Today‘s globalization, (largely unhindered cross-border flows of goods and services, financial services, investments and persons) has increased and changed form since the liberalization of capital flows („Big Bang“) in the early 1980s. Richard Baldwin (2016) adds that this „new globalization“ or „Hyper-Globalization“ is characterized by the importance of knowledge flows across borders. These made possible a different business model from previous times, because it makes it profitable to create „value chains“ across borders in order to cost-efficiently produce products and services. A new division of labor across the globe is the result, where multinational corporations locate and source components according to the location‘s cost advantages, resource availability, and know-how. Globalized finance helps to eliminate previously existing barriers.
This „new globalization“ has also changed the previously existing balance of (political) power between workers, capital and the state by giving multinational corporations (MNC) previously unknown access to capital and political influence (Rothschild 2005). It also creates a new division in every country between large corporations – which yield political influence by being able to threaten „exit“ (Hirschmann 1970) if their conditions for no or light regulation and first-class infrastructure are not met – and the large number of medium and small-scale enterprises which need protection from the state in order to uphold competition, prevent oligopoly and to promote exports. As during the past 40 years the influence of organized labor has been reduced, MNC are able to influence and prevent rules and regulations which might threaten their profitability. They prefer a „flat earth“ without impediments to their global investment decisions (Rothschild 2009). Thus, a major power shift has occurred between the decades after World War II, when there was a relative balance of power between (organized) labor, capital and the state. Today, large corporations have captured the state (Altzinger 2017) and can play workers from different locations against each other.
The resulting long-term stagnation of real wages in the OECD countries, the increase in income and wealth inequality (Piketty 2014, Milanovic 2016), the increased pressure and labor flexibility on working conditions, have promoted the loss of confidence of large parts of the populations in OECD countries in their governments, their „elites“. The election and activities of D. Trump in the US, the Brexit vote in Great Britain, the rise of right-wing „populist“ parties in many European countries – all these are results of these changes in technology and the concomitant „new globalization“ (Rodrik 2016, 2017). A pervasive sense of existential insecurity, fear about the future and resistance to change are the result. Their exploitation by populist politicians threaten society‘s cohesiveness.
While the rising power of MNC, many of which are able to avoid paying (their fair of) taxes in their home countries (Zucman 2016), threatens the very existence of the global order and has reduced the power of regulation of nation states, populist politicians extol the virtues of exactly this nation state („America first“; Russian expansionism; „take back control“,etc.). While rational argument would call for global regulation of MNC (and thus globalization), since national regulation has decreased, previous attempts of establishing effective global governance (UNO, G-7, G-20) are effectively being dismantled, and more and more countries „go it on their own“ (Bayer 2017). In the meantime, populations distrust established political institutions and parties, sometimes hoping and supporting „strong men“ or political movements (5 Stelle, FPÖ, AfD, Front National, etc.) which promise „easy solutions“, disregarding the complexity and especially the inter-relatedness of economic ties. The failure of establishing globally accepted governance structures gives way to the stronger setting the rules, at the expense of global society. This asymmetric power structure threatens not only the liberal global order which extolled free trade, but also the cohesiveness of national societies, and thus political stability.
Single Market as „Super TTIP“
The EU Single Market is probably the „role model“ of this new globalization, if at a regional level. Its basic premise of the „Four Freedoms“ (unfettered movement of capital, finance, goods and labor across EU borders) has been called „TTIP on steroids“ by R. Baldwin (2016b). By TTIP is meant the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which was negotiated between the EU and the US for a number of years, and has recently been stalled, in Europe because of large protests by citizens, in the US because of the President‘s „America First“ agenda. Many of the new trade agreements between the EU and a number of countries (Canada, Japan, Korea, among them) likewise go far beyond „traditional“ trade agreements which were mainly concerned with removing tariffs and quotas. Now they also atttempt to reduce non-tariff barriers, i.e. technical and quality regulations on goods (and services), promote cross-border investment and install grievance and arbitration mechanisms outside countries‘ judicial systems. Critics claim that they unilaterally benefit the profitability of large corporations, threaten labor conditions and jobs, lead to a race-to-the-bottom with respect to health and phytosanitary as well as environmental regulations, and threaten national and regional identities under the guise of promoting trade and lowering costs. National governments only recently have begun to take the backlash against these agreements – seen as the epitomy of globalization – seriously. However, still the U.S. President wants trade agreements which benefit America, the EU continues along this path with a number of trade agreements in the pipeline, Asian countries are attempting to revive TPP (Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement) without the US, while at the same time the relevant global institutions, in this case the World Trade Organizations, are left to languish.
