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The left and the case for ‘progressive reglobalisation’

Matthew Bishop, Tony Payne

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Towards a progressive reglobalisation

Where, then, do we go from here? We have seen that neoliberal globalisation, as we have known it since the 1980s, has generated serious economic, environmental, social and political problems that significantly outweigh its achievements. We do not feel on the left that that we need to rebut intellectually the arguments of ‘deglobalisation from the right’, even though we know (or should know) that they have to be defeated politically. We have just argued that the equivalent model of ‘deglobalisation from the left’ does not offer a satisfactory solution either, precisely because it proposes only a different form of negative retreat from globalisation from that advocated by the right. For many people, it seems as if we have run out of globalisation road.

There is, however, no reason to despair. For in the opening pages of this article we have already set out the intellectual bases of the move forward that we need to make. The first is to recognise the growing contradictions of a neoliberal globalisation undergoing a process of transformation, and accordingly to re-intensify our critique of it. Governments of the centre and centre left in the US, Britain and other parts of Europe have not only presided over much of the recent expansion of globalisation, but have entrenched its legitimacy by rendering it in effect a cross-party, almost universal, project of the developed capitalist world. The second is to acknowledge that globalisation could in theory have been done differently, and could therefore be different again in the future. Yes, structures of political economy exercise powerful constraining influences on actors, but, as Mark Blyth rightly reminded us some while ago, they ‘do not come with an instruction sheet’.33

So far, so good, it might then be said. The next moves we have to make are more contentious and take us to the heart of our broader argument. We suggest that globalisation, of some sort, is almost certainly here to stay. There can be no easy, painless or full-scale retreat from that in a world in which so much economic activity and so many of the prospects of economic development are now shaped by the complex linkages formed by global networks of wealth, value and production. The prospect, still held out by some, of a return to a pre-globalisation world of autonomous national economies is simply delusional. Moreover, even if we could get there, the process of doing so would carry with it a host of undesirable consequences, purchased at disproportionate political and social cost.

Yet, as we have already said, globalisation does not have to be of the neoliberal kind. Indeed, it is vital that, in future, it is not. As Paul Mason starkly put it after the Brexit referendum, ‘if we want to save globalisation, we have to ditch neoliberalism’.34 In that article, he focused on making the case for an alternative post-neoliberal national economic model and did not address in detail what needed to be done at the global level of politics. But the corollary of his argument was that globalisation also needs to be reformed, or controlled more, or steered better, however you prefer to put it – and, in effect, to be rebuilt around particular post-neoliberal values. Of course, the slowly emerging post-neoliberal world is one of pronounced flux and uncertainty, and we have been careful to avoid defining this term in this article (in large measure because it would take a further article to do so).35 However, it is that amorphous, unwritten character that makes the contemporary period both so perplexing and so filled with possibility. It is – as far as any political era, with its myriad path dependencies, can be – a relatively blank canvas on which we can paint new ideas and envision new possibilities. So, rebuilding a better globalisation is definitely theoretically plausible, but is it possible in the real world of political practice?

We suggest that there is actually a lot that ‘our’ states, acting on behalf of us as ‘their’ citizens, can do collectively to reshape globalisation for the future into a different, and more attractive, set of economic, social and political processes. To quote a famous paper in our political economy community from a few years ago by John Hobson and M. Ramesh, ‘globalisation makes of states what states make it’.36 Put simply: they have acted previously to construct and adjust global orders, and this means that they can do so again. In any case, it is always important in politics to try to imagine what else might conceivably be done, especially in political circumstances that appear dire at first sight. So let us be bold and begin to examine what an attempted reconfiguration of globalisation by our states around a different set of assertively post-neoliberal values might look like and how it might be achieved. We propose to describe this as a process of ‘reglobalisation’, of ‘re-doing’ globalisation better.

