Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism explores how the spread of market capitalism is creating a single global marketplace. Diffusion of ideas and introduction of concepts into new places can offer new possibilities, but as William Greider points out, they can also bring problems. He begins with an examination of the worldwide system of production, then shows how it is abetted by finance capital, and finally examines the changes in social reality that result from the spread of capitalism.
Specialists in economic development often argue (though the assertion is contentious) that less developed countries need to enter world markets to boost themselves out of poverty. Modern industry can provide wage-paying jobs and technical training. Employees acquire cash incomes with which to purchase the world’s products, and the country as a whole moves along the path toward mechanization and industrialization. The developed countries gain as well, finding low-cost sources of labor and creating new markets by providing cash incomes to employees who will now be both eager and able to buy various manufactured goods.
That is the ideal. Greider offers examples of how it fails to be realized. He reminds readers that the path toward industrialization is not smooth, involving hardships for both the developers and the developing. In a long-run equilibrium, free trade benefits everyone. Greider argues that the long run is never achieved and that the world is in constant disequilibrium, with costs to market participants.
On one end of industrialization are workers. Developing countries compete for jobs primarily through making their labor cheaper. The jobs offered by industrialization therefore tend to improve material standards of living only slightly. In addition to allowing low wages to be paid, a country can make its labor cheaper, in a sense, by allowing various forms of exploitation, including relaxing standards for industrial safety. Greider provides examples of such abuses, including those surrounding a factory fire in Thailand that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of workers. Such a disaster in an industrial country would raise cries of outrage and protest. In this case, the company in question kept similar factories in operation and faced no legal recriminations.
Workers in industrialized countries also suffer from worldwide competition. They find it difficult to demand wage increases, let alone maintain current levels and retain jobs, in the face of low- wage competition. Labor leaders face a paradox inherent in trying to help everyone: To keep wages high, especially in industrial countries, they must restrict competition for jobs, but to help those in poverty they must allow jobs (at low wages) to flow to less developed countries. At best, worldwide competition promotes equalization of wages somewhere in the middle. The true situation, Greider argues, is worse: Competition is pulling everyone down.
The core problem, as Greider sees it, is global overproduction. Factories become bigger to benefit from economies of scale, and production spreads around the world as business tries to diversify across borders, protecting itself from political and economic shocks. Productive capacity thus expands, with each producer assuming that others will fail, making room in the market. On a larger scale, each country tries to run a trade surplus with others, selling products that cannot be sold domestically and refusing to buy the products of others.
In the face of market gluts, producers see their sales and profit margins fall. Rather than cut production, thus idling expensive machinery and factories, they choose to expand even more in an attempt to further exploit economies of scale. They hope to lower costs and prices, thus recapturing market share. On a global scale, this strategy cannot succeed; someone must “lose” and exit the market.
Such losses impose obvious grave economic costs, and such costs prompt action in the political arena. Politicians do not idly sit by while jobs are lost to other countries or as...
(The entire section is 1663 words.)
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