.3 to 1.4 percent in the last 30 years while the share of the richest 20 percent of the global population has increased from 70 to 85 percent. More than 1 billion people live in countries where average per capita income fell between 1980 and 1993. Lee has even quoted the United Nations Development Program administrator, Gustave Speth, who maintains that if the world continues down its current path, “economic disparities between industrial and developing nations will move from inequitable to inhuman.”

John Echeverri-Gent (1997) has pointed out that if globalization, on the one hand, facilitates decentralization then, on the other, it also helps develop pockets of dynamic Free Trade Areas in large developing countries like China and India by reorganizing their economic geography, Foreign Direct Investment and global commodity chains – this process, however, creates large hinterlands of economic backwardness and entrenches economic inequality within the developing South. Globalization, therefore, intensifies regional disparities in the Third World. John Rapley (1996) has found that Structural Adjustment Programs have varied widely in the results they have yielded. While Latin America has partially benefited from structural adjustment, Africa has not. Rapley has also argued that Rolling Back the State ie less government (as an imperative of contemporary globalization) does not always lead to enhanced economic growth.

Globalization, therefore, would appear to be an open-ended journey toward a globalized world order whose weightless economy (Huws, 1999: 32) may be described as one that defies both national and international borders so far as economic transactions are concerned. This is a situation where freight charges are nil and trade / tariff barriers would disappear. Such a pilgrim's progress, however, is nothing new. Technological innovations during the past five centuries have steadily helped integrate the global community into an emergent global civil society. Transatlantic communications have developed from sailing boats to steamships, to the telegraph, the telephone, the commercial aircraft and now the Internet where even nationalism as a conventional political ideology has been reduced to 'banal nationalism' (Billig, 1995).

The usual markers of national identity - for example, race, dress, physical (geographical) location - are easily elided in the interaction of the Internet, especially text-based forums such as UseNet and e-mail. Despite this, and even in the context of multinational virtual communities, people tend to retain a strong sense of their nationality. A new set of markers has developed and been deployed both in deliberate nationalism (what Michael Billig describes as ‘flag-waving) and as everyday background noise, or Billig's banal nationalism. Billig uses this term to describe "the ideological habits which enable the established nations of the West to be reproduced" (6). His primary example is the ubiquity of the American flag, with which he illustrates the methods by which "national identity in established nations is remembered because it is embedded in routines of life, which constantly remind, or 'flag', nationhood" (38). However, he points out, it is precisely because these reminders are not consciously noticed (and thereby opened to questioning or interpretation) that they are powerful.

The evolution of the World Wide Web shows clearly that the hegemonic contest waged everyday in cubicles around the world revolves around the discourses of production and consumption. The WWW was conceived originally as a space to allow efficient and intuitive transferal of information across a variety of proprietary networks. Tim Berners-Lee (1996), who engineered the World Wide Web in 1990, writes,

a goal of the Web was that, if the interaction between person and hypertext could be so intuitive that the machine-readable information space gave an accurate representation of the state of people's thoughts, interactions, and work patterns, then machine analysis could become a very powerful management tool, seeing patterns in our work and facilitating our working together through the typical problems which beset the management of large organizations.

It is clear that one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the World Wide Web was productivity. For Berners-Lee, productivity, facilitation, and management form the discursive background against which the technology of the World Wide Web developed. And within the esoteric world of government-funded research, the Web probably fulfilled this vision. However, with the privatization of the Internet backbone in 1991 and the one-millionth .com registration in 1997, the Web has become something altogether different - a marketplace, not of information as ex-American Vice President Al Gore conceived of it in 1993, but of product pure and simple.

Although the institutions of capitalism created both, the space of Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web, produced in discourse through the language of productivity, is fundamentally contradictory to the space of production/consumption that in large part characterizes the Internet today. This discourse is predicated upon a denial of consumption as constitutive of production that, as Baudrillard (1995) has argued, is untenable within a social system that constructs subjectivity precisely on the basis of consumption, or in his more specific terminology, "need" (p. 202). In "On Consumer Society" Baudrillard collapses the traditional dichotomy of production and consumption, arguing:

The truth is not that 'needs are the fruits of production,' by that the system of needs is the product of the system of production, which is a quite different matter. By a system of needs we mean to imply that needs are not produced one at a time, in relation to their respective objects. Needs are produced as a force of consumption, and as a general potential reserve within the larger framework of productive forces. (p. 201)