In making this argument we build on insights from other analysts. As long ago as 1997 the Harvard political economist Dani Rodrik famously asked in the title of a book Has Globalisation Gone Too Far?37 By 2011 in The Globalisation Paradox he was calling for ‘a sane globalisation’ grounded in the tighter regulation of trade and finance and the reform of immigration policies. He suggested that ‘we can and should tell a different story about globalization’. Instead of taking the ‘hyper-globalisation’ line and ‘viewing it as a system that requires a single set of institutions or one principal economic superpower, we should accept it as a collection of diverse nations whose interactions are regulated by a thin layer of simple, transparent, and commonsense traffic rules’.38 Rodrik has continued to press these views right up to the present.39 Eric Helleiner’s 2014 work The Status Quo Crisis described how the 2008 financial meltdown failed to lead to major changes in global governance, as many had initially anticipated. It reinforced the same broad point that Rodrik had made, by discerning in his assessment of what could come next a third scenario (between ‘strengthened liberal multilateralism’ and ‘fragmentation and conflict’), which he dubbed ‘cooperative decentralization’. Helleiner’s book focuses on global financial governance, and acknowledges that in this sphere states could continue to develop certain minimum international standards through the Financial Stability Bureau. But he adds a vital qualification: that, ‘rather than detailed one-size-fits-all rules, those standards could be based around broad principles that allowed significant national or regional policy space’.40

Most recently, in a short book, The Globalisation Backlash, published in early 2019, Colin Crouch has called ‘for moderate forces of left and right to stand together for a regulated globalisation against xenophobic forces’.41 He dismisses ‘the illusion of economic sovereignty’ and suggests that ‘it is far more constructive’ to work out how ‘in some policy fields’ this idea ‘needs to give way to one of pooled sovereignty in pursuit of a better transnational regulation of the globalised economy’.42

These are all invaluable glimpses of what ‘reglobalisation’ has to be like (that is, sane, cooperative, decentralised, regulated), but they do not specify with enough precision the political bargain that necessarily has to underpin such a process if it is to gain ground and take off. To frame this properly, we have to look back to look forward, and, more precisely, to recall the precise definition of the ‘embedded liberalism’ that John Ruggie defined as the key ingredient restored to the world economy at Bretton Woods in 1944. As Ruggie saw it, the task at Bretton Woods was to manoeuvre between the extremes of both nationalism and liberalism and craft a ‘compromise’ (Ruggie’s telling, but often forgotten, description) that would ‘safeguard and even aid the quest for domestic stability without, at the same time, triggering the mutually destructive external consequences that had plagued the interwar period’. In a key passage he went on to specify the key features of this compromise in these words: ‘Unlike the economic nationalism of the thirties, it would be multilateral in character; unlike the liberalism of the gold standard and free trade, its multilateralism would be predicated upon domestic interventionism’.43

Ruggie’s analysis contains the clue that opens up the politics of ‘reglobalisation’. We need to move now in 2019 to begin to chart a way towards what we describe as ‘re-embedded post-neoliberalism’. Within this framework of global governance, states would again be permitted to pursue legitimate social purposes and enjoy the necessary national policy space to manage successfully their economic development. This permission – or encouragement – would be generated by a multilateralism that was still necessarily liberal in character, but ‘dialled down’ substantially in intensity from the excesses of the neoliberal era.

It will certainly not be easy to engineer the stability, legitimacy and fairness that must be the essence of such a new global compromise, but there are lots of changes that can practically be made within global governance that would bring us nearer to this goal. We conclude therefore with a little ‘thought experiment’ and ask what a recasting of globalisation around post-neoliberal values might begin to look like. We start by imagining what would happen if the following political moves were to occur in the not too distant future:

