BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Globalize This

Martin Hart-Landsberg thinks big. His book Capitalist Globalization: Consequences, Resistance, and Alternatives (Monthly Review Press, 2013) is proof of that.

A world economy of, by, and for transnational corporations (TNCs) is a problem. So what?

The author’s answer is clear. TNC-led production flows from the imperatives of businesses to produce goods and services at lower prices than rivals do. A theme throughout his book documents the interests of TNCs to the detriment of working majorities experiencing declines in their living standards.

China and the US are the nation-states that economically anchor the global system. The author illuminates this situation well.

To this end, he follows the money. This method casts light where smoke obscures sight.

Hart-Landsberg clarifies the capitalist integration of China and East Asia, especially South Korea, into the world system of TNC investment and trade. He outlines the origins, and picks up where elites and some progressive critics stateside end.

Spoiler alert: an elite class that spans borders in partnership with TNCs gain from export-led hi-tech growth. He documents the different and dreary outcomes for the vast bulk of the workers.

The fallacy of markets free from the hand of government melts under the author’s critical focus. He takes to task, for instance, the language of globalization, so-called “free-trade.”

This language drips inaccuracy. In fact, Hart-Landsberg shows the basic lack of freedom in flows of capital and labor.

His powerful analysis of the US-Korea free trade agreement helps readers to answer a simple query. Why do pro-capitalist governments shroud such pacts in secrecy?

The answer makes sense. The public loses its power over TNC accountability when secrecy rules their dealings.

Labor in both nations lacks mobility. Capital in Korea and the US is abundantly mobile.

This imbalance is at the core of a dynamic economic system. Oh yes, this same dynamism creates imbalances such as the global housing market bubble and deep recession that followed.

In the books’ second part, Hart-Landsberg disentangles dominant theories underpinning the system of market forces such as David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Hart-Landsberg offers case studies of East Asia, China and the US to illuminate the ideological bent of Ricardo’s mistaken assumptions about nations’ “comparative advantage” that lead to full employment.

The theory inverts the actual outcomes of TNC-led investment and trade. Things turn into their opposites.

We do not live in a society resembling that of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations where a “hidden hand of the marketplace” (replacing the monarch’s rule), gave entrepreneurs the freedom to pursue individual gain to benefit the public. The government’s importance to TNCs increases as capitalism’s built-in contradictions between capital and labor worsen. 

Take investment and trade in the electronics industry. As Hart-Landsberg shows, TNCs dominate due to a new global architecture (not the “free market”) that grows out of class relations between employers and employees.

There is much in the author’s guide to the politics of national governments in TNCs’ drive to expand their bottom line. Further, he “highlights the critical importance of studying capitalist dynamics from a class rather than nation-state perspective.”  

Dependency on global investment and trade under TNCs distorts human development. In the final third of his book, Hart-Landsberg considers alternate development approaches in Latin America, where two decades of TNC-led policies harmed millions of people.

One is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA. The author is no propagandist for ALBA or its sister institution, the Bank of the South.

He evaluates their strengths and weaknesses within the limits of the global system. There is a history here.

Hart-Landsberg turns our eyes to the European Payments Union after World War II. This is instructive.

Grasping the record of the EPU historicizes current bids to organize counter-TNC development. On this note, he also highlights the implications of the 1999 Battle in Seattle against the World Trade Organization.

Is another world at and away from labor possible? Yes, according to the author, who writes in the shadow of the Occupy Wall Street uprisings.

We can build a sane alternative to the status quo. Hart-Landsberg opens our eyes to this urgency.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Email  

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2013

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