Conservatives on Globalization

James R. Rogers offers a useful taxonomy of contemporary conservative critiques of globalization.

He defines globalization as “decreasing costs to capital and labor mobility. Mobility across, but also within, national borders.” Alternatively, it could be defined as “the process of incorporating new regions of the world into a unified market system.”

Until recently, he observes, “the American right promoted, or at least tolerated, the post-World War II international economic system, and the global economic system it implied.” But that consensus is broken, as “significant threads of American conservatives now trumpet skepticism toward globalization.”

Rogers identifies several strains of critique. The labels are mine, not his.

1)A free-market critique: According to this view, globalist “‘free trade agreements’ and international economic organizations are not really intended to promote free trade, but often are little more than rent-seeking deals between governments intended to benefit well-connected businesses in the respective nations.” This assault on “crony capitalism” has “affinities with some left-wing criticisms of globalization.”

2) A pro-labor critique: The pie is bigger, but the slices get distributed differently from country to country. This rises from the insight that “decreasing costs of capital and labor mobility have nation-specific effects of increasing returns to (relatively) abundant factors in a nation and decreasing returns to (relatively) scarce factors in a nation.” Since in the US capital is “abundant (relative to labor) and labor is scarce (relative to capital),” capital thrives while labor stagnates. In other nations, where labor is more abundant (relative to capital), it would follow that “labor wins relative to capital in these countries.”

On this view, “workers in advanced industrial countries would seek politically to mitigate the adverse consequences of globalization.” Policy should be adjusted to protect workers and communities, without undermining global economic growth: “They want the bigger economic pie but would like to slow down the pace of change in order to mute adverse consequences on workers and communities supported by globally less-competitive markets.”

3) A depersonalization critique: Though globalization brings economic gains, “the very process which intensifies the subjection of people to an impersonal global market imposes too heavy a social and personal cost on people to be tolerated without significant constraints.” Capitalism leads to a “loss of solidarity among people.”

In one variation of this critique, “the commodification of labor destroys ties of solidarity between people in local communities.” Others argue that “the market, and the anonymity between producer and consumer, necessarily leads us to treat other people as means rather than as ends in themselves.” Markets form “a semiotic environment that changes how we think of people whom we do see in daily life.”

This is related to suspicion of the sheer size of global markets: “unlike pre-modern markets, the argument goes, the sheer size of today’s globalized economy makes producers and consumers strangers to one another. Only price serves as intermediary between one person and other. This prevents the ability to tailor economic transactions to serve the needs of specific individuals, as could be done in the face to face transactions in local markets.” In short, “The intimate relational component of the local market is lost in the modern market system.”

4) A nationalist critique: This position “values community as well, but focuses on the nation as the community of significance rather than intimate, local communities.” Integration into the market brings economic gains, but “the loss to the national community is too high. Globalization understood as the increasingly free movement of capital and labor means national borders must be increasingly porous to both capital and labor.”

For some, “freer movement of capital and labor across national borders threatens national culture and national identity.” Globalization homogenizes culture. Others are more concerned with “political-legal threats to globalization: the diminishment of national sovereignty and the constraints placed on national policies and national policy discretion by the needs of a truly globalized market system.”

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