The Positive Side of Globalization
Foreign trade is one of the mainstays of economic betterment. After World War II trade has expanded approximately twice as fast as world GDP, benefitting many countries and their citizens, if in an unequal manner. The „new“ globalization, if left unregulated, however has reached limits of acceptability in the OECD countries. The point is not to stop trading across borders, but to spread its benefits to all countries and to all citizens – without further endangering the vulnerable environment.
Globalization cannot be reversed. Cost advantages in three areas are of essence and will also in the future drive aspects of globalization: Transport costs have already reached a new low: inclusion of the damages done to the environment would increase costs and lead to more localized production; Costs for the transmission of ideas have decreased by means of new information and communications technologies. More can be expected; The third component, the costs of outsourcing persons with knowhow, which today are still high and hold the owners of know-how close to headquarters, will only change significantly once artificial intelligence makes these persons‘ local presence obsolete – and will then lead to a new level of globalization (Baldwin 2016). But even if globalization cannot be reversed, it can be regulated in such a way as to benefit all people, instead of only large corporations (Rodrik 2016).
Power and Regulation
A strategy to rein in globalization encounters more than just technical problems. It involves a power struggle, in order to re-establish the tri-partite balance of power between labor, capital and state (Rothschild 2015, Brand 2017). Without being naive, this requires the „people“, as workers and consumers, as providers of taxes and family services, as the nucleus of society, to step up and challenge the lobbying and real power of the multinational corporations and their influence on the state. In many instances, civil society in all its formations, has attempted to regain power, and has been partially successful at the local and sometimes national levels. While this assumes that „the people“ have homogeneous interests, in reality populations are also split into various views-of-the-world and the ensuing positions. But before tackling these „internal divisions“ it would be important to step up to get governments to once more pursue the interests of the „99 percent“.
Abstracting from the power question, the following steps could make globalization more acceptable to workers and consumers, because if successful citizens would see that they can benefit from it. These steps are also designed to make globalization pursue sustainability objectives, thus combining economic, social and environmental benefits in an even way.
1. Take stock of existing trade and investment and migration regimes with a view to analyze social and environmental effects. This analysis needs to be accomplished both at a national and a global level. Effects need to be analyzed also according to income levels, social effects and which interest groups benefit or suffer losses.
2. Each country‘s and region‘s economic policy decisions should be based on a regular consultation and dialogue with social partners and non-governmental organizations, with a view to find the desired foreign involvement of the economy and society. Effects on labor markets, social transfers, health and environment should be discussed. This should be the basis for economic policy and foreign trade and investment decisions. In effect, this may lead to lower foreign exposure than today – without leading to misplaced autarky ideas or undue protectionism. Considerations must go far beyond what businesses call „Standortpolitik“ – gaining competitive advantage over foreign rivals and leading to a run on corporate tax rates and putting environmental and social concerns under pressure. Not only defensive policies must be considered, but a broad spectrum of training, labor market, innovation, social and environmental policy measures are necessary to prepare the population for further globalization – and make it more palatable.
3. The domestic market of the EU (at present 508 Mill people and 16 trill $ GDP) is large enough to compensate for some lost export opportunities mentioned above. The aim of the EU must be to improve social cohesion, public health, environmental situation, in short increase the wellbeing of their populations and remain „competitive“ also on the cost side. Some outsourced component productions can be repatriated, barriers can and should be erected against predatory and potentially politically motivated mergers and acquisitions by foreign state-related companies. The existing mechanisms within the EU to compensate for such losses need to be strengthened.
4. Further active strategies to promote globalization need to give equal weight to environmental and social concerns, as to economic ones. Close inclusion of civil society into decision-making can reduce the negative (perceived or real) effects of further globalization. They also strengthen democracy. The general interests of society need to trump interests of those groups that have up to now one-sidedly profited from globalization.
5. Since the internal structures of global supply chains are not known to public regulators, multinational corporations need to be fully transparent about what is produced where, which costs arise where, where which social and environmental effects occur and where they pay how much in taxes. Such binding regulations must be effected at the EU level, single-country regulations can easily be subverted.
