Books about globalisation are ten-a-penny these days, but all overlook one intriguing aspect of the process: its effect on publishing. The irony is that, as with this example, books slamming neoliberal economics and its damning impact around the world are becoming part of the process they attack. This latest offering from the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is a case in point. Penguin, originally a very British publisher, has opted to drop the English language in favour of its American variant, with "centers", "labor" and "honored". Is this the global corporate economy encouraging the homogenisation of language, or simply bad editing? You decide.
Stiglitz has become a poster boy for mainstream critics of an out-of-control global economy. Many supporters, not to mention publishers, portray him as a radical - an uncompromising critic of global casino capitalism, with uncompromising alternatives. Doubtless this is a necessary ruse to increase sales of a weighty tome about tariff regimes, debt, resource extraction and development models. It's not actually true, though, as Stiglitz admits.
Here, as in his previous bestseller Globalization and its Discontents, Stiglitz comes not to bury capitalism but to save it from itself. He is an old-fashioned, compassionate Keynesian. He believes in markets, but believes that they need regulating. He believes that poor people should be helped out of poverty, and that well-regulated economic growth can do it. He believes that big companies should be held to account. He believes that we need new global rules to make this happen. He demonstrates why, and how things might change, in precise and well-informed prose. But however right he is, his clarion call - "there are limits to markets" - is hardly "workers of the world unite!"
This book should be read not as an exciting manifesto for radical change, but as the latest contribution by a serious economist to ongoing debate. That debate has moved on since Stiglitz won the Nobel five years ago. Back then, only activists, protesters and determined radicals openly attacked globalisation. These days, the slogan of those protesters - "Another World Is Possible" - has become a chapter heading in this book, under which he politely but firmly takes apart the intellectual case for unfettered markets.
Stiglitz's argument is simple: the current model of globalisation doesn't work. It has five key flaws: the rules of the game are unfair, and designed to benefit rich countries and corporations; "globalisation advances material values over other values, such as concern for the environment"; global trade rules have undermined the sovereignty of poor countries; market-led growth does not benefit everyone, and often increases inequality; and the American model forced on the poor has caused damage and resentment.
In every case, Stiglitz is demonstrably correct and his proposed solutions are many, and detailed. They include forcing rich countries to open their markets fully to poor countries; allowing poor countries to subsidise infant industries, as rich countries once did; removing agricultural subsidies in rich nations; enforcing strict new rules on environmental protection; reforming corporate governance; and stepping up debt relief for the poorest.
It's a keenly argued yet strangely deflating list. Is this what all those protesters were tear-gassed for? Globalisation, concludes Stilglitz, is currently "a pact with the devil", but "this is not how it has to be". To prove it, he descends here as a mild-mannered avenging angel, his well-argued solutions carved on shining tablets of stone. They demand, and deserve, a serious hearing; if only they were a bit more inspiring.
Paul Kingsnorth's 'One No, Many Yeses' is published by Free PressReuse content