Friday, June 03, 2005

Friedman's Globalization: Arguments and Counter-Arguments

The BBC Hard Talk interview with Thomas Friedman was very interesting indeed. An American preaching globalization using examples of Indian and Chinese economic growth brought about by new anti-protectionist policies was indeed very interesting to hear. The interviewer interjected Friedman by insinuating that his perspective was "American-centric", fuelled by the argument that Friedman considered economic growth only for those entities which were directly linked to the American knowledge economy, for which itself was necessitated large scale diversification of operational services across different geographical units in the World. Friedman's counter was provided by his empirical study which indicated growth of Indian entrepreneurship indigeneously, propelling companies owned by Indians into the leaders in the Global services industry. Friedman contrasted this to what he called India's near disastrous protectionist approach which resulted in very stagnant growth, balance of payments crisis, very little foreign exchange reserves and a poor man's image. Today, Friedman talks about India's reputation as a leader in knowledge economy and information services, high foreign exchange reserves, responsible corporate environment, which he calls conducive for removal of poverty from Indian society. Using the trickle-down metaphor originated by Ronald Reagan, Friedman says that high incentives to corporate sectors have resulted in wealth creation, which is slowly percolating into India's society, driving it forward from the social morass that predominates it.

As for the interviewer's query that whether Friedman was wholly sympathetic to a less government, more corporate approach to world governance, Friedman replies in the positive but his contention is subdued: he still supports a great role for governments to play, but wants government to loosen its tentacles on enterprise, which he regards as responsible for economic growth wholly. He has little time for Anti-Globalization critics, whom he accuses of talking about a protectionist era which was detrimental to developing countries' growth. He rhetorically puts forward the question: "Where are the Googles coming out from the socialist countries?". He is scathing on France and other EU countries which believe in socialist models, calling them increasingly dependent on African States' labour power (is he talking about a new form of social-colonialism here?).

Friedman talks about the success story of Walmart which has helped sell products at low prices across the length and breadth of the world, owing to its innovative supply chain networking practice, while he also mentions that such companies have been rather parsimonious with employee care although. He gives the flip and flop side of policies of globalization and the need to create a "Flat World", but in the end, ends up a votary of the "Flat World Theory" because he believes the flip side carries a lot of weight with it.

Friedman calls himself a "Democratic Hawk" and is supportive of the Iraq War, calling it America's responsibility to create a democratic atmosphere in Middle East countries which have been increasingly used merely to fill "gas" for American vehicles, while America has repeatedly ignored atrocities and elements of recidivism in such countries. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who practiced egregious methods to retain control in Iraq and it was imperative that he be removed from power. It is another matter that what has happened in Iraq ever since the American "intervention" has not gone according to the "bring liberty" plan, but such a course of "intervention" was right, Friedman argues.

Friedman is concerned about the hatred that America receives from different parts of the World, but is insouciant to the extent that he says that it is imperative upon such countries to look upto themselves and see whether they should hate what they are doing or not? He says that American policies do cause rancour but sometimes it is better than policies of those people who "wire themselves with dynamite".
My Response would be thus:

The Indian Context: A) Friedman's frame of reference is too much small; It is merely the last few years which he considers, ignoring the entire history of economic growth in all countries. He is scathing about India's protectionist past, but conveniently ignores the role played by Indian capitalists during independence, their refusal to take the burden of building India's industry (the Bombay Plan), and the massive dose of effort taken by the Indian government to build the infrastructure which has been conveniently used by India's monopoly capitalists to further their wealth.

B) Agreed, India's protectionist policies were lopsided and growth was stagnant. But wasn't it true that the mixed economy model promised much, but there was very little that happened on ground? Socialism was promised, but except for removal of privy purses, there was very little effort in correcting the lopsided socio-economic order in the country. No land reforms, selective growth of a few monopoly capitalists, representation of the ruling classes dominated by landed and gentry interests increasingly and no release of productive forces was what that characterized Indian socio-politico-economic situation for nearly 50 years.

C) The Economic Reforms that were brought about released the Middle Classes from the above mentioned system and created an environment for these classes (which were always pampered with subsidies, service sector facilities, high educational prospects) to come into their own, created a consumerist culture, and resulted in the furthering of their growth, but have the economic reforms made any dent in the socio-political problems that characterize India's semi-feudalistic orders that predominate Indian villages (which form nearly 3/4rth of India's populace)? The answer unfortunately is No. Rather such problems, according to some analysts, have exacerbated the existing morass. Protectionist policies had incubated India's agricultural sector into a rather progressive, high yield unit, with changes occuring gradually and providing small time poor farmers with a means of livelihood. The effects of Globalization have however exposed such farmers and peasants to a competitive world, forcing them to live off credit, in the end, unable to pay off credit, made them commit suicide, and thus exacerbated the poverty condition of such farmers. The selective lopsided protectionism with proverbial intent but no sure-fire implementation policies have created further dichotomies within the Agricultural sector itself, the policies of globalization and liberalization have on the other hand, deepened this near-crisis environment.

D) Friedman's view on globalization is very true with respect to the Indian context. Yes, there has been a great impetus provided by India's IT sector in enhancing India's prestige in the World Order. Yes, the Middle Class gets itself to flaunt its new found prosperity, it has a globe-hopping consumerist culture and a vibrant voice in the media. But what of the real India, the myriad social groups of the countryside, the tribals of the forests, the peasants working on lands owned by traditional "mukhias" and "banias", the slum dwelling village migrant forced into crime and grime. They are also Indians and if Friedman says that globalization has improved their plight, he is grossly wrong.

E) The answer to the myriad problems that India faces today is not flat out simple; calling for a Corporate responsibility, lesser Government and globalization. It is much more complex than that. Yes, globalization is inevitable in a world where communication barriers have gradually dissipated due to technological progress. But economic policies of governments elected by means of democracy has to be determined indigeneously. Successive governments pursuing Reform policies in India have been removed out of power. Myriad regional parties have come to power. Casteist groups representing backward elites who want their share of power have got into the limelight, despite their lack of progressive vision. What is the reason for such a situation? The people of India as a whole have not been satisfied with the Reform policies. Inclusive growth, has rather been a myth than reality. The manufacturing sector in the country suffers, while the service sector with its high labour intensive work force has enhanced itself because of the supply-demand situation of the global economy. Whether a wholly service-sector oriented growth is possible is highly problematic. The release of productive forces is an imperative. Every Western Economy went through this process of social reform working in cahoots with economic growth. Why are the developing countries being denied of their own models of growth? Why should they adhere to structural adjustment policies prescribed by World Bank and IMF economists who have starkly little knowledge of the myriad troubles of the Ordinary Indian?

F) The parallels between the Indian and Chinese contexts has to be taken into perspective. The Chinese model of FDI based growth today is sustainable because of the large scale manufacturing linkage industries created by the Chinese state. Buoyed on by social reform policies of the early Communist era, which involved large scale mobilization of peasantry, the drive to end bureaucratization etc, the Communist China has made great progress in releasing productive forces, which unfortunately hasn't happened greatly in India, despite the successes of the Indian software services sector.

G) Democracy in India is a must. It is the only way of correcting the social milieu of the Indian nation, which for ages has been characterized by social inequalities, disorders and malignant distribution of wealth and power to only a select few. Yet, Democracy in India is still flawed in quite a few ways. Further steps need to be taken to make the democratic structures and institutions in the country further representative. Democracy has to filter down to such an extent that local representation in power structures is also ensured. The system of Panchayati Raj is slowly evolving in this regard as a third organ of governance apart from the Central and the Federal structures. Jeopardizing this multi-insitutional democratic setup by vouching for lesser government, more corporate responsibility would hamper India's long standing social upheaval processes.

H) What is the bottomline? 8% Economic Growth, creating a Job-Less Growth environment, without creating adequate linkages with the dominant agro-based sector and perpetuating unemployment or Massive Social Spending to enhance education, health care, sanitation, creating oppurtunities for spurring Domestic Demand, Releasing forces of production even in the rural areas? I for one, believe in the latter. Yes, the fillips provided to the corporate sector would remain, but there will be lesser incentives and higher demands for social responsibilities from these sectors. A need for correcting the socio-economic-political order in which some groups enjoy higher mileage than others is paramount. Annihilation of Corporate Robbery and Corporate Credit to Government, Recovery of Non-performing assets, democratic work cultures, high investment in Science and Technology, Lesser Military Spending, Better International Relations based not merely on Strategic Concerns, but based on socio-constructivist outlooks, high involvement of all the three tiers of government in governance, Dignity of Marginalized groups in the country, etc, etc matter a lot too.

The processes of liberalization, globalization and privatization with their boons act sometimes in contravention to the above mentioned aims of Indian governance and socio-politico-economic necessities. Merely focussing on the creation of a "Flat World" without regarding the well entrenched Crusts, Troughs and quick sand that characterize developing societies is a reductionist approach.

Mr Friedman's empirical approach of finding a solution to the problems of the world by interviewing corporate honchos and a few successful entrepreneurs is seriously flawed. The Truth that he needs to explore is much more multi-dimensional and prismatic than he believes he has seen.

The Iraq Quagmire:

Mr Friedman glibly talks about America's responsibility for bringing "liberty" to the dark annals of autocratic setups of the Middle East. The essential fact remains that the perpetuation of such autocratic setups owes itself to America's policies of intervention in the Middle East, for "fuelling" it's own corporate growth! Every military dictator of the Middle East is a creature who earned some legitimacy or other because of Western Support. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is a Americophile, so was Saddam during the heights of the Iran-Iraq War. Reams and reams of paperwork on how the current Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld had linkages with the Saddam setup during the eighties exist. Yet, I digress. Its only imperative to understand what America is doing to Iraq NOW. Iraq under Saddam was an autocratic setup ruled by a dictator and his cronies. Yes. But Iraq under U.S. Sponsorship has turned out to be a communal quagmire. Pitting ethnic group against ethnic group, exacerbating the social situation in Iraq is the newest malignant contribution of the so called U.S. war for liberty in Iraq. Saddam is no longer in power, but he has been replaced by a set of cronies of the U.S.A supplanted by communal minded ethnic leaders who in deed promise to take Iraq into a new crisis of national disintegration. Is this what Friedman wanted to happen in Iraq? Yes, the Baathist enterprise of pan-Arabian socialism was more a desert mirage that never happened and disintegrated into a cult of dictatorships. But what was responsible for such egregious holds by a few feudal minded warlords? The lack of a Protestant Ethic, which would be claimed by the Christian Right in the US of A or is it a tacit support for strong dictatorships creating oligarchies helping super-profit-creation for corporates abroad? The Answer obviously is the Latter. Western Intervention in the Middle East has been ruinous for any kind of enlightenment-like change happening in those areas. Never has any progressive force given any kind of legitimacy by the multiple governments of the liberal West, which has always viewed the Middle East as a vista for corporate benefit and profit.

After all, why the "deuce" would anyone want to be wired with dynamite at all? What is the reason for this overwhelming hatred and splenetic anger? Give it a thought, Mr . Friedman. I am no expert on the Middle East or World Politics to give you a very correct picture. You only have to read your own intellectuals who are so many and so worthy, such as Prof Noam Chomsky, etc.