By formulating consumption within the more general rubric of need and then positioning this as fundamental to the reproduction of a single economic system, Baudrillard makes it all but impossible to understand production and consumption as diametrically opposed and consumption as being the localized fulfillment of a single need by the consuming subject (Kellner, 1989: 17). Need, the desire to consume, is the built-in subjective response of capitalism. Foreshadowing the World Wide Web, Baudrillard explicates a specific space of consumption, the drugstore, to argue for the utopian impulse of modern capitalism within which the subject is interpellated as consumer:

The drugstore is the synthesis of profusion and calculation. The drugstore (or the new shopping malls) makes possible the synthesis of all consumer activities, not least of which are shopping, flirting with objects, idle wandering, and all the permutations of these (p. 193).

Baudrillard suggests that in the transformation of commodities from objects of monetary exchange to objects of semiotic exchange, these spaces of consumption integrate aspects of consuming subjectivity that were once peripheral, perhaps even resistant to, the normal activities of consumption (p. 194). In effect, Baudrillard argues that the subjective experience of consumption cannot be separated from the general experience of everyday life, which as Henri Lefebvre (1984) maintains is nothing less than the reproduction of capitalist relations of production (p. 86).

In the age of the Internet, Baudrillard's comments find a direct link to the subjective experience of the World Wide Web. As one research study suggests, "recreational uses of the medium, manifested in the form of nondirected search behavior, can be an important benefit to consumers intrinsically motivated to use the medium" (Hoffman, Novak, Chatterjee, 1995). Arguably, the differences inherent to a consumer's subjective experience of a shopping mall or a drug-store and that of the World Wide Web are minimal. The "browsing" metaphor ubiquitous to the software used to access the Web suggests this to be the case.

Thus, arguing from Baudrillard's analysis we find that the discourse of production informing both the analysis of the productivity paradox and Berners-Lee's description of the World Wide Web is founded upon an institutional attempt to reorient this subjective response in the direction of a puritanical self-denial of consumption through the enforcement of a mythical binary. The history of capitalist production shows that such reorientations worked previously because the actual spaces within which production and consumption were traditionally to have taken place were themselves differentiated spaces - individual consumption was held at bay by the very architecture of capitalist production. As Marx (1990) so adamantly points out, one of the primary motivations of capitalist production is the consumption of the individual worker's labor-power, the only commodity whose "use creates value, a greater value than it costs" (p. 342). Subsequently, to the extent that consumption occurs at all within the space of capitalist production, it occurs as a result of the contractual obligation each individual worker enters into at the point of sale of his or her labor-power, again, in Marx's (1990) words, "If the worker consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist" (p. 342).

But States, meanwhile, have not ostensibly lost their importance and, on the contrary, even Third World governments' capacities to tax and redistribute incomes, control their domestic economies and hegemonize civil societal activities have expanded in a significant manner (Aziz and Arnold, 1996). This is notwithstanding the fact that “In any corrupt regime people enjoy the benefits of bypassing the government regulation. Under-reporting of income leads to tax savings which helps both the taxpayer and the assigning official who receives a bribe. But, this is not an unmixed blessing. In a society where corrupt officials can wield power of coercion and harassment, people are forced to pay bribe to avoid problems. Thus corruption entails benefits as well as cost” (Marjit et al, 1999: 23).

However, the present-day transition of State efficacy - from welfare to good governance - has to be explained in terms of a paradigm shift that can even lead to deinstitutionalization of State apparatuses in postcolonial democracies as the conventional manner of looking at the Welfare State [as a sponsor of nation building (Kothari, 1976) and State-citizen interfaces] is subverted in the process. James Manor (1996: 8-9) would confirm that "In recent years, many Western aid and development agencies have increasingly emphasised the need to promote 'good government' in their programmes . . . Many scholars . . . regard 'good government' agendas and the conditionality that goes with them as an example of latter day imperialism. Many also worry that some of these agendas entail considerable hypocrisy on the part of Western funders . . . The contents of some 'good government' agendas are rather curious. Some place enormous stress on the need for market forces to predominate, which is not everyone's idea of 'good government'. Some mix that emphasis and pressure to enact structural adjustment programmes with pressure for democratization, decentralization, respect for human rights, legal reform, poverty alleviation, transparency and accountability. There is a degree of dissonance between some of these varied elements . . . Capitalism requires the existence of state institutions, no matter how many free marketeers loosely claim that what it most needs is the disappearance of government. As economic liberalization proceeds, there is a greater need for contract law and for judicial and executive institutions to ensure that it actually makes an impact."

