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Greider's thesis in this (overly long) book is fairly simple: The world's industries, blindly following the mechanism of capitalism, are producing goods much faster than people can buy them. This chronic state of oversupply decimates profit margins and perpetuates a cutthroat price war. And the methods companies are using to beat their competition - slashing costs by following cheap labor around the globe and using automation to shrink their work forces - make the demand problem even worse. Fewer employees means a smaller market for everyone. In other words: Chinese prison laborers don't buy refrigerators, American autoworkers do. Until they're laid off.
The signs of coming financial ruin are everywhere, Greider writes, but it's unlikely much will change until there's a worldwide flameout - one greater than the Great Depression. The streets will run with bond-traders' blood; innumerable fortunes will be lost; fascism may lift its ugly head, if we're particularly unlucky.
One World, Ready or Not is often compelling, but it's ultimately unsatisfying and a little irritating, an intellectualized update of The Late, Great Planet Earth for amateur economists. There are fuzzy snapshots of a brighter future near the book's end, but it's unlikely most readers will make it that far. Greider's not one to shrink from an unpleasant truth, and one suspects he takes an unseemly pleasure in being the bearer of bad news. There is a joy, and a peculiar honorableness, in pessimism. Still, when you have the flu, knowing the bug's Latin name doesn't make you feel any better. -- Michael Gerber
Attempting to go behind the numbers usually used to describe the global economy, Greider draws largely on anecdotal material gathered during extended sojourns in a dozen Asian, European, and North American countries. He provides a dour guide to the ways in which the unrestrained advance of conscienceless capitalism (without an effective challenger since socialism's dramatic demise) could, in combination with the globalization of commerce, lead to overcapacity, glutted markets, superfluous labor, unbridled speculation, recurrent debt crises, social disorder, and worse. Informed by an abiding suspicion as to the ability of free markets to match supply and demand with any consistency, the author first focuses on mutinationals, essentially stateless enterprises that, he warns, are gaining awesome economic power without thoughtful, let alone effectual, oversight. The author next casts a cold eye on institutional investors whose collective trading judgments have on occasion brought the Global Village's largest companies to book and frequently left sovereign governments something less than masters of their own financial houses. For his windup, Greider offers a potpourri of power-to-the-people proposals on how socioeconomic catastrophe might be avoided in the period ahead. He commends such liberal articles of faith as managing trade as a zero-sum game (i.e., with a loser for every winner); redressing the imbalance of returns that separates wage earners from the rentier class; imposing transaction taxes on cross-border flows of capital; obliging firms not only to protect the environment but also to embrace the arguable concept of sustainable development; and creating new forms of labor unions.
Politically correct alarmism masquerading as prophetic analysis.
Marxism is dead, the Communist system utterly discredited by humna experience, but the ghost of Marx hovers over the global landscape, perhaps with a knowing smile. The gross conditions that inspired Karl Marx's original critique of capitalism in the nineteenth century are present and flourishing again. The world has reached not only the end of ideology, but also the beginnings of the next great conflict over the nature of capitalism.
The fundamental struggle, then as now, is between capital and labor. That struggle is always about control of the workplace and how the returns of the enterprise shall be divided. In both dimensions, capital is winning big again, claiming a steadily larger share of returns and asserting greater control over employees, just as it did in Marx's time. The inequalities of wealth and power that Marx decried are marching wider almost everywhere in the world. The imbalances of power lead today to similar excesses and social abuses.
"An army of Luddites is assembling around the world -- 55 or 60 million by official estimates but probably more like 75 million -- the people whose lives have been destroyed by technological progress," the Canadian writer John Ralston Saul observed. "When the world went through this the last time in the early 1800's, the decision made then was that the technology was right and the Luddites were wrong, so these people had to be pushed aside, jailed or hung or whatever. What's the modern phrase? Reeducate them. But the Luddites weren't against progress. They were against their exclusion from progress. Had things been worked out differently back then, the world might have avoided the most violent century in history."
The Luddites are history's symbol of violent resistance to technology -- smashing the new machines to protect jobs -- and of the futility of resisting progress. Luddites were not a rabble army of drifters, as many suppose, but highly skilled craftsmen in the English Midlands displaced by the steam engine and mechanization in the textile industry. Starting around 1810, unable to win concessions from mill owners, they raided factories at night, burning and smashing the looms, clandestine rebels who followed a mythical leader, Ned Lud. The revolt was crushed swiftly, its leaders hung or jailed. English industrialization rolled forward.
Where would the latter-day Luddites go if they wished to smash the new machines? In the information age, everything melts into electronic streams -- workplaces, financial wealth, even behemoth corporations. In any case, the redundant workers accumulating across nearly every industrial sector, white collar as well as blue collar, are not mobilizing for violent counterattack. Most are quite passive, sullenly resigned, perhaps because many are cushioned in their fall by modern social protections that did not exist in 1810: severance pay, early pensions or unemployment benefits.
