February 06, 2009

RE: Free Trade and Globalizaiton

If it?s not too late, I?ll make a few comments on Tom?s recent note.

There?s no doubt that Bastiat and other laissez-faire thinkers, past and present, have a certain scientific caste of mind, and this sometime leads them to dream up technocratic-utopian fantasies and envision the world as a kind of rationale market mechanism. For this they deserve criticism.

But then, I?d still question whether one should equate globalist/left-wing ideology with free-market capitalism. The ?long 19th-century? (1789-1914) experienced a more protracted and, relative to what came before, more pronounced economic globalization than anything we?ve seen in the 20th. (And what people now refer to as ?globalization? is a phenomenon at most 25 years old, and probably more like 15.) In the 1800s, the continent was at peace, the conflicts between states being nothing like the horrifying Religious, Revolutionary, and Totalitarian wars that bookend the century, and the Western economies were united around a gold standard, which kept interest and exchange rates remarkably stable. Put simply, the global economy was a well-oiled machine.

Yet the intellectual spirit that emerged was pretty much the opposite of ?globalism.? The 19th century was the age of nationalism?personified not just by the right-wing state-builders like Bismarck, but the liberal and left nationalists of the ?1848 generation,? as well as figures like Wagner and Bakunin, who allude all categories. This spirit captured the ?elites? as well, represented by the ?national styles? in the art music of the salons and concert halls. (I guess I should stop here, to prevent myself from launching into a big mushy 19th-century paean.) The point is, there can be massive economic and industrial advances across a continent, and yet few get it in their heads that they should thus embrace a technocratic globalization that erases all ethno-cultural differences. 

Turning the problem around, the fact that the current crop of Western elites, and so many of the common people as well, have embraced a kind of happy mutliculti globalism is not something that I think can be rectified by cutting off trade with China. Moreover, when I read articles in the Financial Times about workers demanding ?British jobs for British workers,? and the likelihood of Gordon Brown going along, I don?t sense that Britain is experiencing a “national awakening” of any sort?nor do I sense that those unionized employees are quite as ?racist? and ?fascist? as their lefty critics claim. It also makes me wince when I hear right-wing critics of globalization saying things that sound a lot like what I hear from Tim Geithner (?Chinese currency manipulation!?), Barney Frank, and Joe Biden. 

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