qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

qui bono?

Book Review: Green Alternatives to Globalisation - A Manifesto, by Michael Woodin and Caroline Lucas
[Note: don't be fooled by the title, this is not the Green Party manifesto, though it may well present some similar material]
In many respects, I would say that I have an open mind on globalisation, though in others I would admit to scepticism (not least because of my self-interest against the drain of IT jobs from the West). However, over the past few years we have seen protests at every WTO meeting, without any particular clarity on what is being protested about, or what should be done instead, so I hoped this book would enlighten me on that account, and I have not been disappointed. Other motivations for reading the book included an enquiring mind into green economics, which has been notoriously fickle over the years, ranging from radical to fruitcake.

Woodin and Lucas begin by deconstructing the status quo. It was an eye-opener to find out just how much sovereignty is surrendered to NAFTA by its members, something those on the "free-trade Right" advocating withdrawal from the EU on grounds of national sovereignty might like to bear in mind. It was reassuring to see them consider constructively Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and not to reject the market for its own sake. Their diagnosis of the problem seems about right: multinational corporations are intrinsically undemocratic and unaccountable to the population at large, but exert considerable lobby pressure to subvert democratic governments and institutions for their own self-interest; "free trade" is not free when the partners entering into it are significantly out of balance; post-colonial nations have been crippled by unpayable debt and surrendering their economic interests to the IMF and the World Bank; and in any case there is a hypocrisy of subsidies for many industries in developed countries. Environmental damage also enters into the equation, but the book focuses on economics.

So, their analysis seems valid, what of their solutions? Here the book becomes more of a curate's egg. Some proposals, such as "site here to sell here", eco-taxes to internalise full lifecycle costs, and food security, seem sensible. Others, such as a "citizen's income" (a universal state hand-out) combined with income tax of 35%, and parallel currencies, seem rather more off-the-wall. It's difficult to review all the ideas dispassionately; we are conditioned by the day-to-day world we live in, where we are trained to seek monetary nirvana and any obstacle to trade is negatively labelled "protectionism". Curiously, the UK Green Party's views on the EU are acknowledged to be somewhat at odds with Greens on the continent. The authors consider the EU to be a rather schizophrenic institution, capable of good (by requiring relatively high standards on health and safety, animal welfare, and the environment) but also bowing to the will of the multinationals, using the perennial beating-stick of international competitiveness to limit their obligations.

Ironically, the book is printed on very high quality paper, with no mention of the word "recycled" anywhere.

I still retain an open mind, though more sceptical than before. If anyone has any recommendations on pro-globalisation texts to counter this volume, I'd particularly welcome their comments.
Tags: books, green
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