Updated: Feb 9
International Human Rights Law Research Paper by Charles Gimoh
From exploited poor rural farmers in Africa, to poorly paid factory workers in Bangladesh, to the under-employed working poor of Europe, and the fast disappearing middle class of America, globalisation is accused of pauperising multitudes. Positive populism constitutes a challenge against the neoliberal policies and practices, systems and structures, players and projects, that are responsible for this race to the bottom, which is manifest on each continent.
Globalisation and Populism are two vast subject areas encompassing expansive fields of human activity. Their geographical reach circumscribes sovereign states and supranational configurations. They impact on policies, programmes, projects, and people everywhere, with huge implications for nations. It would be venturesome to attempt condensing the whole range of issues embodied by these concepts here, so I shall limit the discussion to neoliberal aspects of globalization, in relation to a restricted view of populism, specifically popular populism, also known as positive populism, one built on the positive and good aspects of popular agitations.
Neoliberal globalisation has had profound positive and negative impacts globally. It is widely held that most of its negative outcomes are being experienced by the poor majority, while the rich minority are getting richer on its benefits, creating abysmal inequalities within and across nations. This has led to the emergence of the anti-globalization movements (AGMs) and to populist backlash with local populations from Seattle to Seoul, Lima to London, Pretoria to Port Moresby, protesting against the global economic system. The importance of this paper is underscored by the gathering momentum of populist movements, and the agitations for a radical restructuring of the global economic landscape. The goal is to add my voice to this call for a just new global economic order. Accordingly, this paper will attempt to reconceptualise neoliberal globalisation by advocating a cross-fertilization of its good aspects with the reform ideas of positive populism, with a view to incubating a viable alternative hybrid, which we will call, Post-Globalization.
We will discuss the topic under three major sections. The first part sets forth the case for neoliberal globalisation by exploring some of its key benefits and achievements, with a view to proving that in spite of its many negatives, it still has indubitable positive elements that we could extract to constitute a basis for the reformulation of a new order. The second part is a case for positive populism. It presents the counter-argument against neoliberal globalisation by identifying fundamental concerns of popular populism against it, with the goal of ultimately addressing essential elements of those concerns and incorporating the outcome into a new global economic framework. The third part is an attempt to reconceptualise neoliberal globalisation by advocating a cross-fertilization of its good aspects with reformist positive populist ideas, to initiate the Post-Globalisation era.
The Case for Globalisation
The past few decades have witnessed the ascent and ascendancy of neoliberalism. We have seen its rapid evolution and the accelerated transplantation of its principles and practices transnationally. This universalisation of neoliberalism or what Claudia Von Werlhof calls ‘globalisation of neoliberalism’, is what is now known as neoliberal globalisation. While globalisation and neoliberal globalisation are not strictly the same concept, as globalisation also entails cultural and other features, both words may be used interchangeably to represent the same thing. By definition, neoliberal globalisation is ‘the increasing integration of national economies into expanding international markets. This expansion of markets will mean that the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital, will result in a single global market in inputs and outputs; so that, economically speaking, there are no foreigners.’
Since the 70s, the West led by America has vigorously advanced the neoliberal economic ideas of the Chicago School of Economists known as the Washington Consensus. A spin-off of 19th-century liberal economic ideas propounded by Adam Smith, advocates of neoliberalism support their arguments by highlighting many of its supposed benefits, which they argue include, production of higher growth, provision of better returns on investments, innovation in technology, promotion of democratic values, creation of more opportunities for jobs and businesses, facilitation of movement of labour, consolidation of global economic stability, reduction of poverty, acceleration of development, and accumulation of wealth. We will look at some of these arguments. Joseph Stieglitz argues strongly against various aspects of neoliberalism. He argues that it has not been well managed in most countries, so has generated poverty and inequality. He, however, concedes that ‘Globalisation has already produced too many winners for us to walk away from… It has produced enormous amounts of benefits.’ He points to the prosperity of Western economies as well as the rapid growth of China, East Asian countries and India as evidence of the benefits of well-managed globalisation.
