College Quarterly
Fall 2003 - Volume 6 Number 1
Reviews The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization
Wayne Ellwood
Toronto: New Internationalist/Between the Lines, 2001.

Reviewed by Anna Kim

At the heart of most important political, economic and broadly cultural debates today lies the frequently used but rarely defined concept of globalization. For some, it is no more than a modernist version of the ancient concept of imperialism. For others, it entails a wholly new way of conducting world affairs, abetted by extraordinary technological innovations especially in communications. Applauded by multinational corporations (MNCs) and denounced by critics of the World Trade Organization and other international trade regulators, globalization remains an inadequately understood term of celebration or opprobrium. All that seems secure is its controversial nature and a sense of its inevitability as the defining trend of our age.

The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization is one of a series of small books that manages to deal informatively and concisely with complex contemporary ideas and issues in the humanities and social sciences. The series addresses topics from the arms trade to sexual diversity, from international migration to climate change, and from democracy to globalization, presenting lucid and critical perspectives on these "hot button" issues. The entire collection—and Ellwood’s in particular—is worth checking out for both busy students and professors who may sometimes need simple ways to get complex and contentious ideas across to students.

Globalization, Ellwood argues, is above all characterized by shrinkage, how the world has grown smaller and more homogenous in trade, communication, and livelihood. He moves through a series of historical points, beginning with the 1930s recession of the Western economies that led to the birth of the Keynesian welfare state. As World War II drew to a close, the Bretton Woods Conference (1944) was held to promote national sovereignty and prevent future financial crises. Three institutions developed out of the Bretton Woods Agreement: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the World Bank, and GATT/WTO. From the early post-war years until the early 1970s, the industrialized world witnessed extraordinary growth and prosperity, with the United States emerging as the increasingly dominant world economic force. By the 1980s, however, we were well into a world recession and a new ideological agenda. In the Western nations, a love affair with the "free market" had begun, and government programs were drastically slashed. Ellwood describes the conditions imposed on "developing nations" the former known—perhaps tellingly—as "SAPs" (structural adjustment policies) behind the IMF and the World bank loans, and how they are crippling "Third World" nations and benefiting the Western elite.

One of his chapters, appropriately titled "The Corporate Century," is especially useful in its account of the emerging global economy. Ellwood describes the accumulated wealth of a few global corporations that have more political and economic power and money than most nation states. He writes: "the combined annual revenue of the biggest 200 corporations are greater than those of 182 nation-states that contain 80 per cent of the world’s population" (55). Today’s economic world is dominated by MNCs that are able to break and make national economies at will. Ellwood provides a wealth of data and analysis that are most instructive to preoccupied students who need to understand "who" is really running the show, and who wins—and loses—when they buy those savvy little electronic gadgets and corporate-branded gear in the shopping centres. Ellwood breaks down complex global financial terms such as foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment so that they are easy to comprehend as concepts and to apply to understanding the practical realities of our world.

Given the stupefying intricacy of our economic interconnectedness and the sheer size of some global trade documents like the WTO agreement (which is 26,000 pages long), most people have neither the time nor the patience to grasp the immense impact that globalization has on their lives. Ellwood, however, provides us with a succinct, yet comprehensive, explanation and interpretation of the global market. Not just a complainer, he ends the book with some sound, pragmatic policy options. He warns that if the trend of MNCs setting up sweatshops in "Third World" countries and speculating in foreign currencies to make quick profits is allowed to persist, the entire planet will pay a heavy price, socially and ecologically.

This book physically might look like Reader’s Digest or a TV Guide, but make no mistake about it; it provides readers with insightful options to ponder. I was particularly interested in the Tobin tax strategy, which would impose a modest tax on speculative transactions to slow down the process of rampant currency speculation that has resulted in so much havoc in transnational money markets in recent years (p.125). While it is still not in place and is being fiercely resisted by financial and commercial corporations, it is one of the most obvious ways to bring a measure of order and fairness to the uninterrupted disturbances, relentless uncertainties and constant sense of crisis that distinguishes our age from all others. It is just one of a number of initiatives that surely deserve a fair hearing from the governments.

A useful addition to courses in International Business, Economics, Government and Politics, this compact, easily accessible and substantive volume would make a valuable addition to the personal library of any college professor and would be equally worthwhile for any thoughtful student seeking to a transparent look at contemporary global relations.


Anna Kim, Department of Political Science, York University, Toronto, Canada.

Reviews

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2003 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology