Book Review: In Defence of Globalization

cover While Globalization can mean many things, it is economic globalization that is the favourite target of protestors around the world. Who are these protestors and why are they bothered ? Some of them are outright hypocrites as we have seen in the World Social Forum and the Communists of Kerala. The anti-capitalism movement has now morphed into anti-globalization to anti-corporations to anti-American movement. Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University has decided to take the protestors head on and is the focus of his book In Defense of Globalization
The accusation against globalization is that it increases poverty in both rich and poor coutries, destroys unions and labor rights, harms women, destroys local cultures, and damages the environment. He tackles each issue one by one.
The author had worked in the Planning Commision of India in the 60s and the plan they came up with to decrease poverty, to make wealth trickle down to the bottom was to grow the pie. It required that the government would take steps to accelerate growth by building infrastructure and attracting foreign funds. But growth may not really pull the poor into gainful employment like the tribals in India and inner city youth in United States. According to Bhagwati, the poor’s access to investment can be made sure by replacing bureaucrats with the market. Another way to accelerate growth is by trade and the case he mentions is that of countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. While these countries expanded trade, India remained closed and hence missed an opportunity.

He argues that Globalization promotes democracy both directly and indirectly. In case of the indirect influence, he cites the example of a village in India, Kamalpur, which cut out middlemen and started using the computer for selling directly to the customer. As these villagers become independent actors they start getting involved in the democratic process to protect their economic interests. This is another reason why both Democrat and Republican Presidents are savy about having business relations with China, hoping that the economic prosperity in turn will bring in democracy.
While the critics accuse that globalization destroys local culture and traditions and tends to Americanize the world, Bhagwati argues that globalization tends to produce cultures that is an amalgamation of various cultures. He points out the enhancements made to English by writers like Salman Rushdie who incorporated Bombay slang into the language. According to him, globalization has contributed to the rise of multiculturalism and the celebration of ethnicity. McDonalds has menus customized to the country they are in and even in United States, there are multi-lingual ATMs.
There is also one chapter devoted to legal and illegal migration to developed countries. Bhagwati argues that while it is almost impossible to prevent illegal immigration, the Govts must find a way to integrate the migrants into society so that they maximize the economic benefits. He also advocates spreading migrants all over the country so that they do not affect the wages in one region.
While in some countries where the administration has cannot use the world globalization for fear of retibution, they have been using terms like “reforms with a human face”. But Bhagwati’s statement is that globalization already has a human face. It all depends on who is governing. He offers words of caution to countries wishing to adopt globalization by saying that first you need the institutions and processes to come to the assistance if there is an unexpected change in the global markets.
While the anti-globalization crowd uses violence or emotional arguments to advance their case, Bhagwati attacks them factually. Each of the points raised by the anti-globalization crowd is dealt respectfully and the hollowness of their argument is revealed.
The difference between this book and the Lexus and the Olive Tree is the difference between a book written by a professor and a journalist. While Thomas Friedman oversimplifies the world around him, Bhagwati writes with the erudition of a scholar. But at the end of some chapters, I was left confused becase of a lack of explanation. For example, while he argues that life of poor people can be improved by involving the markets, there was no explanation was to why the markets would be interested in uplifiting the poor. His theories on dealing with illegal immigrants though they sound logical may not be adopted by many Governments.
At the end, this is a book worth having in your bookshelf.
Related Links: Reviews from Economist, New York Times