Supporting this view, Scott Sumner avers that Britain, Chile, Hong Kong and Singapore grew economically from 1980 to 2008 due to neoliberal policies. Australia, Sweden, Canada reversed their economic decline and started growing in the 90s, unlike Japan whose economy started sputtering after failing to reform its statist domestic economy. Debunking widely held views that globalisation has increased world poverty, Srinivasan argues that the majority of the world’s poor live in rural parts of China and India and that they have benefited as these two countries have embraced globalisation. He blames poverty in sub-Saharan Africa on conflict and governance issues, not liberalisation.
William Cline suggests that about half a billion people could be lifted out of poverty in 15 years ‘If all, global trade barriers were eliminated’. Brad DeLong argues for even stronger liberalisation, attributing ‘30% of net global prosperity and considerable reduction in cross-national inequality’ to globalization’. Boudreaux and Gei support these views and elaborate further on the benefits of free trade ‘Free trade increases prosperity…..by allowing consumers to buy more, better-quality products at lower costs. It drives economic growth, enhanced efficiency, increased innovation, and the greater fairness that accompanies a rules-based system.
Arthur Brook credits neoliberal globalisation with what he describes as ‘the greatest achievement in human history’ contending that it is the best anti-poverty strategy ever invented. Mark Perry reinforces this argument reaffirming that ‘the 80% reduction in world poverty in only 36 years…..is one of the most remarkable achievements in human history’. These conclusions are based on a working paper which suggests a decline in global inequality and an increase in global welfare of about 128% to 145%.
Perry also highlights one of the major contributions of globalisation which is the emergence of the much-maligned, multinational corporations (MNCs), and their beneficial role to the public. Using the case of Walmart, he argues that ‘In addition to reducing poverty with low-cost groceries, clothing and household goods, Walmart improves the lives of underserved individuals and communities with $1.4 billion in charitable giving every year, which is almost $4 million every day!’ I would add that, as the largest retail company in the world with branches in 26 countries, it is bringing wealth to these nations through investments and through taxes generated by governments on its income. As the largest private employer in the world, with 2.3 million employees, it is creating job opportunities both in rich and poor countries.
The massive potentiality of globalisation is more pronounced when explored in the light of how it has transformed these corporations. The statistics are staggering, ‘Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 52 are corporations and 48 are countries, and these corporations have sales figures between $51 billion and $247 billion. Seventy per cent of world trade is controlled by just 500 of the largest industrial corporations, and in 2002, the top 200 had combined sales equivalent to 28% of world GDP’. Gary Quinlivan concludes that ‘The role of MNCs is underappreciated — they have provided developing countries with much-needed capital, jobs, and environmentally friendly technologies’. More recently, ‘An assessment of the top 200 entities found that many smaller countries were squeezed out, leaving 153 corporations above many nations from Africa, Asia and South America.
Contradicting critics like Wendy Brown who argue that neoliberal globalisation is anti-democratic; various proponents of globalisation contend that it facilitates democratisation, especially in developing countries. In former communist countries like Slovakia, Bulgaria, and many others, democracy clearly advanced after they discarded communism for neoliberal globalisation. Evelyne Huber advances the notion that ‘more liberalized economies provide a more hospitable environment for democracy than more regulated economies. ‘ Mislav Kukoc supports this view: ‘ accelerated globalization of recent decades has unfolded in tandem with a notable growth of liberal democracy in many states …..’