  • Leading global states agree to assess at each annual Group of 20 summit the condition of the global economy (i.e. growth, investment, employment, inflation) and agree amongst themselves the necessary national measures best to foster its continued health and dynamism.
  • All states whose societies contain inadequately funded and dubiously controlled banks and other financial institutions sign a compact mandating their own national supervisory bodies to work in conjunction with each other, supported by the appropriate global bodies, to bring them back under satisfactory regulatory control.
  • Key states that are losing badly-needed tax revenue to the unseen hands of global corporate tax management decide collectively to challenge their declining fiscal bases by making the necessary legal changes to empower them to collect taxes more effectively from global business actors, possibly by establishing some kind of incipient ‘world tax authority’.
  • New commitments are made by the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to take forward still further the rebalancing of voting powers between member-states that has tentatively been started, although as yet without great impact or full implementation, over the past few years.
  • Member-states of the World Trade Organisation react to its current impasse by embarking on serious reform of the organisation with a view to re-orienting its purposes in future around socially progressive and egalitarian, as well as merely trade-expansionist, goals.
  • All states negotiate and sign an agreement, brokered by the International Labour Organisation, whereby their governments commit to make the necessary changes at national level to rebuild the rights of trade unions and to do this in a mutual, non-competitive way, thereby again enabling the bodies that represent workers to defend their members in effective and proper fashion as and when necessary.
  • Leading global states act to break the log-jam caused by the current management of climate change negotiations by the United Nations and move to establish a new global institution tasked with bringing climate change fully into the global policy debate alongside issues of growth, stability and development where it belongs.

We could easily add in other possible reformist moves, but hope that we have said enough for the moment to clothe the vision of ‘reglobalisation’ in some potentially practicable initiatives and measures. What is presently blocking such a programme is obviously politics. But serious politics is always about working incrementally towards an attractive and plausible vision, even if it presently seems far off or unattainable. We suggest that ‘reglobalisation’ is a far sounder platform upon which to build progressive global left politics than the dubious promises of ‘deglobalisation’.

To put it more directly: our enemy is not globalisation, it is neoliberalism. The well-intended, but nonetheless troubling, dalliance of some on the left with forms of nationalism that seek a retreat from the global stage is a dead end. Worse, they threaten to give succour to a regressive, right-wing project that paradoxically seeks to entrench yet-more pathological forms of neoliberalism. That this may be inadvertent is no excuse. The irony is that, as we seek to enter fully into the post-neoliberal era, we have a greater chance to shape globalisation in ways that favour our interests than at any time in recent memory. The range of genuinely ‘global’ challenges – from automation, digitisation and the scale of monopolistic power amongst the major technology firms, to tax and finance, climate change, mass migration and pronounced demographic shifts – demands that we do so. To avoid that challenge at this point in time – to choose to remain trapped intellectually in the cul-de-sac of ‘progressive nationalism’ – would be both a gross abdication of responsibility and a staggering missed opportunity for the left. This failure would be predicated, moreover, on a tragically misguided interpretation of the world. 44 Globalisation is not going away. Our only option is to advance a progressive globalism over a regressive nationalism, and to avoid handing the advantage to the neoliberals once again.

Matthew Bishop is a Research Fellow at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) and Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Sheffield.

Tony Payne is Professorial Fellow at SPERI, University of Sheffield.

Notes

1. On the question of the ‘supposed’ development of ‘advanced’ countries, see Matthew L. Bishop and Anthony Payne, ‘Is Britain “un-developing” before our eyes?’ SPERI Comment, 29 and 30 January 2019. Part One: https://bit.ly/2WAeRTe and Part Two: https://bit.ly/2WDMAuP.

2. See Cemal Burak Tansel (ed.), States of Discipline: Authoritarian Neoliberalism and the Contested Reproduction of Capitalist Order, Rowman and Littlefield, London 2017.

3. For examples of how seemingly mundane products and activities are fundamentally ‘global’ and ‘political’ in nature, see the various excellent short pieces on the International Political Economy of Everyday Life (I-PEEL) initiative by academics at Warwick University: http://i-peel.org/.

4. See Colin Hay, ‘What place for ideas in the structure-agency debate? Globalisation as a “process without a subject”’, 2001: http://www.criticalrealism.com/archive/ cshay_wpisad.html.

5. David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics, and Culture, Polity Press, Cambridge 1999, p2.

6. For a more detailed version of the argument in this passage, see Anthony Payne, ‘Who dun Brexit’: “globalisation” or global neoliberalism?’, SPERI Comment, 26 July 2016, at https://bit.ly/2Xadcb3.

