by Marie-Laure Djelic
From the “best of all worlds”….
A few years ago, the world was simple, probably too simple. Western capitalism was triumphant and exploring new frontiers. Following the collapse of communism, there were territories to conquer. There was also a technological revolution underway that stimulated growth. Firms forgot, crossed borders and defined strategies with global dimensions. They were accompanied in this by a fundamental movement of deregulation, liberalisation and partial withdrawal of the state, often implemented paradoxically by left-wing or social-democratic governments. Transatlantic relations were generally on the right track. Despite some reticence – often French! – a consensus seemed to be emerging on the role and responsibility of the transatlantic community in the rich countries. It was to be the world’s police force and act as an arbiter but also as a democratic example. The interventions in Iraq, Serbia and Kosovo were the highlights of this period of collective good conscience. The’end of history’ (Fukuyama 1993) seemed conceivable.
…At the end of the mirage!
Since then, of course, we have fallen from the sky. The economic crisis – or recession – that was looming in late summer 2000 showed that, as at other times in history, economic growth in recent years had been partly speculative and artificial. Anti-globalization movements have highlighted the limits of the “best of worlds”, calling for a debate and proposing criticism if not an alternative. September 11, 2001, put an end to all dreams of ecumenism. Where the rich West often defines itself as the holder of a unique recipe, combining rationality, progress, democracy and wealth, a recipe that it wishes to export “for the good of humanity”, the rest of the world often sees us in return with the eye of the colonized and exploited, from which we confiscate down to our soul and past. Finally, episodes such as the 2000 presidential elections in the United States, the Enron in-flight explosion and its aftermath on Andersen or this year’s French presidential elections have further reduced the legitimacy of the West as a model or lesson provider for the rest of the world. These uncertainties are reflected in the current questioning of transnational institutions. The debate launched by Joseph Stiglitz, a former senior World Bank official, on the IMF’s role and responsibility in the economic collapse of a number of countries in the semi-periphery or periphery is probably far from over (Stiglitz 2001).
Complexity and discourse
The image of our world that is being conveyed to us today is therefore that of a complex world. And to appreciate this complexity, it is good to hear the speeches in their greatest diversity. These discourses, it is a question of understanding, are in reality constitutive of the world around us. Let us take the case of globalization. A few years or even months ago, most of us saw globalization as an objective and material reality, driven by financial markets and technology. What has been shown in recent months or years is that this conception was above all a discourse, and what is more, a discourse among other discourses. Globalization can only be understood by bringing these multiple discourses together, confronting them and perhaps hoping to reconcile them. Today, three main categories of discourse on globalization can be identified. The first category includes what I call the “speeches of the prophets”. The second category is the one that contains the’skeptics’ speeches’. Finally, the last category has grown considerably in recent years. It brings together the “discourses of the critics”.
“Prophets” The prophets continue to see globalization as the path to progress – technological, economic and by implication social and political. They are now aware of the resistance and therefore of the obstacles but do not question either the process or its value in the long term.
“Skeptics” Skeptics do not believe and sometimes have never believed in the possibility of a global world or a globalized economy. Skeptics show that in proportion the transfers of capital and labour factors were more important in earlier phases of internationalization, such as at the end of the 19th century, than they are today. Sceptics also start from the observation that trade tends to be structured by major region of the world – Europe, the Americas or Asia – rather than in a global way. Finally, they highlight the importance and resilience of local institutions, traditions and cultures as powerful filters against global trends.
“Critics” Critics do not deny globalization. On the contrary, it is often because they believe in it that they perceive its dangers. In recent times, this category has emerged, acquired a certain legitimacy and become more commonplace. Today, critical discourse is no longer only found at the margins but also at the heart of our societies and economies, as shown by the positions taken by our politicians or even by a certain number of business people. It is important, however, to differentiate between two main types of critical discourse. Radical criticism absolutely rejects globalization – either by using traditional and national arguments or from the perspective of class struggle at the international level. Reformist criticism clearly identifies the misdeeds and disorders that go with globalization in its current form without necessarily questioning in principle a movement towards the global. Reformist criticism calls for the governance of a globalized economy, a global New Deal.
Globalization and transatlantic relations
What is globalization today? A kaleidoscope makes these three categories of speeches. If the fractures that separate these discourses today are deepening into abysses, we have in potentialities a multiplicity of sources of implosion and explosion all over the world. The challenge in the coming years is a positive confrontation between these three categories of discourse and the invention of a compromise. Without a doubt, those who would have the most to lose from the multiplication of implosions and explosions are also those who have the most to gain from such a compromise. September 11, 2001 showed the Western world that wealth, development and prosperity also mean great vulnerability. The fate of the transatlantic world as we know it is very closely linked to the development of a compromise or a global New Deal. In fact, the search for such a compromise should now be at the heart of transatlantic relations. She’s not there, far from it. And we have every right to regret it!
1] Fukuyama, Francis (1993), The End of History and the Last Man, Avon Books
2] Stiglitz, Joseph (2001), Globalization and its Discontents, W.W. Norton & Cie