Puget Sound eJournal of Economics
October 5, 2001
IPE 201 – Balaam
Global Trends and the Future of Capitalism
“A society whose historical journey is entrusted to the guiding hand of Tradition sleepwalks through history,” wrote a pensive Robert Heilbroner in his 1993 work 21st Century Capitalism.1 Now the new century has dawned, and it is certain that no one is feeling the least bit drowsy. Actors on the world stage are actively reevaluating, refining, and even replacing a host of capitalist traditions. And increasingly, no single player can claim to have the starring role. Even a hegemon like the United States has suffered a “striking loss in global economic leadership” in recent years.2 Different societies have unique ways of coping with globalization, and within each country factions are jostling for influence on their nation’s economic policy. Often, the debate crosses borders, facilitated by rapid improvements in technology and communications. One such contest between Thomas L. Friedman and Ignacio Ramonet was held with the Atlantic Ocean as a convenient buffer. Friedman, a New York Times columnist, analyzes the trend of globalization in wake of the Cold War in his aptly-titled “DOScapital” and “DOScapital 2.0.” Ramonet, director of the French journal Le Monde diplomatique, responds with two articles in which he criticizes Friedman’s “gross oversimplification” of an admittedly complex issue.3 Heilbroner is merely a spectator to this particular fray, but remains part of the larger debate over what is in store for capitalism in the next 100 years. While Friedman’s liberalism and Ramonet’s mercantilism are both fairly rigid in scope, Heilbroner displays a well-rounded and thoughtful mix of practical Keynesian views tempered with a distinct structuralist slant. Friedman stresses that he is not taking sides in the globalization debate, but his liberal economic views are evident in the “DOScapital” articles. When he describes globalization as a
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process that is “enabling us to reach around the world farther, faster, and cheaper than ever before,” his excitement is palpable.4 To Friedman, an all-encompassing free market is clearly preferable to the clunky Cold War system in which the clash between communism and capitalism was a driving force. He points to three overlapping structures which support globalization—the first two are balances between nation-states and between those states and global markets. The third and perhaps most significant trait is the balance between individuals and nation-states. Friedman asserts that globalization “gives more direct power to individuals than any time in history.”5 This statement embodies the philosophy by which early liberals championed reforms “that weakened central power while promoting individual liberty.”6 Friedman believes that globalization is largely a positive-sum game in which everyone may benefit—he turns to examples of an E-mail campaign to ban landmines and the spread of cheery Americanization in the form of Big Macs and Mickey Mouse.7 In all fairness, Friedman is no Pollyanna, and he braces his praise of Americanization with the caveat “for better and for worse [emphasis added].”8 In fact, Ramonet’s response to “DOScapital” underplays Friedman’s acknowledgement of globalization’s risks, as the latter is quick to note. Friedman does address that globalization might be too difficult, connected, intrusive, unfair, and dehumanizing for some to handle.9 He also admits that while there are many superempowered individuals who wish to do good, there are also those who wish to do evil, and cites the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as an example. Little did he know after writing “DOScapital” in 1999 that two years later a much more massive attack on the Trade Centers would prove his point all too well. In spite of the backlash against globalization, though, Friedman addresses the liberal trend as if it were inevitable. He even displays...
Bibliography: Balaam, David N., and Michael Veseth. Introduction to International Political Economy. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.
Heilbroner, Robert. 21st Century Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.
Robert Heilbroner, 21st Century Capitalism, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993: 33.
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001: 48.
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