7. Tony Blair, ‘Leader’s Speech, Labour Party Conference, Brighton, 27 September, 2005 at http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=182

8. Kenichi Ohmae, The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in an Interlinked Economy, Collins, London 1990.

9. See Matthew L. Bishop, ‘Rethinking the political economy of development beyond the “rise of the BRICS”’, SPERI Paper No 30, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, 2016: http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Beyondthe-Rise-of-the-BRICS.pdf.

10. Amongst the voluminous literature on this subject, four especially good books are: David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005; Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010; Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survives the Meltdown, Verso, London 2013; and William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition, Sage, New York 2014.

11. Ruchir Sharma, ‘Globalisation as we know it is over – and Brexit is the biggest sign yet’, Guardian, 28 July 2016: https://bit.ly/2at7sBw.

12. We do discuss this, however, in the blog series on which much of this piece is based: Matthew L. Bishop and Anthony Payne, ‘The political economies of different globalisations Part Two: “deglobalisation from the right”’, SPERI Comment, 14 March 2019: https://bit.ly/2XK7olE.

13. Jeffrey Sachs and Charles Wyplosz, ‘The economic consequences of President Mitterrand’, Economic Policy, Vol 1 Issue 2, 1986.

14. Arthur Goldhammer, ‘How French socialism built – and destroyed – the European Union’, Foreign Policy, 9 September 2016: https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/09/ how-french-socialism-built-and-destroyed-the-european-union/.

15. Harrison Stetler, ‘The rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and France’s “post-democracy”’, The New Republic, 18 April 2017: https://bit.ly/2WJlebF.

16. See Paul Leleu, ‘Europe : Mélenchon abandonne le Frexit à la droite’, Agora Vox, 11 September 2018: https://www.agoravox.fr/tribune-libre/article/europe-melenchonabandonne-le-207556.

17. The most substantial statement of this position is found in Wolfgang Streeck, How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System, Verso, London 2017. But see also the work of Fritz Scharpf at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wanAHt9p7Zg and Martin Höpner at https://www.socialeurope.eu/social-europe-is-a-myth.

18. Wolfgang Streeck, ‘Why Europe can’t function as it stands’, Verso Blog, 7 November 2016: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2926-wolfgang-streeck-why-europe-can-tfunction-as-it-stands.

19. Manès Weisskircher, ‘Will Germans rise up for a new left-wing movement? What to know about Aufstehen’, LSE EUROPP Blog, 30 August 2018: https://bit.ly/2KTyXFT.

20. Matthew L. Bishop, ‘Labour’s Titanic Brexit nightmare’, SPERI Comment, 24 July 2017: http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2017/07/24/labours-titanic-brexit-nightmare/.

21. See Owen Worth, ‘Lexit: did it ever really exist?’, Marxist Sociology Blog, 5 December 2018: https://bit.ly/31yIms4.

22. Christopher Bickerton and Richard Tuck, ‘A Brexit proposal’, Briefings for Brexit, August 2018: https://briefingsforbrexit. com/a-brexit-proposal-by-christopher-bickerton-and-richard-tuck/; Samir Amin, ‘Brexit and the EU implosion: national sovereignty – for what purpose?’, Monthly Review Online, August 2016: https://mronline.org/2016/08/08/amin080816-html/; Lee Jones, ‘The EU referendum: Brexit, the politics of scale and state transformation’, The Disorder of Things, May 2016: https://thedisorderofthings. com/2016/05/24/the-eu-referendum-brexit-the-politics-of-scale-and-statetransformation/; Costas Lapavitsas, The Left Case Against the EU, Polity Press, Cambridge 2019; Joe Guinan, ‘Forbidden fruit: the neglected political economy of Lexit’, IPPR Progressive Review, Vol 24, Issue 1, 2017.

23. Jones, ‘EU referendum’.

24. See Philip G. Cerny, ‘In the shadow of ordoliberalism: the paradox of neoliberalism in the 21st century’, European Review of International Studies, Vol 3 No 1, 2016.

