The Twilight of Globalization
As cracks begin to appear in the facade, Indian Bronson explores what a globalized world has brought us.
In the world before Covid and for some time after, you could basically talk to or pay anyone, anywhere, at any time—everything from texting to video chat to formal payments to one-off remittances. In December 2019, the world was as close as it had ever been. It wasn’t at peace, but it was close. If you shared a language, even if that language was just money, you could connect. Payments and speech are a good measure of how connected people are. When we don’t rely on ourselves alone (and barring coercion), we have to ask and convince people to do things for us, or we have to pay them to do them for us, or some combination of the two. In a digital world, payments and speech are nearly identical tools.
It’s true, some weren’t connected or were unable to use such systems; those living on the fringes of life or people who were outright political dissidents. They occupied a growing level of un-personing formerly only reserved for enemies of the State, like the cartels and dictatorships put on the OFAC list. We’d gotten used to certain people being kicked off YouTube or unable to get a Visa credit card or register with GoDaddy because of their views. Every Facebook boomer had a story of being “deplatformed” or “canceled” just like Dave Chappelle. There were more serious cases, but largely someone not being able to get onto Twitter or use PayPal would turn out to be not as huge a life-ender as one might have thought.
When the world was one thing, one complete structure, something almost achieved in the Winter of 2019 – OFAC listed individuals and the pariah status of North Korea and Iran notwithstanding – there was no need to have more than one (or two) ways of doing things. Former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine put it thus in a May 2001 dialogue with Dominique Moïsi:
Dominique Moïsi: Should the United States be compared with the Roman Empire rather than with the more recent British Empire? And should we conclude that its history is only just getting started?
Hubert Védrine: America today is much more than the British Empire – and closer to what the Roman Empire was compared to the rest of the world in that era. Maybe not in terms of duration, but surely in terms of universality and influence … As globalization tends to be equated with Americanization, there is inevitably confusion, which leads some watchdogs to jump up and denounce France’s anti-Americanism. But that’s not what it is! (emphasis and link to Slate Star Codex added)
Moïsi: Is globalization the same thing as Americanization? Why does the United States seem to be like a fish in water in this new global world?
Védrine: “Like a fish in water” is exactly the right expression. The United States is a very big fish that swims easily and rules supreme in the waters of globalization. Again, globalization is not the completion of an American plan, even if it is the case that the big American firms have supported it and are profiting greatly from it … Americans get great benefits from this for a large number of reasons:
because of their economic size
because globalization takes place in their language
because it is organized along neoliberal economic principles
because they impose their legal, accounting, and technical practices
because they’re advocates of individualism
Globalism and its discontents
The situation viewed in hindsight is a lot different than in 2001. Have Americans still benefited greatly from globalism? Is the United States still the world’s largest economy? Are they still the only ones who inform everyone about world events using the lingua anglica? The principles of neoliberalism – are they popularly advocated within views of immigration or housing or automation and political economy in general? You can make an argument for Americans being individualist, dynamic, optimistic people in spirit, I guess, but is that even still true?
Listen very closely to Vladimir Putin’s answer to this seemingly simple question concerning how Trump dealt with the European allies of the US as an American President bucking the status quo. It starts at ten minutes and fifty-three seconds.
Putin: You and I are talking ahead of the G20 meeting. It’s an economic forum, and it will undoubtedly have discussions on globalization, global trade and international finance. Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalization? The development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past twenty-five years, since the 1990s?
China has made use of globalization, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty. What happened in the United States, and how did it happen? In the United States, the leading companies – the companies, their shareholders, their partners – made use of these benefits. The middle class hardly benefited from globalization. [Consider] the take home pay in the US. The middle class has not benefited from globalization. It was left out when this pie was divided up. The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign.
No wonder the US government thought that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia – they have the same bad habit of pointing out that the middle class isn’t doing very well under the managerial elite. Hostility abroad, disloyalty at home.
But if that uneasy status quo saw changes percolating during the run-up to Trump’s election and through the Trump era, it has boiled over with Covid and the invasion of Ukraine, two formerly “current thing” status-holders which have since become something like endemic hot-take generators.
Despite the implosion of UST/Luna/Terra (search: “The narrow lesson” in that link if you’re not running Chrome), the volume of payments and transactions in crypto still increases. The capital flight of the numbers which live in centralized databases controlled by government audits and edits hastens into decentralized databases controlled by no one. As it’s sometimes said, this upsets “all the right people.” The SEC wants you to know that they see all of this just the same as any other kind of securities offering. The Treasury and the IRS want you to know those 87,000 planned hires are for going after billionaires and not landscapers.
And why is that happening? Well, if you’re a Canadian truck driver and your protests against the Trudeau government don’t sit right with the State, it will turn off your bank account. If you’re a nuclear-armed country, and your foreign policy interventions (read: wars) don’t have the same kind of State propaganda push behind them as, say, the US invading Iraq to find those WMDs, it will turn off your bank account. Not for its own consumption of your exported oil, but still.
The rest of the world hasn’t just aligned to Kissinger’s New Order, either. India, a country the US cannot afford to alienate, whose defense spending it wants to take a share of may soon allow Russians to simply ignore US/SWIFT sanctions on banks and credit cards. China and India, long rivals who have even fought wars over territory as modern states, engaged in joint exercises with Russia.
What might look like the European Union rushing into the arms of Big Daddy America when the Russians come a-callin’, portends to some degree the replacement of NATO. Can the US fight a two-front war against China or Russia? Can NATO ex-US even respond in a meaningful way against merely China?
Would India, with a prominent diaspora in the US and UK, turn its back on its old friend as it emerges as a player on the global stage, with its own interests and its own destiny? The answer was obvious in retrospect.
What could be simply analyzed as a “new Cold War” with just one front and two players is becoming more complex, and multi-poled, and it’s hard to see how it would ever be put “back” into the reigning status of the United States in charge of it all in the 1990s. It’s not clear that this zenith of power was used to serve Americans particularly well.
The promise of globalization was kind of like the promise of Coca-Cola as Andy Warhol saw it:
You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
The old dream of the Golden Arches Peace saw McDonald’s come to Moscow. Today Russians may still eat hamburgers, but they’re from Вкусно–и точка. And while the United States can stop Russians from watching Disney+, it somehow doesn’t understand why it doesn’t get more international cooperation. Perhaps it has something to do with stopping other people from eating food.
Hamburgers, and national defense. The manufacturing of light pickups and utility vehicles and streaming entertainment media. Do we rely on ourselves for these things, or do we ask others to furnish them for us? A globalized world says that we can simply outsource our problems. We can delegate our work. It says that we can rely on someone else – perhaps someone else who has come from Guatemala, perhaps even illegally – to make our food and bring it to us. But the masters of this global order also expected us to accept many other things, too, and to accept the pursuits of their own interests, often at our expense. That order is quickly evaporating. That soft governance, which buoyed the pre-eminence of the United States (but not always Americans), is falling apart because cheap stuff from someone else comes at the cost of one’s own strengths. The opposite of globalization might just be self-reliance.
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Excellent, thank you.