Home .Globalization Goodbye globalization? Goodbye American supremacy?
Goodbye globalization? Goodbye American supremacy?
Friday, 19 December 2008 03:16

Could the current financial crisis spell the end of almost 20 years of globalization?  Could it also spell the end of American supremacy?  Increasing numbers of intellectuals and commentators are indeed announcing such fates, with apparent delight.

But will this really happen?  Or could even the reverse occur?

First, there is more to globalization than global finance.  International trade, foreign direct investment, international migration and the global network society are all components of globalization.  And while there seems to be threats of a general backlash against globalization, governments are aware of the risks and the costs for everyone (as in the Great Depression), and are making all the right noises to avoid a backlash against open markets and borders.

Second, there seems to be recognition that the global financial crisis was a black swan, or a perfect storm.  There was a credit boom thanks to easy money.  It combined with irresponsible lending practices and excessive optimism, together with reckless use of innovative financial instruments and lax supervision.  Financial globalisation had become too freewheeling as investment banks were no longer even subject to financial regulators.

Leading policy makers are now trying to stabilise the economy and strengthen financial sector governance to avoid a recurrence.  But such crises are part of the nature of global capitalism.  Speculators will come back, in another guise, looking for ways to make a fast buck -- cowboy capitalism.  We had the Asian financial crisis, a dot-come bubble.  What will be the next bubble?  Green technology?  Energy?  We do not know, but after this bust, there will be another boom, and then another bust.

But what do the global naysayers have to propose?  Nothing as far as I can see.  We must also recall that communism produced the most vicious form of capitalism, the communist Mafia, which is leading international crime today.  So, the world economy will stabilise, it will recover, and it will boom again in a few years time.  There is no alternative.

And what about America?  Even before the financial crisis, wasn't the US losing power with the rise of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in this multi-polar world.  Won't the power of the US and its model now fade away?

First, let's look at Europe.  Although she did not cause the crisis, she looks equally affected, as many banks fell into the subprime trap and bought up lots of securitised mortgage debt.  And Iceland even melted away.  Although some are now rejoicing about the benefits of Europe's more regulated model of capitalism, this system has produced a GDP per capita for the euro zone some 30 per cent lower than the US.  And many European countries are so indebted that they can barely afford the fiscal stimulus necessary to get them out of recession.

Second, let's turn to the BRICs, which look in even deeper trouble.  Some months ago, there was lots of broohaha about China and the rest of Asia being able to de-link themselves from the financial crisis.  It was argued that high levels of intra-Asian trade and strong domestic demand would keep them going.  And now everyone realises that much of emerging Asian is in fact a supply chain whose ultimate customer is the US, Europe and Japan.  In China, growth is now slowing, the stock market has crashed, factories closing, exports falling -- two-thirds of toy exporters closed in 2008.  Migrant workers, who had come to cities from the country, now find themselves without a job or social safety, and without the family support from village life.  Economic slowdown in China and the rest of emerging Asia could also destabilise political stability, hence China's massive $600 billion fiscal package.

Russia had been strutting the world stage, bushy-talied, for several years, drunk on high oil and gas prices.  With these prices now one-third the level of just a few months ago, Moscow can now see that its only point of strength was oil and gas.  What's worse, some of Russia's inefficient banks are now shaky following bad investments and shady dealings.  And foreign capital is fleeing.  The Persian Gulf will also have to come to terms with lower oil prices, and Dubai is trembling as its own real estate bubble is bursting.

India's economic miracle was very much localised in a few islands of prosperity specialised in outsourcing.  Being very much linked to the global economy, it is also being buffeted, opening the door to feisty nationalists.

And Brazil, always a country with a great future, is also being hit lower commodity prices.  Here and elsewhere in South America, cocky nationalism is now very much on the back foot.

So where does this leave us?  The BRICs are on the ropes.  Europe is groggy.  And when the US starts to recover, it may be the only one able to sing Elton John's "I'm still standing".  Realistically, who could replace the US at the moment? 

Sure, the US will have to find another growth model.  American consumers cannot live off Asian savings forever.  But then again, this is more of a challenge for East Asia.  It also needs to find a new growth model.  It can't go on forever relying on exports to the US and accumulating high savings.  For the moment, the US and Chinese economies are so intertwined that they could keep together for some time to come.


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