Book review: Ease up, John, it's not that bad

False Dawn: the delusions of global capitalism by John Gray Granta, pounds 17.99
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Indy Lifestyle Online
John Gray is a true Conservative. His flirtation with Mrs Thatcher's Tories in the 1980s did not last long. For she - or rather her young aides de camp Redwood, Portillo, Willetts, Letwin, Lilley - were market revolutionaries out to remake Britain in their own image and likeness. Such Utopianism is anathema to Conservatives such as Gray, pessimists who believe we live in the worst of all possible worlds. He is an anti-Micawber, sure that nothing will turn up.

His latest book belongs to the millenarian genre of gloom and doom about globalisation. We have entered an "era of occidental twilight", Gray writes, echoing Spengler, whose pessimism about democracy in the 1920s was a self- fulfilling prophecy. The late Sir James Goldsmith started this latest trend with The Trap. He argued that globalisation destroyed cultures: the only way out was to smash the European Union and retreat behind protectionist barriers.

This is pure tosh but more and more people believe it. Asian countries that in Gray's adolescence were impoverished pits of ex-colonial despair have now hauled themselves into modernity. In 1960, Korea had a GDP of $250 per head; now it exports car plants. Economic, as much as political pressure, liberated South Africa from apartheid and helped free Eastern Europe from Communism. Ireland's embrace of globalisation - or its regional variant, the European Union - has freed Dublin from seven centuries of domination by London.

The effects of free trade have been to liberate nations from authoritarian tutelage. Japan has more McDonald's per head than the US, yet Japanese culture and its children's videos resonate globally. Walt Disney cannot stop spreading European cultural norms, via the Beauty and the Beast or Hercules, through the world. Clinton looks to European concepts, such as a national health service. Globalisation is bringing a new political interdependence in its wake.

No market works successfully for long without rules, or without bodies to which contestants can appeal in case of disputes. Globalisation is already spawning a theory and practice of regulation. The Bank of International Settlements is working on requirements for global banking which will have a similar effect to the Tobin tax: the "sand in the wheels" tax on currency speculation proposed 20 years ago by the Nobel economics laureate, James Tobin. The Kyoto conference, at which John Prescott starred, was the beginning of global regulation to protect the environment. Presidents Clinton and Chirac proposed a clause to the World Trade Organisation that would have allowed it to start outlawing child labour. The European Union can only work as a single market because it has built in non-protectionist regulatory mechanisms.

Looking through Gray's bibliography, one realises with a start that every book and article cited is in English. Gray sits reading, brooding and fretting about the awfulness of the world outside. Ease up, John: it's not that bad. Take a year off and travel. Go to eastern Europe, and see how its peoples are transforming themselves for the better with the help of foreign capital and technology. Leave the LSE and see how globalisation turned London into Europe's most exciting city. Spurn the new protectionists who want to turn their backs on the world.

Use your genius to provide a political philosophy to underpin global regulatory mechanisms. Turn your pamphleteering talents on reactionary Tories who resist to the death any integration of social justice with economic growth. But beware: if you go down that road, you may wake up one day and find that you have become an optimist.

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