Globalization also involves a certain paradox - it requires good governance underpinned by Structural Adjustment Programs that can, however, erode the popular bases of democratic governance (March and Olsen, 1995), and lead to collapse of entire régimes. Malcolm Waters (1995: 99-101) has pointed out that "In the third quarter of the twentieth century the corporate welfare state hit a multiple and widely recognized crisis . . . The response to this multiple crisis was a process of disétatization or state-weakening . . . state intervention by command was reduced but at the same time states sought to increase the scope and scale of the market. Many government services were opened to competitive tendering between the public and private sectors and, as is well known, many state-owned industries were returned to the private sector. Many states stopped providing welfare in certain areas . . . The crisis of the state contributes to the reflexivity of globalization."

Globalization, therefore, would increasingly come across as the transition of world capitalism from one stage to another, safeguarding investments of global capital in this process. Globalization also increasingly requires disinvestment, prompting Anthony Giddens (1995: 140-1) to argue that "The relation between the decline of the welfare state and the changing character of the global order of states was to some extent masked by the very political successes of the New Right. The neoliberals led the attack on the 'overloaded' welfare state in the name of freedom of competitive enterprise from bureaucratic burdens and from enfeebled labour markets. Simultaneously, however, they not only defended the state and nation but called for a 'strong state' in the international arena. The paradoxical character of this position was soon noted by critics, and corresponded to the wider paradoxes of New Right political theory . . ."

In Millenial Dreams: Contemporary Culture and Capital in the North, Paul Smith (1997) argues that while the economic imperative of capitalism, the realization of profit through the expropriation of surplus value from the worker, is no different than in Marx's time, what has changed is the "rhetorical and ideological situation" within which capitalism operates (p. 13). Smith's historical demarcation is the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe, the moment at which capitalism in the North has seemingly achieved its centuries long struggle for complete hegemony. According to Smith, the ideological and political institutions of post-Soviet capitalism function as having reached the apex of economic development, culminating finally with the domination of time and space, what Smith calls the "isochronism" of present-day capitalism (p. 13). The discursive structures emanating from isochronic capitalism are the result of a historical awareness of its post-Soviet hegemony and a more amorphous, optimistic feeling that technological advances have effectively erased all the remaining spatial and temporal barriers standing in the way of an economic system without limits. Smith's analysis does not adhere to those theories of postmodernity which, for various reasons and to various ends, proclaim the end of industrial capitalism, but rather argues for a thoroughly modern capitalism predicated upon an embracement of a semiotic mythos with no connection to historical and material reality. "Magical notions," Smith argues,

such as that of fully global space replete with an ecstatic buzz of cyber communication, or of an instantaneous mobility of people, goods, and services, or of a global market place hooked up by immaterial money that flashes around the globe many times a minute: these are the kinds of images that are regularly projected in the opening phase of millenial capitalism (p. 13).

Available evidence suggests that average incomes have increased while the income gap between rich and poor countries has also widened (Albo, 1997; Altvater, 1997; Echeverri-Gent, 1997; Epstein et al, 1996; Lee, 1996; and Wallis, 1996). Both trends have been evident for more than 200 years - it is only now, however, that improved global communications have resulted in a growing awareness among citizens of poor countries of income inequalities, and compelled them to increasingly immigrate to rich countries. Rich countries, consequently, have been provoked to pass laws that discourage mass immigration (Kalpagam, 1994). It has even been mentioned that (Fix et al, 1994) “Although there is no evidence to date of broad job displacement and the evidence regarding major wage effects is inconclusive, concerns have been raised about the impact of high levels of immigration on the growing wage inequality in the U.S.”

This, however, tends to reduce the global economy to an exclusivist power arrangement that also draws on McDonaldization / Coca-Colonization - or cultural homogenization - benchmarked largely by one-way-traffic (ie infiltration and withdrawal of global capital into the Third World at will but not likewise when infiltration of Third World labor into the North is concerned). According to Eric Helleiner (1994: 173), “the globalization of finance has . . . aided the U.S. in preserving its policy autonomy in the face of growing external and internal deficits . . . the U.S. in fact actively cultivated the globalization phenomenon partly for this reason, beginning with its support of the Eurodollar market, carrying through opposition to capital controls in the early 1970s, and culminating in its enthusiasm for financial liberalization during the Reagan years. Globalization benefited the U.S. because of its hegemonic position in the new open global financial system, a position derived primarily from the unique attractiveness of U.S. and Eurodollar financial markets to foreign investors.”