The true incendiaries of this age may be found among the gathering masses of younger people -- Europeans call them "marginalized youth" -- who have never had a real job and perhaps never will. Unlike the Luddites, they are detached from communities and rudderless, without skills or prospects, without any genuine stake in the social order except perhaps a welfare check.
"Powerlessness gets expressed in different ways," remarked Stephen J. Silvia, an American political scientist who studies European labor markets and social systems. "In America, it's drive-by shootings. In Germany, it's burning down the homes of foreigners."
In Britain, he might have added, it is violent rioting at soccer matches. In Italy and Mexico, kidnapping rich people. In Brazil, looting supermarkets. In Indonesia, job riots. These various disorders are all marginal events and unthreatening to the larger economic order, but they should be thought of as another warning signal. Governments treat them as police problems.
The accumulating social dislocations, as Saul and others have warned, reflect the same preconditions that ultimately deranged nations a century ago. The refusal to confront the human destruction and deal with it justly sowed the ground for the great ideological divisions of left and right. The rise of communism and its totalitarian twin, fascism. The recurring social disorders. Finally, eventually, the devastation of wars among nations.
"That was the basic result of our decision to choose unregulated technology and capital over human beings," Saul said. "The world finally gets to the end of that ideological conflict and what do we do? We start over again with the same decision."
Opinion leaders in the advanced nations, especially in business circles, read the history of the last century quite differently, of course, as a seamless story of ascendant prosperity. Across the last century, they point out, modern invention and industrial expansion delivered fabulous abundance and unprecedented standards of living that were enjoyed by all classes of citizens. The present transformations will lead inevitably to the same happy outcome.
After all, in the late nineteenth century, America was still a nation of farmers and farm laborers. When their work disappeared almost completely in the technological revolution of agriculture, those displaced people streamed into other, more rewarding occupations in the new manufacturing industries. Now that technology is shrinking manufacturing work in a similar fashion and these jobs may virtually disappear in some nations, people can look forward again to greater abundance as new industries arise to employ them.
Peter F. Drucker, a favorite management guru of American business, is a leading apostle of this view. "The extreme social transformations of this century have caused hardly any stir," Drucker wrote. "They have proceeded with a minimum of friction, a minimum of upheavals.... Indeed, if this century proves one thing, it is the futility of politics.... [T]hese enormous transformations in all developed free-market countries were accomplished without civil war and, in fact, in almost total silence."
The problem with this self-satisfied optimism is that it lobotomizes history, mainly by separating the epic economic changes from their political consequences. New inventions that reduce human toil do lead, in the long run, to higher plateaus of economic well-being, and, certainly, eventually, they should do so again. But what is Drucker leaving out? The terrible history that lies in between, the wrenching politics in which societies assert themselves against the destabilizing impact of unregulated commerce.
Business commentators exclude from the history of progress such matters as the violent rise of national socialism in Drucker's own native Germany, the decades of frustrated struggles everywhere in the industrial world to redress the inequalities of income and wealth, the conflicts that recurred as laboring ranks organized their collective power and demanded higher wages, the reform campaigns to impose humane standards on industrial production, the misery and social disintegration and powerlessness that ignited revolutions from the left and from the right. That is the history Drucker describes as "a minimum of friction."
To imagine, for instance, that America's middle-class prospeity in the second half of the twentieth century sprang inevitably from wonderful inventions and the bounty distributed by modern manufacturing requires one to forget the hard parts of American political history -- seventy-five years or more when pained voices were raised and suppressed, when social movements mobilized to campaign for decent working standards, when much political energy and some blood were expended to correct the inequities of industrial capitalism. In the sanitized version of American history, the labor movement did not happen, nor the agrarian Populists, the Progressive reformers, the New Deal. Neither did the Great Depression nor World War II.
The relevance of this contentious political history to the widely shared prosperity that eventually emerged is largely forgotten now, especially among the better-educated classes in the industrialized nations. The unfettered marketplace, not political action, is now understood as the only reliable vehicle for assuring both prosperity and social justice. This forgetfulness suggests that some hard lessons of history will be substantially repeated.
Posted October 29, 2002
This was one of the first things I read concerning globalization and its effects. greider makes claims and doesnt use the grounds to support them. At first glance it seems well written, but with any other reading in the area it shows just how blissfully ignorant greider was in writing this book. it does raise a few interesting issues against globalization but not enough and not with enough grounds proving how it has failed in the past. not worth the read if you know anything about globalization, greider's arrogance is made painfully obvious throughout as no concessions are made.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2000