The rise and fall of globalization

As the sun sets on globalization, what will a new day bring? The new era will face challenges of rampant parochialism, environmental destruction, inequality and greed.


The dawn of globalization was unremarkable. Yanis Varoufakis, professor economics and former finance minister of Greece gives the date:

“On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day (Globe and Mail).”

Before Globalization, it was the dawning of a New Deal (1944). A clever plan, it gave America’s former enemies the resources to rebuild through arrangements such as the Marshall Plan. As an industrial power, the U.S. had shiny new things to sell; now Germany and Japan had money to buy them.

The New Deal ushered in a Golden Age of prosperity. Well-paying jobs, unionization, opportunity grew.  The middle class expanded and inequality shrank.

As a baby boomer, I remember that era. After I graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Electronics, I had a choice of well-paying secure, jobs. After I quit one job and traveled around the world, I easily found another.

The era of globalization in the 1970s promised to reduce global poverty. Before it began to rot at its core, it blushed with ambition.

“Mr. Nixon’s decision was founded on the refreshing lack of deficit phobia particular to American decision-makers,” says Varoufakis. “Unwilling to rein in deficits by imposing austerity . . . Washington stepped on the gas to boost them.”

World-wide prosperity also produced global industrialization. Americans went into debt to buy exports from Germany, Japan and later, China. The American administration didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that cheap global labour was at the heart of industrial decay at home. Why should they care when money was pouring into the U.S. as well as cheap goods?

The flow of global money into the U.S. seems counterintuitive. If Americans were buying global goods, it would seem that the money should be flowing the other way. The magic of Wall Street made it happen.

The deregulation of banks was a catalyst for the financial wizardry of Wall Street. Global investors were attracted by higher interest rates generated by mystical, incomprehensible, investment devices such as derivatives. A lot of the investments went into loans to home-owners who had no way of repaying them.

Then, in 2008, the rabbit no longer emerged from the magician’s hat and the whole financial edifice fell apart.

All that remains of the sad tatters of globalization is massive inequality and loss of jobs in the Western world. Most money sits idle in the hands of the rich while the poor struggle without. Varoufakis characterizes it:

“Its crisis is due to too much money in the wrong hands. Humanity’s accumulated savings per capita are at the highest level in history.”

As globalization sinks below the horizon, two options emerge. One is the walled-state proposed by President Trump and the Brexiters in the U.K. The other is a Universal New Deal that redistributes global wealth, creates new jobs, and lifts the burden of consumer debt.

If such a new deal seems unlikely, it’s worth remembering that the first New Deal and globalization were as well. And if we need an issue to rally around and mobilize action, as World War II once was, we need look no further than the biggest threat to humanity: climate change.


A good economy

A good economy will feature work rather than growth for growth sake. Some progressives think that negligible growth is inevitable, perhaps even desirable. Too much growth, so the argument goes, consumes too much of the Earth’s resources. It doesn’t have to be that way says Economist Jim Stanford.

“I disagree on all counts. I do not think that slow growth is natural, inevitable or desirable. I do not think that stagnation and recession will fix environmental problems; more likely, they will make things worse (CCPA Monitor, May/June, 2016).”

New jobs can be created when a nation decides to.

New jobs can be created when a nation decides to.

There are many ways to create growth. One is through capitalism and the unsustainable plunder of the Earth’s resources which focuses on fat dividends for investors.

Another is through work. It’s not like there is a shortage of things to be done, much of it in the service sector: better care for seniors, health care, child care, education, and the arts. Many more jobs wait in green technologies; building and repairing roads and bridges, schools and cultural facilities, public transit. Jobs will continue in areas such information technology and as energy extraction (we won’t stop using fossil fuels tomorrow).

Increased service sector jobs are a novel concept when seen through the lens of Neoliberalism where growth is seen as a function of profit. And it’s a mistake to think that growth is even their primary motive. Greed is. Capitalism is organized to reinforce the wealth and power of a few.

Neoliberalism does not encourage growth. To reduce input costs, wages are driven down. Workers are disempowered through de-unionization and precarious work. “These are all anti-growth policies,” says Stanford.

A measure of growth is the Gross Domestic Product: the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country. In order to keep up with the growth of population and productivity, the GDP should grow by about two per cent annually says Stanford. Any slower and unemployment increases.

The growth of jobs in the service sector may sound a bit fanciful because of resistance from capitalists. Try as they might, they haven’t managed to squeeze much profit out of health care and education.

It’s not fanciful when you remember that we did it once before. Canada and other Western nations pulled themselves up by the bootstraps during the Second World War by creating jobs that met a national objective, not corporate profits.

Unemployment disappeared within months. Untapped sources of labour were drawn into the workplace, particularly women. The bloom of job growth lasted decades with a reduction in poverty and improvement of life expectancy.

Who’s going to pay for it? During the war, money was never a constraint in spite of the hard times of the Great Depression. With modern credit, raising capital is easier than ever. Private financial institutions create money out of thin air whenever it suits their profit-driven motives, as I discussed in my column of December, 2015 How to make money.

Governments can similarly create money, as they did when they saved banks and industry after the Great Recession of 2008. The only thing stopping the growth of service sector jobs is the government’s fear that they will offend the sensibilities of corporations.