Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014
Need for Altering Discourse in Contemporary Times
Saturday 21 June 2014, by
While the 21st century appears more democratic, inclusive, and pluralist, the contem-porary global world has witnessed resurgence of new forms of discrimination, exclusion, polarisation and domination. The underlying philosophy of economic liberalisation and globalisation which compels integration with the capitalist world is certainly not to equalise but to create a peripheral status for the majority. The oligopolistic nature of the capitalist economy has successfully established the monopoly of few powerful countries who determine what is good for the rest of the world. The global media has also played a vital role in convincing the large mass that a growth-centric capitalist development can contribute to protect the rights of the deprived and marginalised.
Therefore the new economic agenda of the changed government reiterates the need for a second generation of vigorous market-centric economic reforms to enable the GDP to grow at 12 per cent per year for a decade. (Swamy, 2014: 8) It is significant to analyse if a higher growth rate based on higher investment can do away/ reduce the systematic biases by the Bank for International Settlement (BIS), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), Financial Group of 7, Group of 20, World Trade Organisation (WTO), transnational lobbies, mega-corporations, business magazines and rating agencies to favour the rich capitalist countries/class in theorganisational, investment, manufacturing, technology and trade practices across the world. For a growing economy like India there are several lessons to learn from such biases which benefit the corporate sector and financial elite. The suggestion that development should be knowledge-driven instead of capitalist-driven (ibid.) does not explain the global world order where the knowledge system is largely influenced by the capitalists. In fact, the global knowledge system controlled by the West constructs knowledge about the non-West.
Development is understood by the parameters defined by the corporate financial elite and free market champions without locating it in the history, socio-economic behaviour and political culture of a country. Technology has undoub-tedly become an important driving force of history, often independent of the social forces and political culture, resulting in accelerating the processes of integration with the global market economy. However, with the ascendancy of capital and technology, a free competitive market economy as the precondition for development has resulted in large scale asymmetries across the world. The role of the WTO in governance of international commerce and trade, particularly in agriculture, textiles, besides the non-agricultural goods and services, needs to be analysed. The monopoly power over patent rights and inequitable patent laws are counter-productive hurdles for the use of live saving drugs that can be produced cheaper but are priced high in the market because of the burden of royalties. (Sen, 2006) While India can ill afford to strain its relations with the global capitalist countries, it is significant to counter the pressures from powerful capitalist lobbies on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)/ Patent Rights, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Infor-mation and Technology (IT), and Trade.
Unchallenged Hegemonic Power
The transition from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism has prioritised free flow of financial capital and its accumulation leading to an increasing role of the international financial agencies in deciding the rules of the universal development model. While greater liberalisation has increased liquidity for the world trade and the multilateral trading system is important, the global inequalities pose challenges to its sustainability. And the deregulation of the world money markets have favoured the giant multinational companies (MNCs) to pursue strategies to establish monopoly over invest-ment, production and licensing techniques. International competition has resulted in global alliances and linkages between the Triad—North America, Western Europe and Japan. They not only override their national political differences, technical change and innovation but also adopt the common patterns of production, finance and technical structures.
Today tens of thousands of MNCs in particular in finance and technology are the major players in the international economy and politics as they own more than 80 per cent of the world’s resources. The giant MNCs and their powerful lobby dictate the laws of globalisation and finance its implementation to benefit the developed capitalist countries. The mega corporate sectors have been able to obtain all kinds of favour with ease such as removal of trade barriers, tariff reductions, low interest loans, and subsidies. (Gelina, 2003) They control a large part of the world’s investment and influence access to the global market. The giant companies of New York, London, Tokyo, Chicago, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore dominate the global market in medicines, software, computers, satellites and electronics. These companies have integrated themselves to an extent that they can protect themselves from the vagaries of currency fluctuations, unstable economic growth and unpredictable political changes. (Kennedy, 1993)
As a dominant monetary power, the US controls the production system, stock market, investment banks, cyber space, media, and technology. Two-thirds of the monetary resources of the world are in the US. All the big business and the headquarters of the IMF and WB are located in the US. Money laundering has made it easy to accumulate capital in the financial markets that have become increasingly global. Legal and illegal business is more intertwined than in the past. Integration of the financial market has facilitated huge expansion of FDI, reduction of trade barriers, increase in inter-corporate alliance, shifting from intra-firm to inter-firm trade, and deregulation of market services around the world. The growth of FDI at a rapid rate has helped the MNCs to establish their expansion overseas and monopoly through mergers, takeovers, and inter-corporate alliances. (Gilpin, 2003) And the volume of foreign exchange trading in the 21 century far exceeds that of the value of trading goods. This has promoted an uneven development across national borders.