Rich countries steadfastly maintain their immigration barriers and discourage agricultural imports while most poor countries have not been quite successful to attract much Foreign Direct Investment due to misgovernance on the part of their national governments. Rich countries, however, may as well concede that politics is a fundamental informant of economic inequality since they are not likely to lower their agricultural and immigration barriers in the near future in order to facilitate protectionism at home. Rich countries may also review the performance of the Washington Consensus, which assumes that free markets necessarily promote economic convergence and underscores important issues (like the rule of law, property rights and transparent banking systems) to sustain dialogs between the North and the South. Nicola Bullard, in ‘The Beginning of the End of the Washington Consensus’ (1998a), had observed that “In spite of the economic maelstrom threatening to engulf the world, this year’s IMF and World Bank meetings were notably subdued. It was clear to everyone that the global economy was in trauma: Long Term Capital Management, one of the world’s biggest hedge funds, had just been bailed out by what the New York Times described as ‘Wall Street cronyism’ [with some arguing that not to (do) so would have threatened world financial markets]. Asia’s economies are showing little sign of recovery in spite of massive IMF intervention. Russia, suddenly and catastrophically, has been reduced to a cashless pariah (not that anyone dared speak about Russia – obviously its spectacular collapse is not a topic for polite company!). Brazil, meanwhile, is desperately trying to keep the speculators from the door, and Japan is seemingly unable to muster the political will to restructure its failing banks. Things were looking bad, and no one knew what to do” (italics mine). Rich countries may also on occasion encourage poor countries to Think globally, Act locally ie design glocal - rather than global - development strategies that would be locally grounded within the larger context of globalization. According to Bullard (1998b), “Redistribution of wealth and purchasing power to the four-fifths of the world who are not being given a chance to pull us out of this recession would give the (U.S.) economy a kick start, would ease the problem of overproduction, and provide all sorts of useful ways to recycle profits. It would also cool down global capital markets.

“However, creating this demand requires significant social reform in terms of asset and income distribution – it means land reform and wage and labour reform. Industrialisation via cheap labour and natural resource exploitation is no longer viable. We have reached the point where further economic growth can only be achieved by expanding domestic markets and by expanding our definition of what is productive to include public goods, culture, the environment, and human security. We are at a moment in history where economic necessity coincides with social justice.”

However, the political élites of rich countries may even find it occasionally convenient to overlook their own immigration and tariff barriers since such barriers are considered absolutely vital to their own domestic political stability. The amount of clout rich countries command at multilateral platforms like the IMF or the WTO more often than not makes it difficult for developing countries to successfully negotiate such barriers. Jan Aart Scholte (1996: 55) has analyzed in this connection that “Globalization has to date mostly been an extension of modernization. At the same time, the rapid rise and wide-ranging reach of this transformation of social space – the transcendence of territoriality – has brought great instability to capitalism, made traditional conceptions of sovereignty unviable, heightened worries about ecological sustainability, injected much confusion into the construction of identity and encouraged reactions against reason. To this extent, globalization has opened space for critical theory and a fundamental rethink of production, governance, ecology and community, as well as the nature and purpose of knowledge itself.”

We would conclude by maintaining that the globalizing State may well be compared to Janus - it has a strong face in the developed North where immigration and tariff barriers have been erected to discourage further redistribution in terms of income transfer entitlements among Third World immigrants; the United States has even imposed embargo on import of Indian carpets ostensibly because their production involve child labor ie human rights violation! But the State necessarily assumes a rather weak face in the developing South where governments have repeatedly failed to come up with good governance despite their modernizing, albeit non-Westernizing, civil societies (Huntington, 1968, 1996). However, the globalizing State is yet to wither away - we may extrapolate it as an important actor that would continue to interface with its public sphere (Habermas, 1992a, 1992b) in terms of good governance, structural adjustment programs and social capital facilitation (Loury, 1987; Putnam et al, 1993; and Coleman, 1994) or otherwise.

*Lecturer in Political Science

Department of Political Science

Burdwan University, West Bengal, India and

Ex-Research Associate, Institute of Federalism

University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Residence P-8 Beleghata Main Road

2nd Floor, Calcutta 700 085, India

Telephone 91-33-3501042 / 3542517

e-mail pmaiti@vsnl.com


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