Calling into question the sovereignty of the nation state, what does globalization represent for America?
By Nicholas Dima l July 26, 2012
As a modern concept “globalization” is rather new. The word itself entered our common vocabulary in the 1980’s and it gradually acquired a new meaning. The concept is also associated with “the new world order” and free trade, along with the free access to markets. This expression, “novus ordo seclorum” in Latin, is printed on all U.S. dollar bills, but it was introduced in the modern vocabulary by President George H.W. Bush. The concept of globalization has already elicited the attention of many scholars who wrote a number of books and many articles on the subject. Most people have heard of the word, but few are fully aware of what it means.
What does globalization represent for America?
This introductory essay will present a short overview of the concept of globalization and will try to elucidate its meaning and potential consequences. The author is drawing his ideas from a number of current writings and from his own personal knowledge.
One of the current scholars of the trend, Manfred B. Steger, succinctly characterizes globalization as:
“A social condition characterized by tight economic, political, cultural, and environmental interconnections and flows that make most of the current existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.” And also,“Globalization refers to the expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space.” (Manfred B. Steger, Globalization, NY, London: Sterling, 2007, pp. 10 and 19).
Steger, as well as Peter Dicken (Globalization, NY, London: The Guilford Press, 2007), also see globalization as an elusive concept that refers to a process of changes, a new era, and a new age. However, what we already know is that globalization is caused primarily by modern technology and by new economic forces. The process is supported by national governments and by international organizations. Their agenda is advanced sometimes openly, as with NAFTA, which has been promoted by the American government and at other times in a stealthy way. Irrespective of how it is advanced, globalization affects people and governments everywhere. The promoters of globalization are the big Trans-National Corporations (TNCs), which claim that everybody will benefit from it. The most notable international organizations that promote the process of globalization are the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as various regional integration blocs, all multilateral in nature and all of which call into question the sovereignty of the nation state.
On the practical side, globalization is a natural phenomenon brought about by a myriad of new technologies. At the same time, globalization has led to a number of tangible benefits for most people. There are more goods available now nearly everywhere and the prices are lower. The cost, however, is very high for Americans who have lost their jobs and for the government which is losing some of its prerogatives. And the social cost could be very risky.
From the start, globalization implies a conflicting relationship between large TNCs and Nation-States; between traditional values and (yet little known) New Age values; and, between Western internationalism and local nationalism. Is the world really ready for such a radical change? Is globalization a force for good? Who is winning and who is losing?
Historical experience has shown that many new ideologies are just utopian or are wrapped up with good intentions. But remember what the 17th Century French philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We do live in an era of very intense global relations, but did we acquire a global consciousness? The United Nations estimated that only about one percent of the world population has the knowledge or education to be considered “global citizens.” And the most integrated bloc in the world, the European Union, is hardly capable of agreeing on anything, let alone acquiring a common consciousness.
There are currently many TNCs richer and more powerful than most of the countries of the world. The world, however, continues to be organized based primarily on nation-states, not on big corporations. Nation-states and international corporations are in a delicate relationship. They need each other, but the relationship is often acrimonious. The role of the nation-state is chiefly political. Governments exist to assure internal order and international peace. Internally, national governments aim at an even development and at promoting the interests of all their citizens. The TNCs are economic entities. For them, people are consumers and the chief purpose of a corporation is to make money. And the lions’ shares of the profits are for reinvestment and corporate growth, the compensation of their CEOs and to a lesser degree for the benefit of the shareholders.
Most importantly, among Western democracies, governments are elected by the people and are accountable to the people. And in a democratic society like the United States, the internal balance of power is maintained by the three branches of the government and is monitored by a free press, often referred to as the Fourth Estate. How are CEOs elected? What are the principles of its corporate governance?
Who is watching over TNCs? As a matter of fact, while Wall Street was saved recently by the Federal government with taxpayers’ money, financial institutions still opposed any governmental regulation.
On the practical side, what we have seen so far is a trend of de-industrializing America by exporting or outsourcing its manufacturing job overseas and another one of increasing social polarization between high-paying and low-paying jobs. One hundred years ago the ratio between high and low paying jobs was about five to one. Now the ratio is about 100 to one. Such a polarization is dangerous to the stability of the American society. Plutarch, an ancient Roman philosopher, concluded two thousand years ago: “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
The old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely continues to hold true. Yet, for some people there is no limit for acquiring wealth and power. And when they have it, they can use it for personal or humanitarian purposes or even for evil goals. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The reality is that by the time a super CEO of a huge TNC gets all the power, it is too late to test his character.
Is globalization good or bad? It all depends on the whims of those who are at the top of the political and economic world and this is the risk. Are they fair? Are they wise? What have we learned from history? Hegel, a well-known German philosopher, was skeptical. He said: “The only thing that we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” What has America learned from globalization? What impact does globalization have on the American middle class?
This is the question!
Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to