25. See: Robbie Shilliam, Race and the Undeserving Poor, Agenda Publishing, Newcastle 2018; and Owen Parker, ‘The Labour Party’s free movement dilemma’, SPERI Comment, 30 July 2017: https://bit.ly/2IDFIc1.

26. On Lexit, see: Simon Wren-Lewis, ‘Lexit’, Mainly Macro, 24 July 2017: https://bit.ly/2MMCyrN; ‘Lexit misdirection’, Mainly Macro, 6 January 2019: https://bit. ly/2RdtfQe; on state-led development see: Matthew L. Bishop and Anthony Payne et al, ‘Revisiting the developmental state’, SPERI Paper No 43, Sheffield Political Research Institute, 2018: https://bit.ly/2RhoIvX.

27. Matthew L. Bishop, ‘Brexit and free trade fallacies’, SPERI Comment, 11 and 16 January 2017, Part One: https://bit.ly/31yLYKQ; Part Two: https://bit.ly/2XKQaEX.

28. On the perversion of Brexit terminology, see Chris Grey, ‘How the Hard Brexit goalposts shifted’, Prospect, 5 September 2018: https://bit.ly/2IiLX6h.

29. See Matthew L. Bishop, ‘Brexit: making the unpolishable sparkle?’, SPERI Comment, 13 July 2018: https://bit.ly/2uIeREy.

30. Anthony Barnett, ‘Why Brexit won’t work: the EU is about regulation not sovereignty’, OpenDemocracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/why-brexitwon-t-work-eu-is-about-regulation-not-sovereignty.

31. Aditya Chakrabortty, ‘If Labour aids a Tory Brexit it will be destroyed by what follows’, Guardian, 25 February 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2019/feb/25/labour-aids-tory-brexit-destroyed.

32. Matthew L. Bishop, ‘Balancing a post-Brexit trade and industrial strategy’, in Craig Berry (ed.). What We Really Mean When We Talk About Industrial Strategy, Future Economies, Manchester 2018: https://bit.ly/2JZY3Cy.

33. Mark Blyth, ‘Structures do not come with an instruction sheet: interests, ideas, and progress in political science’, Perspectives in Political Science, Vol 1 Issue 1, 2003, p695.

34. Paul Mason, ‘The global order is dying. But it’s an illusion to think Britain can survive without the EU’, Guardian, 27 June 2016: https://bit.ly/28XzTXN.

35. On trying to characterise the post-crisis era, see: Anthony Payne and Colin Hay, ‘The great uncertainty’, SPERI Paper No 5, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, 2013: https://bit.ly/2FaTfXz.

36. John M. Hobson and M. Ramesh, ‘Globalisation makes of states what states make of it: between agency and structure in the state/globalisation debate’, New Political Economy, Vol 7 Issue 1, 2002, p5.

37. Dani Rodrik, Has Globalization Gone Too Far?, Columbia University Press, New York, 1997.

38. Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox: Why Global Markets, States, and Democracy Can’t Coexist, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011, p280.

39. Dani Rodrik, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2018; for an abridged op-ed version, see: ‘Straight talk on trade’, Project Syndicate, 15 November 2016: https://bit.ly/2XcsUT9.

40. Eric Helleiner, The Status Quo Crisis: Global Financial Governance after the 2008 Meltdown, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014, p176.

41. Colin Crouch, The Globalization Backlash, Polity Press, Cambridge 2019, p10.

42. Ibid, p48.

43. John G. Ruggie, ‘International regimes, transactions, and change: embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order’, International Organization, Vol 36 Issue 2, 1982, free online at: http://ftp.columbia.edu/itc/sipa/U6800/readings-sm/rug_ ocr.pdf.

44. See: James Stafford, ‘Labour’s missing Brexit strategy’, Dissent, Winter 2019: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/labours-missing-brexit-strategy; and Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite and James Stafford, ‘When do you have to lie?’ Renewal, Volume 27 Issue 1, 2019, at http://www.renewal.org.uk/articles/brexitwhen-do-you-have-to-lie1.

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