From the foregoing, there is obviously a strong case for globalisation. Its utter pervasiveness is underscored by its visibility in virtually every aspect of our lives. To bring it closer home and see how strong the case is for globalisation, you only need a casual perusal of the average day of many average people in cities across the world. This is probably your story or that of someone you know:
You live in London, in a house that was constructed by a Spanish company with Polish labourers. Your Concierge is Portuguese; the cleaner is Ghanaian; while your live-in nanny is Filipino. You visit the Indian corner shop down your street for grocery then drive to work in a Japanese car, drop off your child at an Islamic school where she would be taught by an Indian teacher, and then you get fined for parking in the wrong place by a Moroccan traffic warden. Arriving late at the London office of the multinational oil company where you work, you receive a query from your Australian boss, who is under stress due to agitations by Nigerian Niger Delta militants against your company for pollution and exploitation in that region. You are concerned because you rely on this job to support yourself and family, oil crises in Nigeria could affect your UK job security. Lunch at work is a burger meal from McDonald’s and if you are too tired to cook in the evening, you order a Chinese takeaway, with your iPhone which gets answered by a Vietnamese lady. Ten minutes later you are tucking into it, grateful to the Malaysian delivery man who arrived so quickly. You unwind after supper on your couch which was made in China and assembled in Sweden but which you purchased at Ikea in London. Your Samsung television imported from S Korea and purchased on Amazon.com, is showing a Brazilian soap, sub-titled in English. At the end of the programme, you retire for the night to cuddle up in your imported French shabby chic bed, bedecked in rich Syrian silk fabric. This story is indicative of how indebted we are to globalisation for many of the things we take for granted today. It has diffused into every fabric of society and literally permeates our social, cultural, economic, spiritual and political landscapes. It is difficult to contemplate a future devoid of globalisation and its many beneficial influences.
The Case for Populism
Populism is a topic that is currently generating global interest. Apart from the behemothic impact, it is exerting on global politics evidenced by Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and the upsurge of far-right parties in Europe, there are controversies to do with its definition. A key terminological argument is that the concept is ‘vague and indefinite’. This is mainly attributable to its multiplied contextual applications, it manifests in both positive and negative strands in different situations. According to Cristobal Kaltwasser, Populism ‘ is either labelled as a pathological political phenomenon, or it is regarded as the most authentic form of political representation.’ Cas Mudde defines it as an ideology.’ Joseph Salerno however, does not see populism as an ideology, but as 'A strategy.’ While Margaret Carnovan sees it as ‘an appeal to the people against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values of the society. In its most negative formulation, it is characterised as fascism. However, this paper is concerned with the one to do with its positive elements, the one to do with egalitarianism and democratisation which Yannis Stavrakakis calls popular, and associates with ‘the people’; the one recently conceptualised as positive populism.
Charles Derber advances this idea of ‘A new positive populism’ as opposed to the general notion of populism which he criticizes as flawed on various levels. He argues that ‘positive populism is a movement that affirms the positive virtues of business even as it seeks to humanise and democratise it.’ He expounds further: ‘Positive populism refers to an embryonic social movement that has begun to take form and emerge from within several traditional social movements…..While the organisational structure and ideology of this movement is still relatively undeveloped, a new vision is now coming into view’. Derber gives us an insight into the nascent nature of the positive populist movement and of its evolving ideological leanings. Positive populism is against the exploitative machinations of big business as well as the Machiavellian shenanigans of the state and the elite against the poor. It is not strictly against globalisation but is against the unsavoury effects of neoliberal globalisation. It is not anti-business but is anti- exploitative big business practices. It is not against prosperity but is against the profiteering that has left the minority in stupendous prosperity and the majority in scandalous poverty. It is not bigoted, extremist, xenophobic or racist. Rather, while expressing valid concerns about state sovereignty, it is multicultural and ‘pro-globalist’. Importantly, it is both a movement and an evolving ideology.
We are thus presented with the collision of two movements representing two ideological divides. Arturo Escobar gives us a further view of the principal actors involved in this confrontation: the neoliberal protagonist is symbolised by ‘US-based forms of imperial globality, an economic-military-ideological order that subordinates regions, people, and economies worldwide’; while the positive populist antagonist, is embodied by ‘self-organising social movement networks which operate under a new logic, fostering forms of counter-hegemonic globalisation.’
Anne-Marie Slaughter encapsulates core ideas of positive populism as ‘populism without demagoguery, a people-centred politics that measures success in terms of the numbers who have access to good jobs, schools and life opportunities’.
Joseph Stiglitz, may not identify as a populist, but he has consistently expressed anti-neoliberal views that are consistent with positive populist thinking. He argues that ‘if by populism one means worrying about how the bottom two-thirds of the population fares, then populism is not a bad thing.’ In another article titled ”Don’t trust technocrats”, he exhibited similar proclivities, and recently he bluntly submitted that ‘neoliberalism is dead’. Much of the scathing criticism against globalisation is underpinned by the fact that many of its vaunted benefits have not trickled down to developing nations, and the poor worldwide.
A study by Branko Milanovic revealed that the bottom 5% of the world population have not benefited at all in more than 20 years of neoliberal economic policies. Robert McChesney argues that ‘The economic consequences of these policies have been the same just about everywhere ….. a disastrous global environment, an unstable global economy and an unprecedented bonanza for the wealthy. Abdul Paliwala corroborates these views:
The globalisation of market injustice seeps into every aspect of society whether through unhealthy natural resource extraction, land grabs or exploitation of workers in globalised production chains. The plays of power ensure that nation competes against nation in races to the bottom that exploitative systems are set up within nations to promote cycles of enrichment for the few and deprivation and growing inequalities for the many.
From exploited poor rural farmers in Africa, to poorly paid factory workers in Bangladesh, to the under-employed working poor of Europe, and the fast-disappearing middle class of America, globalisation is accused of pauperising multitudes. Positive populism constitutes a challenge against the neoliberal policies and practices, systems and structures, players and projects, that are responsible for this race to the bottom, which is manifest on each continent.
In Latin America, which served as a kind of laboratory for initially applying the neoliberal doctrines of the Washington Consensus, there is increased unemployment, and the gap between them and their wealthier Northern neighbours has increased.
In Africa, using South Africa as a case study, it was a radical shift from racial apartheid to neoliberal apartheid. Neoliberal policies adopted by the government have led to gross economic inequalities in the country. Tagged ‘one of the most unequal places on earth’, wealth is concentrated in a few hands while about a third of its people wallow in poverty. In Australia, ‘The Australian ideal of egalitarianism was destroyed as wealth disparities in Australia began to rival and exceed other countries’
In Europe, ‘The result of the neoliberal experiment in Russia has been nearly seven years of economic devastation on a scale unseen anywhere else in peacetime in this century.’ Even strong EU economies are feeling the brunt, with Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Ireland and the UK experiencing banking and various forms of serious economic crises. Greece is still unstable, and trying to extricate itself from ‘ the stranglehold of neoliberal policies.’ Greek scholars like Costas Douzinas have taken on a popular populist battle cry: ‘My optimism was confirmed by the astounding results of Syriza, the radical left party…..The seeds were sown in Syntagma Square, in popular uprisings up and down the country, in the many instances of civil disobedience and solidarity, in the ‘can’t pay won’t pay’ movements’.
In the US, the biggest champion of neoliberalism, ‘the richest 1 percent of Americans today own more than $4 trillion in assets, enough to pay down the national debt themselves. The bottom 80 percent own only 6 percent of the nation’s financial wealth’. The clout and activities of multinational corporations is another contentious issue. These products of globalisation wield immense influence within the corridors of power and over people, they remaining largely undemocratic and unaccountable. Their aggressive capitalism has created an exclusive league of wealthy elite at the expense of myriads of poor people. The combined annual revenue of the top 200 MNCs is greater than the total income of 4.5 billion people on the planet. Their combined income is in excess of $7 trillion which is higher than the total economy of 182 countries. Low wages, zero hour contracts, downsizing, automation, poor working conditions, and zero social responsibility are common exploitative features of the way many MNCs operate. Some Pharmaceutical MNCs are accused of violating the right to life in many developing countries by resisting the production of generic alternatives to their patented drugs. The infamous battle by Novartis, was an attempt to win patent protection for its cancer drug, Glivec. That would have made the drugs unreachable to some of the 300,000 Indians using the generic version.
Globalisation is implicated in Climate change, Global warming, depletion of natural resources, and environmental degradation. The top 3000 companies in the world are responsible for causing over $2 trillion in environmental damage on the planet, and just 90 corporations are responsible for two-thirds of man-made global warming emission. From Congo to Brazil, communities are lamenting the rape of their natural resources and the destruction of biodiversity by MNCs.
International economic institutions, like the World Bank, IMF and WTO are a principal focus of populist concern. Derber argues that the trio ‘represents a kind of shadow economic government’. He contends that some of their activities constitute a threat to public sovereignty and global democracy. Arguing along similar lines, Sharon Beder submits that IMF prescriptions have breed poverty and not helped many nations.
Neoliberalism has also promoted neo-imperialism by aiding Western powers to exert subtle domination over developing nations. The democratic deficit in global financial institutions enables these powers, especially the US to manipulate the systems to advance their imperial agenda. These states also prop up MNCs in the form of subsidies and low tariffs and are complicit with them in pillaging and plundering poor countries.
Post Globalisation: Reconceptualising Globalization in the context of Positive Populism
Before outlining proposals for a new economic order, it is pertinent at this stage to consider some arguments by neoliberal scholars who advocate continuing with the current system. Nina Pavcnik argues that countries grow faster when they open up to globalisation. Attributing poverty and inequality to other factors, she contends that ‘it is virtually impossible to find cases of poor countries that were able to grow over long periods of time without opening up to trade. And we have no evidence that trade leads to increases in poverty and declines in growth.’ However, Pavnik seems to contradict herself later by admitting that ‘globalisation generates winners and losers’, this admission takes us back to one of the cardinal arguments against globalisation, that the winners it creates are in the minority, and their win, gotten through largely unfair practices, is so big that it sinks the losing majority deeper into precarious poverty.
Mardsen Pirie, believes ‘that a combination of free markets and free trade….. will bring more benefit to the world’s poorer people than any of the restrictive and redistributist policies advocated by the Left.’ He argues that ‘Neoliberalism seeks to remove barriers to trade and investment, not to help the rich in developed countries, but to raise the living standards of people in poor countries’.
While strongly criticising the populist movement, Thomas Friedman staunchly advocates neoliberalism and allocates a major part of the poverty blame on the state, ‘The market cannot be counted on to make up for the failure of the state to deliver decent governance’. However, these opposing arguments, while reflecting some half-truths, fly in the face of reality. As has been clearly demonstrated in the preceding arguments, neoliberal globalisation, in spite of its achievements, has not met many of the fundamental challenges of today’s complex society. It has not satisfied the economic needs of majority of the world’s populations, especially the less developed nations who need help most. Today, large swathes of human population pushed to the extremities of human resilience, stand in danger of being engulfed by the negative xenophobic brand of populism that is steadily sweeping across the globe. We clearly need a new economic order – one that harnesses the positive aspects of neoliberal globalisation with the positive concerns of popular populism. In other words, we need to reconceptualise globalisation by reconfiguring its problematic aspects with an infusion of positive populist reformatory ideas. We will call this emerging new order, Post-Globalisation.
Admittedly, any post-globalisation strategy would need effective and elaborate wide-ranging dialogue both within the intellectual community, the political, corporate, and wider civil populations. A variety of complex calculations, considerations, and consultations involving many complex interests and groups would need to be made to facilitate the right decisions and to create the appropriate regulations for the post-globalisation order. For now, we will restrict ourselves to an outline of some of the seminal ideas being advanced by scholars to reconceptualise globalisation. I shall round off with a synopsis of some of the key reforms advocated including some of my own ideas.
Derber argues that ‘we now urgently need to reinvent globalisation to create a safe, democratic and economically secure world.’ . He proposes the democratisation of the global economic system as well as the establishment of strong global countervailing powers that can limit the excesses of corporations. He also suggests regulating global capital movements; promoting employee ownership of corporations; strengthening the labour movement; creating a ‘global social charter’ that sets basic global standards for corporations on the environment, and involving the people in the decision making processes.
Severyn Bruyn canvasses for the creation of ‘a whole new system of governance in markets and states’. She advances the idea of creating a civil republic, ‘ a civil market system, one that would not destroy the core values of society, but cultivate and strengthen them’. It is a melange of civil society, government, the corporate world with societal values at the centre, and should lead to ‘a system of international law, a world court system…..’
