In Defense of Globalization

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Trendy condemnations of globalism have multiplied in recent years, most of them written from the left, and many of them blaming nearly every societal ill—cultural genocide against indigenous cultures, child labor abuses, gender discrimination, environmental destruction—at the feet of globalism. Jagdish Bhagwati provides a bracing counter-argument in In Defense of Globalization. He addresses the above topics and more, and cites both specific cases (examples range from localized shrimp fishing to the fragile Indian auto industry to American union practices), and macro-analysis (comparisons of the economic stagnancy of protectionist India to the robustly successful free trade strategy of the “Four Tigers” Pacific Rim nations from the 1960’s to the 1980’s) to debunk most of the anti-globalists’ claims.

Bhagwati’s method is to begin each section with a clear and fair statement of his opponents’ argument, and then to systematically present evidence that will convince most open-minded readers that his opponents have it wrong. But he does not fall into the trap of a strident polemicist, castigating others and presenting the issue as black and white. He acknowledges that globalism produces losers as well as winners, and cites cases of badly mismanaged free trade (especially in post-Soviet Russia and during the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990’s). His conclusions are made more compelling by his generous treatment of most anti-globalists: he acknowledges their good intentions, grants the moral power of their usually anecdotal evidence, and seeks to demonstrate without malice the error of some (not all) of their assumptions about the effects of globalism.

The book combines conversational breeziness and a generalist’s informality with a sweeping scope and a meticulously footnoted bibliography. In Defense of Globalization is especially strong in comparison to most of the recent volumes on the other side of the debate. With the possible exception of Joseph Stiglitz’s work, most anti-globalist tomes have verged on screeds, painting any free trade advocates as rapacious capitalists with only evil intentions. Bhagwati sheds more light than heat, and his book provides a stark and welcome contrast.