LONDON — Many of my American friends are understandably tired of the whole globalization debate. But here in Europe, anti-globalization sentiment continues to generate activism, editorials, discussions — and some very big thoughts by some very stuffy people. In short, globalization continues to be the international Left’s preferred whipping boy.
Everywhere, globalization — said as if there is no need to even define what we mean by it — has been blamed for bankruptcies, hostile takeovers, cross-border mergers, the erosion of local and national cultures, and downward pressures on real wages. It is broadly — and inaccurately — conceived solely as a nefarious process of unification that homogenizes anything with which it comes into contact and reduces everything to a base common denominator.
Globalization is, in short, the straw man at which the world’s social justice activists, voluntary do-gooders and NGO workers — especially in Europe — point their collective finger.
But this is a selective reading of globalization which conceives of it as one sort of process, one kind of dynamic, one type of phenomenon. It completely ignores globalization’s other side — which has to do with heterogeneity rather than homogeneity.
Manuel Castells, the so-called “philosopher of the Internet”, has written that globalization — facilitated through information technology and the Internet revolution — offers opportunities for firms and individuals to come together as well as to break apart; to coalesce and form new, hybrid collectivities as well as pull away and form fragmented “resistance identities.”
More succinctly, Roland Robertson says that globalization is the “universalization of the particular and the particularization of the universal,” reflecting the inherent tension and contradiction at the heart of globalization. (In my most torpid moments, I think of globalization as nothing more than the Schumpeterian process of creative destruction.)
How does all this express itself in business and commerce? Well, at a general level, I think it’s fair to say that reams of data point to how globalization has contributed to an increase in global FDI flows, flowing into and out of both developed and developing countries. Sure, it has contributed to a frenzy of cross-border mergers and consolidations; but it has also contributed to spin-offs, break-away enterprises and the creation of wholly new ventures financed privately. I’ve heard very few Europeans speak about these latter aspects.
In fact, a recent report from UNCTAD reveals that globalization has contributed to a process which generates alternative and differentiated sources of financing at the regional and local levels. And just a cursory look at the 2006 Venture Capital Pro database shows a marked increase in the number of boutique venture capital firms around the world — a phenomenon that is a direct consequence of the possibilities, individualization and hyper-specialization facilitated and made dyanamic by some aspects of globalization.
At the micro- or firm level, we can also see expressions of this “fragmentary dynamic.” Companies like McDonald’s or Google hve been forced to provide custom-made goods and services. In Spain, for example, McDonald’s makes available the traditional cold, tomato soup called gazpacho. In Bolivia, they serve the Big Mac with a local hot sauce. In England, the chips come with alternative packets of vinegar.
Getting it right with the locals is, as Wal-Mart has found out the hard way, increasingly important.
Thus, while globalization on the one hand, has allowed some corporations to consolidate, it also stimulates the breaking apart of other firms and results in the differentiation of services. Some observers are already calling this fragmentation the “death of mass culture” — and the rise of bespoke commerce and investment.
Globalization thus allows individuals to demand goods and services a sui gusti. And producers and corporations have responded appropriately, delivering tailor-made services, providing custom-made goods. Even the time in which this activity takes place has been frozen or stopped, chopped up and fragmented (thanks to things like the TiVo).
Of course, the role of the information technology revolution and the Internet in all this cannot be overstated. With increased flows of data and information—with the ability to check prices for selected goods around the world, with reduced transport times and costs—the consumer has emerged stronger and more emboldened. The 21st century truly is the century of the individual consumer — of his rights, preferences, needs and customs.
So the next time some trendy lefty at a garden party is prattling on annoyingly about the homogenizing evils of globalization and the unification of everything under the control of a handful of multi-nationals, look at her with derision and say authoritatively: “You really have no idea what you are talking about.”
Alvino-Mario Fantini is Europe correspondent for Brainwash. He is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar through the European Union.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | James Velasquez
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond