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Previously in Politics & Prose:

The Uses of Sprawl (April 6, 2000)
Christopher Caldwell on Suburban Nation, New Urbanism, and how Democrats can reap the benefits of the sprawl they helped to create.

Be Afraid (April 6, 2000)
If the digital revolution produces the dystopian nightmare envisioned in the April issue of Wired, humanity's only hope may be the end of capitalism as we know it. Try selling that in an election year, Jack Beatty writes.

Tagging After Teddy (March 22, 2000)
Christopher Caldwell on why Teddy Roosevelt -- "an egomaniacal weirdo" -- is an unlikely hero to both Republicans and Democrats.

Bush vs. Gore (March 8, 2000)
Scenes from the first presidential debate of the 2000 election campaign. By Jack Beatty.

More Politics & Prose in Atlantic Unbound.


Discuss this article in the Politics & Society conference of Post & Riposte.



From the archives:

Our Real China Problem, by Mark Hertsgaard (November 1997)

The price of China's surging economy is a vast degradation of the environment, with planetary implications. Although the Chinese government knows the environment needs protection, writes the author, who spent six weeks inside China investigating the growing environmental crisis, it fears that doing the right thing could be political suicide.
Governing Globalism

In Runaway World, an "intellectually vigorous" new book, Anthony Giddens argues that the answer to our justified fears about the worldwide economy is stronger government -- both local and international

by Jack Beatty


May 3, 2000

In an editorial about the "anti-globalization protesters" lately convened in Washington to give the finger to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, The New Republic complained that they lacked "a deeper critique of global capitalism." Instead they were motivated by "an inchoate fear of trade in general" and of the IMF and the World Bank in particular. "Their moral impulse is commendable, but the worldview that undergirds it is delusional."

In its analysis of the protests, Business Week had the wit to look beyond the shirtless anarchists TNR focused on in a separate article about the protests, asking, "So is the hostility aired in Seattle and now in Washington just the ravings of fringe groups?" and answering, No. "The protesters have tapped into growing fears that U.S. policies benefit big companies instead of the average citizens -- of America or any other country."

A Business Week/Harris poll finds the American people gripped by what indeed looks like an inchoate fear of trade. While large majorities agree in the abstract that globalization is good for the economy and consumers, 68 percent think that trade agreements with low-wage countries like Mexico and China lower wages in the United States; and about three quarters believe major priorities of trade agreements should be to prevent unfair competition from countries that don't respect worker rights, to protect the environment, and to preserve U.S. jobs. In a finding that may herald a defeat this month for President Clinton's trade policy with China, 79 percent don't want China to gain unconditional access to the U.S. economy until it agrees "to meet human rights and labor standards."

Our fears about the global economy are not delusional, Anthony Giddens asserts in an intellectually vigorous new book, Runaway World: How Globalisation Is Reshaping Our Lives, which is full of epigrammatic arguments backed up with just enough evidence. "We live in a world of transformations, affecting almost everything we do," he writes. "For better or worse, we are being propelled into a global order that no one fully understands…." The ungainly word globalization, he points out, was rarely used up until the late eighties, and now "It has come from nowhere to be almost everywhere." Giddens, the Director of the London School of Economics, addresses some of the economic issues surrounding globalization, but he also expands our notion of it to include, for example, relationships between men and women. He discusses globalization through the light cast by four concepts: risk, tradition, family, and democracy.

Our feeling of powerlessness before the implacable imperatives of globalization reflects political reality -- politics lags well behind economics; the nation state has become a "shell institution" inadequate to its new tasks, at once "too small to solve the big problems, but also too large to solve the small ones," Giddens writes, paraphrasing Daniel Bell. To Giddens, "ecological risk" and "expanding inequality" are the biggest problems facing global society. He sees them as related but does not spell that insight out. In part, ecological risk and economic justice are in conflict. To raise their standard of living the poor nations must industrialize and, if I may be permitted, consumerize their economies, with grave environmental consequences. Think of billions of Chinese first manufacturing and then driving cars and trucks. Perhaps technology can alter this tragic equation.

The spread of democracy is one of the unambiguous good results of globalization. "Democracy is perhaps the most powerful energizing idea of the twentieth century," Giddens cheers, pointing out that "Democracy has made nearly as much advance since the 1960s as it did over more than a whole century before that." The triumph of democracy gets lost in our own disenchantment with our investor-driven politics. Giddens calls this "the paradox of democracy." The only answer for it is to "democratize democracy" by taking back some power from the politicians and making many decisions at the local level, where we can have a voice. He also calls for fostering a strong "civil society" -- the web of relations that fills the social space between the state and the economy. (He thinks civil society is in better shape than how Robert Putnam portrays it in his "Bowling Alone" thesis.) Giddens ends his valuable book with this: "Our runaway world doesn't need less, but more government -- and this, only democratic institutions can provide."

Giddens envisions a difficult two-step as we move toward supranational polities like the European Union at the same time as we are moving toward regional and even subregional democracy. The IMF/World Bank protesters would probably agree with the first part of Giddens's prediction -- a world state is their nightmare -- and are themselves zany exemplars of the participatory democracy for which Giddens calls.


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Politics & Society conference of Post & Riposte.

More on politics and society in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of The World According to Peter Drucker (1997) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992).

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