Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Globalization and Realism

It is funny how ideas and paradigms get their names and retain them, even after becoming supposedly “out-of-date.” A perfect example would be Realism, which, despite being dismissed as obsolete, still retains its name and its sense as the most “down-to-Earth” and “assumption-less” approach to analyzing affairs. With the emergence of all the complexities of the globalizing world, particularly, Realism might provide a very limited view on the “real” state of things. But when circumstances get down to the “real” things that really matter, no one can deny that self-interests and cost-benefit calculations are the ultimate determinants of decision outcomes. I see this idea as the very essence of the arguments pushed by globalization pessimists, who view globalization as perpetuating the existent inequities, while the “agents of change” as pursuing ulterior motives. In a sense, they are right, as there can be no development or progress unless there are substantial incentives driving those, particularly if they involve large costs. Multinational corporations are trying to maneuver the international space looking for profit maximization, and it is only rational of them to pursue their goals in a Realist manner. The same can be said about states, with a slight change in wording: substitute “profit maximization” with “national objectives.”

That said, it is important to note the OVERALL outcome. Globalization that brings with it the intensification of resource flows and a greater interdependence of nations can ultimately result in an increase in general output: i.e. overall increase in affluence and in the standard of living. What is more, one cannot overlook the fact that the more the states are economically interdependent, the less willing they will be to engage in any conflict, which, in turn, can lead to further stabilization and sustainable economic and political development (even in cases where the interstate, or the state-corporation relationship is regarded as asymmetric). Therefore, potentially, globalization can bring the greatest benefit to most people, and all the readings this week touched upon this matter in one way or another.

Nevertheless, they also pointed out the fact that the benefits are not as equitably distributed as most of us would like to hope, which gives further ground to the pessimists. Even more relevant in this matter is the fact that the nation state seems to be among those to lose out most in the globalization process, as its sovereignty and self-determination are gradually eaten away by the post-modern tendencies. Together, the groups that fall behind in this intense global competition (be it on the international, national, or sub-national level) can present viable evidence to prove the selective advantages of globalization and its deficiencies. And certainly, the Marxist argument of “the rich exploiting the poor” is ever present in any such talk, be it concerning nation-states, or MNCs. Perhaps it may sound rudimentary, but one only needs to look at the current international sphere to see that these arguments might really be making a GOOD point. International structures such as the G8 and G20, despite all their altruistic mission statements, are essentially serving the interests of the select few – those who are IN the club – and even if the attainment of their goals might involve the development of the other parts of the world (well, being interdependent will allow more international stability and better business), they are still motivated by their very same self-interests. Fair enough. But that is where Morgenthau and Realism come creeping back in.

And yet, the end result should not be overlooked. Development and “progress,” especially on a global scale, can take many decades, if not centuries, to achieve and instant gratification is not something one should expect. Even if all the “agents of change” are ultimately driven by their self-interests, they can still play a significant role in dragging the “laggers” along. It is then up to these laggers to make sure they are included in the process, by proving their potential and getting involved – sufficiently and on time – instead of merely complaining and waiting for benevolence. If one looks at world affairs as a game, then there are rules by which it is played, and each player should make the most out of them, apparently, without expectations of altruism from others...


  1. I think it's interesting that you bring up realism. As you say, the meaning is pretty obsolete, although people still use it all the time.

    Of course, from a postmodern perspective, there is no "real" or "reality" because there is no universal truth. Everything is relative to a specific person or culture. I remember talking about realism versus idealism in US History back in high school, and then learning in college that "real" does not exist. It's interesting how over time we learn completely conflicting views.

  2. Yes, you're right. The perspective DOES matter. But then the very idea of relativity of the "reality" is self-contradictory, because it is still making a statement which is supposedly "real". But that's a more philosophical discussion...
    While, regarding the principle itself, as I already mentioned in the post, I do NOT find realism as completely "outdated" or "inapplicable," as people, states, and organizations still do make decisions based pretty much on their own interest-and-benefit calculations... no matter what they veil it with (i.e. the conscientious PR efforts). And this week's readings, esp the Thussu one, illustrate it VERY well...

  3. "It is then up to these laggers to make sure they are included in the process, by proving their potential and getting involved – sufficiently and on time – instead of merely complaining and waiting for benevolence."
    Isn't this merely a restatement of the old truism, 'pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps'?
    The whole point of Marxism and opponents of RealPolitik is that this leaves those without access or the same advantages handicapped. You can't play the game as well with your hands tied behind your back. It doesn't absolve people of their own need to participate, but I find this rather optomistic to think that if these 'laggers' just got off their butts that they'd be able to be 'pulled' into development.
    Second, you basically argue that the pessimists are right. Everyone has ulterior motives and these motives lead to actions that primarily only benefit their own members/shareholders/elite citizens. Does eventual thorough progress then happen in spite of this? Who are the 'laggers' then? Surely not MNCs and the wealthy. Developing nations then? If nations are losing power and are only going to benefit certain people anyway, wouldn't the 'laggers' be then the people left out? Without significant representation/mobilization, how then can they stop lagging?

  4. You have a good point.

    The laggers, I meant the developing nations. And well, I believe they are developing not because they weren't good enough or they didn't WANT it (at least, not the majority), but because there are structural inequities inherent in the global system (politics, economics, culture... take your pick!). So, as long as the current system is there and the game is on, I don't think that these inequities can be overcome, unfortunately.

    THAT is why, the best they can do is try to make themselves relevant, by capitalizing on WHATEVER they can get a competitive advantage in, and yet playing by the rules. And in terms of recent "globalization" and "denationalization": well, when talking about 'developing nations' we're not just talking about their governments. They too have corporations and civil societies, each with their own motives and interests, of course... but those CAN overlap. What I mean is that it's all about coordination and a realistic perspective, without all the beautiful words that distort the picture...