I write this on my way to Washington. Yesterday the Sunday papers reported that Bill Gates had lost £11 billion in the Nasdaq share price collapse. Today they report four tons of manure have been tipped outside the World Bank and rioters are attacking police with ripped-up fence posts outside the US Treasury. The eco-warriors of Seattle have moved into town.
Three books which relate to these events are:
False Dawn: The delusions of global capitalism
John Gray Granta Books £8.99
Living on Thin Air (The new economy)
Charles Leadbeater Penguin Books £6.99
Runaway World: How globalisation is reshaping our lives
Anthony Giddens Profile Books £7.99
These books are part of a line of commentary which goes back a long way. Peter Drucker was on to the subject in 1993 describing the move from capitalism to the knowledge society and its effect on organizations, and no doubt there will be more to come. The nub of the argument is whether the continued effect of new technology and new media leading to a globalized market is good or bad. Clearly our rioting friends in Seattle feel that untrammelled free trade favours rich powerful countries more than the poor of the developing world.
John Gray’s powerful book False Dawn argues that unless something is done (and done by the United States) to make markets more friendly to human needs then, as George Soros maintains, it will eventually collapse with traumatic and unimaginable consequences. I must confess I find his book very persuasive and I would have thought essential reading for everyone, whatever their perspective on this millennial issue.
Charles Leadbeater’s book Living on Thin Air is altogether lighter, which is perhaps why it comes with the endorsement of Tony Blair rather then George Soros. He comes from the fashionable Demos Think Tank, which has indeed affected the thinking of New Labour in Britain. His is a hypothesis grown out of autobiographical anecdotes, from which he argues that there must be a reaction to globalization (potentially a good thing), but that this must not mean cultures and communities digging in defensively. Rather, they should counter-attack by deliberately increasing and spreading the amount of knowledge available to everyone, rich or poor – thus using the new technology for good.
Anthony Giddens’ book Runaway World in short, easy to read, crystal clear and also persuasive. Based on the BBC’s Reith Lectures, which he gave in 1999, it argues that whereas hitherto we have thought that with further development of science and technology the world would become more stable and ordered, the reverse seems to be true. The world seems more out of control and is likely to become a runaway world unless we can find ways of bringing it to heel. He examines the effects of the runaway world on ourselves, family institutions and culture, concluding, I think, that the answer lies in a deepening of democracy leading to stronger civil society
‘We shouldn’t think of there being only two sectors of society, the state and the market place … in between is the area of civil society.’
All these books should be read. That they come to the same kind of answer to the question of whether globalization is a good or bad thing – that it depends on whether we (individuals) can summon up the will to make it good – is perhaps not surprising. We are, I think, advised to take the pessimistic view and to become more worried and anxious, and grateful to at least the peaceful rioters of Seattle and now Washington. Where next?
Michael Brophy is Chief Executive of CAF.