6. As well as tax transparency and the establishment of minimum corporate tax rates, corporations must be made committed to follow strict corporate social responsibility rules. Existing voluntary rules are not sufficient. Society as stakeholder must trump narrow shareholder value activity.
7. When trade agreements are concluded between countries/regions with very different levels of income and social and environmental standards, protective mechanisms, e.g. like those used to hedge against foreign exchange fluctuations, need to be installed.
One possibility would be to force enterprises which outsource components to pay part of their cost savings into a fund from which both new employment and training for those who lost their job could be financed, but also labor relations, income and social protection for the host country could be improved. A higher taxation of profit could also contribute to this fund.
During gobalization the share of labor in OECD countries has fallen significantly (Milanovic 2016). This calls for a very basic discussion on how the gains from globalization should be divided and how taxation of global companies should be levied. OECD and IMF have begun to make efforts to propose international rules, but much more will be needed to revert to a fairer distribution of income.
8. The downward escalation of corporate tax rates – argued by individual states as necessary to maintain „competitiveness“ of the location needs to be stopped. Transfer pricing, low or zero tax rates, storing profits and tax havens – all these need to stop. The best way to achieve this would be to reverse the burden of proof, i.e. enterprises would have to prove that they have paid appropriate taxes where the economic activity occurred. An international body, akin to the Basle Committee, should ascertain the fairness of local acquisition of firms regimes and prevent competitive bidding by offering unfair benefits to investing companies.
9. The dogma that markets in less developed countries need to be opened to foreign competition needs to be qualified as a development strategy. Effects of market access on local (small) producers, especially in the food sector, on local handicraft production on small and medium-sized enterprises, on national and cultural customs need to make way for more autonomous development paths which also accept traditional „infant industry“ arguments as legitimate.
10. The dogma of free capital flows which affords (largely anonymous) capital markets the role of assessing individual countries‘ developments and policies must give way to a global financial policy which is driven by the interests of all of society. International financial institutions must accept that stability of investment relations have to have precedence before the short-term interests of financial investors. National banks must become accountable to national and global society.
11. Forthcoming trade agreements (Baghwati has called the likes of TTIP and TTP „non-trade agreements“) are positive insofar as they further reduce tariff barriers and quotas, but must refrain from levelling standards (Rodrik 2016). This is especially true for trade agreements between countries and regions with very different cultural traditions, since elimination of culturally important standards especially threatens citizens‘ identity and thus trust in the political system. Inclusion of direct investment requires renewed discussion, especially with respect to foreign takeovers of basic social and economic infrastructure. Dispute resolution mechanisms need to be publicly legitimated and integrated into existing legal systems.
12. From a global perspective, and especially concerning less developed countries, elimination of patent protection could reduce some of the excesses of modern globalization. It would promote know-how transfer from more into less developed countries, would reduce exorbitant costs of pharmaceuticals for some of the ravaging diseases and could speed up the development process. It would need to be accompanied by mechanisms producing positive incentives for further pharma (and other) research benefitting mankind where health reasons require it most strongly.
Unfettered globalization has created fear and insecurity because of its uneven effects on income distribution, the deterioration of the environment and the pressure of the liberal welfare state. It threatens the cohesiveness of societies, sows distrust into the political process and leads to xenophobic and protectionist tendencies exploited by populist politicians. It has reduced the regulatory power of nation states to a minimum, without this gap being filled by global governance structures. If left to itself, globalization will lead to a „winner-takes-all“ situation where large and strong enterprises reap all the benefits of globalization, at the expense of social cohesion, the welfare of citizens and the environment. But globalization can be reined in and benefit citizens rather than corporations, if:
– a socially-based economic and foreign trade policy gives equal weight so economic, social and environmental considerations
– the gains from trade and foreign investment are redistributed to those whose jobs have been lost and to the host countries‘ social and labor market improvements
– the fight against tax dodging by large corporations is taken seriously, such that taxes are paid where the economic activity occurs
– differences between regions of standards are seen as part of cultural and historical identities and thus protected from international competition, rather than being seen as non-tariff barriers to trade
– in international negotiations and institutions, the interests of less developed countries are given adequate weight, irrespective of their size and economic development.
Such steps go beyond technical solutions and will require a fierce power struggle. Vested interests in the present system by large multinational corporations and large developed countries need to be tackled to the benefit of global society at large.
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