However, the neo-liberal ideology alongside restoring the dominance of the capitalist class has successfully been able to manufacture consent for their domination. Therefore despite being vulnerable to the various forms of increasing subjugation, discrimination and deprivation, the vast majority of the developing societies have failed to protest their peripheral status in the world economy. And though globalisation has transcended the world, the United States’ hegemony remains protected and unchallenged. As the media helps to shape public perceptions, all major news agencies of the West collect, select, and control 80 per cent of the world’s news through the broadcasting networks, publishing institutions, satellite and digital services.
Despite coexistence of greater diversities in a multicultural society, the campaign for global culture and its dissemi-nation worldwide through a plethora of complex networks to reduce cultural differences has led to the imposition of the dominant Western culture. Though the transformationalists argue against cultural imperialism as a US-centric story and believe that the multidimensional flow of culture privileges regional/national/local culture and identities, commodification of culture has undoubtedly contributed to the processes of cultural synchronisation working to the advantage of cultural imperialism. (Held, 2004) It is important to understand that the alternative development strategies have not been included in the choices. The campaign for integrating with the global capitalist world as the only choice is therefore a misleading discourse.
Engineering Extreme Polarisation
Universalisation of the Western liberal democracy as the final form of human development has championed the concept of freedom, rights, equality and justice. However, in practice protection of the freedom and rights of the few privileged class are prioritised. For the majority, violation of rights and denial of justice is an everyday experience. The latter is not accidental but is engineered by the economic forces. While the hegemonic mode of discourse that the global capitalist model of development is the consequential effect of the historical processes of economic transformation has been incorporated into common sense understanding, it is pertinent to underst and that the economic forces are not politically neutral.
The interconnections between the economic and political forces have reinforced the neo-liberal state that is hostile to all forms of restraint to capital accumulation. By resorting to the coercive legislation policies to disperse/repress the collective forces of opposition to the corporate power, the coercive arm of the state protects the corporate interest. (Harvey, 2005) While increased porousness of borders has favoured the idea of global citizenship free from the nation-state boundaries, it is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the process to restore the power of the capitalist class that has facilitated the process of extraction of surplus from the working class. Greater flexibility in the international labour market and labour laws has contributed to the free flow of labour power resulting in greater job insecurity and increasing number of footloose workers.
The neo-liberal state has been successful in undermining the power of the trade unions which were powerful in protecting the rights of the workers. This has left the working class without a bargaining power. The labour-intensive production process has shifted to the developing countries where cheap labour is abundant. The developing countries have experienced ‘femini-sation of workforce’ and most of the female cheap labour is concentrated in garment producing and food processing units. Massive social polarisation due to increasing inequalities, injustice, deprivation and discrimination has resulted in new forms of exclusion and inherent racist bias despite a series of racial reforms to ameliorate racial injustice and inequality. White supremacy has repackaged itself as colour blind (Winant, 2004) and a multi-polar racial pattern has largely supplanted the old racial system with new racial strati-fication that varies substantially by class, region, and indeed among groups. Contemporary atrocities—such as holocaust, ethnic cleansing, totalitarianism, religious violence, massacres and genocide—are frequent experiences. Majority of the civilian casualties in civil war, ethnic strife, and religious violence are women and children. Women are victims of trafficking and rape in war, and sex tourism. There are increasing numbers of refugee women. Today we find that asylum seekers have gone up. Conflicts over immigration and citizenship have taken a new intensity. Violation of human rights is not exceptionally a characteristic feature of undemocratic regimes. The constitutional rights of the citizens guaranteed by the state have become symbolic.