Pranab Bardhan, proposes that the ‘going forward strategy’ should involve capital control, reduced protectionism – lifting of import restrictions on poor countries and reduction on tariffs of goods they export to rich countries; facilitating trust between poor country producers and rich country buyers; creation of social programmes to promote wealth redistribution; facilitating research in developing nations to aid development; and immigration reforms in rich nations to facilitate the movement of unskilled workers.
Stiglitz explores the fundamental problem of inequality created by the present economic system and argues that ‘another world is possible’. His vision is for ‘A more efficient economy and fairer society’ that will ‘ come from making markets work like markets-more competitive, less exploitative-and tempering their excesses.’ He presents an ‘economic reform agenda’ that proposes curbing the financial sector in terms of risk-taking, transparency, competitiveness, predatory lending, bonuses and offshore banking; creating ‘stronger and more effectively enforced competition laws'; improving corporate governance-including restricting the ability of CEOs to abusively enrich themselves; reforming bankruptcy laws comprehensively to keep them from favouring the elite; ending state giveaways both of public assets and in procurement, as these amount to transferring public wealth to MNCs; stopping corporate welfare and subsidies; reforming the judicial and tax systems-especially corporate and estate taxing, to block loopholes being exploited by MNCs and the elite.
We will round off with a synopsis of some of the key reforms advocated including some of my own ideas.
Democratisation of global economic institutions and Localisation of Resource Administration
This would involve neutralising the dominant hegemonic influence of the US and major powers in the international economic institutions, democratising them by adopting a system of one state one vote or one region one vote; and regionalising financial contributions so that states contribute on a regional basis to fund these bodies.
The localisation of resource administration involves co-opting local communities into decisions that would affect their communities either by MNCs, financial institutions, or the government. It is noteworthy that the World Bank and IMF are currently involving local stake-holder participation in poverty alleviation projects. These initiatives should be strengthened and expanded.
Jose Antonio Ocampo supports this view of the democratisation with fair representation of developing nations. However, Davesh Kapur does not believe it is structurally possible to correct the democratic deficit in these institutions.
Protection of the Environment and Conservation of Depleting Resources
Strict enforceable Environmental standards would need to be included in WTO regulations for businesses to aid protection. The US president has just announced it is pulling out of the Paris climate deal. New protection regulations should be binding and enforceable. I am also proposing that the depleting human resource of developing countries in terms of highly skilled workers that could facilitate growth in these countries should be addressed. Rich nations should reduce their poaching of strategic experts from poor countries; they should absorb more unskilled migrants.
Redistribution of Wealth and Creation of Opportunities
Opportunities should be created for the unemployed and under-employed poor in western countries as well as spreading wealth to developing nations through investments which create jobs, through fair wages from MNCs to the local workforce, through humanitarian initiatives aimed at community empowerment by the wealthy elite.
Regulation of MNCs and Consolidation of Local Corporation
Derber has proposed public chartering as well as employee ownership systems for large corporations. These would facilitate the democratisation of MNCs, make them more accountable to the public, and contribute more to society. Governments would need to formulate policies aimed at developing domestic corporations. There should be deprivatisation of key public utilities such as electricity, telecom, and transportation. In this paper, we have looked at current populist agitations against the neoliberal globalisation order. The goal has been to show that the present global economic system has been widely discredited, is unsustainable going forward, and that we need to start discussing viable alternatives for the future.
We outlined the case and arguments in support of neoliberal globalisation. The arguments advanced, suggest that the system has certain benefits, some of which could be harnessed going forward.
However, the overwhelming evidence shows that the negative consequences of neoliberalism on society far outweigh its benefits. A system that was supposed to provide prosperity has largely led to austerity and widespread poverty. It is no longer tenable to keep perpetuating such a failed concept.
The natural outcome of this is an attempt to chart the way forward. This has necessitated our reconceptualization of neoliberal globalisation, through an infusion of reformative positive populist ideas. The result of this process would be the emergence of a new global economic order which we have optimistically tagged ‘Post-globalisation’.
RNI Research Department
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