Most commentators and politicians were taken by surprise by the recent challenges to globalisation. But at least they seem prepared to ask questions about its relevance. Martin Wolf, in his critique of my book The Silent Takeover in the July Prospect, doesn’t even register a query about it. He concedes that there are certain issues that need be addressed such as “how to secure the protection of the global commons,” and “the regulation of an integrating global economy”; but stops short of doing so. My book is about these matters.
The Silent Takeover seeks to examine the changing nature of power in the global economy and to explore the growth of non-traditional forms of politics. By dismissing the relevance of this investigation, Wolf proves himself to be a man out of touch. In Wolfland: “states tax and regulate, companies buy and sell.” If only it were so simple.
Wolf misrepresents me when he claims that I say that corporations dominate the world. Of course nation states can still rule within their territories-but their freedom is increasingly constrained by the need to cater for the interests of big business.
Take the WTO. Time and again it has intervened to prevent governments from using sanctions against companies that they found to be acting unacceptably. When the EU tried to ban synthetic hormones from beef on the basis of strong evidence that they cause cancer, it found itself unable to do so thanks to a WTO ruling which put the interests of Monsanto and the US Dairy Export Council first.
In Wolfland, it is heretical to talk of corporations as powerful. He will have none of my comparing the power of nations to that of corporations. “Apples and artichokes,” he says. Not very helpful. For this is what the debate is about: the changing balance of power between economic and political forces.
The increased mobility of capital has increased “exit options” for corporations, while the positions of the state and of labour remain relatively static. The balance of power between these agencies and institutions has shifted. As Hans Tietmeyer, former president of the Bundesbank, said “Politicians have to understand that they are now under the control of the financial markets and not… of national debates.”
Perhaps it is because he only talks to like-minded people that Wolf seems unaware of what is going on. For in Wolfland nation states remain firmly in…