Giddens on Globalisation

Fiona Clyne and Roger Woock

On the Edge: Living with Global Capital (2000) edited by Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens.

The first chapter of the book is a 51 page discussion between Hutton and Giddens. It is designed to set the tone for the questions discussed in the rest of the book but it also shows considerable difference between Hutton, the author of the best seller The State We're In, and Giddens. Surprisingly on most issues Hutton is more radical than Giddens.

No definition of globalisation is offered but Giddens identifies it as possessing four characteristics

  1. a world wide communications revolution with its origins in the late 60s
  2. the arrival of the ‘weightless economy’ made up of both the knowledge economy and financial markets
  3. a post 1989 world. The fall of Soviet communism is seen as ‘one of the momentous transformations of the century'
  4. transformations happening on the level of everyday life eg growing equality between women and men

Looking at the working class, Giddens argues ‘the industrial working class is almost ceasing to exist’. Giddens also says ‘ more or less everyone has learnt to accept if not necessarily love capitalism - in much the same way as they have democracy’. Will Hutton responds ‘there is very little disagreement - even among capitalism’s defenders - that it does produce growing inequality, dense concentrations of private power, monopoly and instability and although commoditisation is an ugly word, I think it does capture the process by which capitalism tries to turn every relationship into commercial exchange’.

In discussing the ‘old’ versus the ‘new’ working class, Hutton reminds Giddens that the relationship to economic power is the same.

A large section of the chapter is taken up in discussing stakeholder capitalism with particular reference to the German economy. Hutton believes that ‘the arguments for stakeholding stand’ but Giddens is less convinced although he does describe the stakeholder principle in universities as ‘developed to an extreme’. He mentions academic tenure as a trade off against relatively low wages and points to a global market place in academic jobs. Leading scholars can move where they wish while universities can’t.

In a section titled “Financial markets and the governance of the global economy” Hutton argues that the Asian crisis was really a great power struggle between Asian capitalism and American capitalism while admitting this is not the conventional view it ‘puts an important question mark over globalisation’. A question that needs to be considered: Is globalisation about opening up the world to American interests?

In defending the processes of globalisation Giddens finally refers to the concept of globalisation from above - financial markets, trade and technological innovation - and globalisation from below - the vast growth of NGOs, interest groups and pressure groups. Hutton thinks that Giddens believes that globalisation from below is more powerful than it is.

This 51 page discussion naturally makes some of the same points that Giddens makes in The Third Way and its Critics. It is interesting that in this dialogue Giddens appears to be more ‘conservative’ or ‘neoliberal’ than Hutton. This discussion convinces us just how unclear and unsatisfactory the analyis of the process of globalisation is.

The second chapter in On the Edge that we felt would be useful to focus on is Ulrich Beck’s “Living your own Life in a Runaway World: individualisation, globalisation and politics”. Beck is a German sociologist who has written a book titled What is Globalisation but is also known for his work on the risk society. An extremely dense writer, this chapter is an outline of the importance of a life of your own in a runaway world in fifteen points.

  1. people are now integrated into society only in their partial aspects as tax payers, students, voters, patients, etc
  2. your own life is not a life peculiar to yourself but the interest of the individual and rationalised society are merged.
  3. your own life is completely dependent on institutions in the place of binding traditions
  4. the neoliberal market ideology enforces atomisation and ...
  5. your own life is then condemned to activity
  6. your own life - your own failure; social problems are turned into psychological dispositions
  7. people struggle to live in a world that is globally networked; the association of place and community is coming unstuck - place polygamy
  8. your own life is also a detraditionalised life, ‘people are transplanted from the national industrial societies of the first modernity into the transnational turmoil of world risk society'
  9. your own life is an experimental life
  10. your life is a reflexive life
  11. living your own life is a late modern form which enjoys high esteem
  12. your own life is a radically non identical life (culture)
  13. living your own life can mean living under the conditions for radicalised democracy
  14. the decline of values which cultural pessimists are so fond of decrying is in fact opening up the possibility of escape from the creed
  15. living your own life leads to an opening and a sub-politicisation of society and also to a depoliticisation of national politics. ‘the closed space of national politics no longer exists’.
  16. While some of the above points are fairly obvious and have been advanced by other writers, others are we believe well worth discussing. Place polygamy is a marvellous concept which Roger appreciates.

Beyond Left and Right

In an earlier book (1994), Beyond Left and Right, Giddens envisages the essence of globalisation to be the transformation of space and time usefully summarised as ‘action at distance’. In the concluding chapter, “Questions of Agency and Values”, he enthuses about global cosmopolitanism ‘We are now in a world where there are many others; but also where there are no others’. By the time of writing The Third Way and its Critics (2000), Giddens in his chapter, “Taking Globalisation Seriously’, has third way politics constituting a globalising political philosophy which has the potential for effecting a better world, a ‘healthy global order’ where a balance has been achieved between government, the economy and civil society. He admits that this is far from the case at the moment with the global economy part of the equation dominating the others.

To move towards a ‘healthy global order’, he feels that national politics have to become more thoroughly integrated with global perspectives and nominated five areas where global institutions need to be strengthened

  1. Global economic governance
  2. How to maximise the positive consequences (eg growth in employment, improved living conditions, drop in infant mortality, etc — all claims with statistical backing) while limiting the negative effects (eg rapid flows of money leading to economic crashes or bubble economies)

    Several measures are proposed such as developing a regulatory framework for surveillance of financial transactions which could be monitored by a world financial authority.

  3. Global ecological management
  4. A bit too upbeat given the current stance of the US re the Kyoto Protocol. However some interesting points, such as seeking to democratise science and technology and discussion of ‘factor four’ - produce twice as much using half the resources.

  5. Regulation of corporate power
  6. For Giddens the underlying question here is: in the global age what form of capitalism should ‘modernising social democrats’ support? He sees as an ideal position working with business to create a better world. However he is not blind to corporate excesses and has seven suggestions for government intervention including enforcing competition policies nationally and internationally and working with NGOs and third sector groups in monitoring corporate activities.

  7. Control of warfare
  8. Giddens draws on Mary Kaldor’s recent book New and old Wars (1999) where she argues that the wars of the 1980s and 1990s are distinctively different from the ‘old wars’ between nations and that they reflect the changes bought about globalisation. Giddens argues that the focus should change from one of traditional peacemaking to enforcement of cosmopolitan principles by international military forces - not only stop the guns but rebuild damaged infrastructure, housing and public services to get the civil society operational again.

  9. Fostering of transnational democracy
  10. Giddens maintains that intensifying globalisation causes a citizen’s relation to the state to change and as such actively promotes democracy. Some discussion about the construction of transnational forms of democracy with the EU providing a somewhat flawed example.