The transnational civil society and world public opinion that are influenced by the global media controlled by the corporate sector have become important guidelines that modify the potentialities, capabilities and strategies of the neo-liberal state. Thus the state’s new mantra to ensure development is to hand over vast areas of natural/productive resources such as mining, fertile land, water and forest reserves to the national, transnational and multinational corpo-rations to secure economic growth. Despite the campaign for sustainable development, natural resources in the developing countries have been exploited to meet the financial obligations of the creditors of the developed countries. We see increasing ecological degradation due to the big development projects such as increasing soil erosion, siltation, millions of hectares of productive dry land turning into worthless desert, destruction of millions of hectares of forests, global warming, green house effects, depletion of ozone shield, emission of toxics into food chain and underground water tables. (United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development)
Redistribution of basic productive resources has been consciously ignored in both the development policies as well as the poverty alleviation programmes. Instead the colonial legacy of acquisition of land continues and the state in alliance with the corporate sector plays a vital role in acquiring land for public purpose. The 2013 Land Acquisition and Relief and Rehabilitation (LARR) Act has failed to adequately define public purpose and the current definition can be interpreted vaguely. It virtually extends to all the development projects by the corporate sector such as the industrial corridors, manufacturing zones, trade and tourism. The principle of ‘eminent domain’, which empowers the state to use common property for the benefit of larger society/public purpose, has, in practice, enabled the state to protect the interest of the dominant class. Industries, mining, dams, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have displaced large masses of people who have lost access to resources of livelihood. Dismantling of their traditional production systems has disintegrated their livelihood systems resulting in dispossession, deprivation, landlessness and distress migration. Physical uprooting of the villagers from their habitat is a traumatic experience and results in a sense of isolation and alienation from the community, culture, and loss of ones’ identity.
Though the techno-managerial development projects designed from above have mounted protests on questions of survival, displacement, alienation and the right to life and livelihood, instead of eliminating the cause of unrest and securing basic needs of its citizens, the development processes continue to victimise the marginalised and we come across several instances of violence and brutality orchestrated by the neo-liberal state.
The global inequalities and asymmetries are widespread due to the revival of the invisible hand and systematic biases against the developing countries. ‘The absolute majority of the population stands completely excluded from the benefits of the rising rates of economic growth.’ (Bhambhri, 2014: 16) Joseph Stiglitz argues that intervention of the government is important to improve the market outcomes in the developing countries. (Stiglitz, 2002) ‘Despite the global integration in years ending with 2010, the developing countries are at the same position in the global scenario as they were in 1820.’ (Subramanian, 2014: 17) Thus the const-raints on growth related to ‘poor infrastructure, underdeveloped institutions, inadequate education, unstable politics or poor governance have to be overcome through creative intervention between the state and the market beyond the predominance of the market model in the process of development’. (Ibid.) Though the advanced countries in league with the IMF and WB reinforce policies to persist with their capital myths, the financial boom in the global economy will not last in the absence of investment in asset formation. (Ibid.: 15)
The emerging issues and changing nature of the conflicts in recent years has exposed the new imperial policies of the powerful countries. If the deprived and excluded have to be brought to the mainstream polity, economy and society, it is pertinent to address issues related to land, livelihood and displacement, exploitation of mineral resources, forest and water reserves, increasing farmers suicides, unemployment, poor health care, lack of education, hunger, malnutrition, famishment and starvation deaths, distress migration and the very right of the communities to life and existence.
The strategy of development should protect the basic needs, ecological sustainability, socio-economic justice and lead to empowerment of the deprived and marginalised. Free trade should notfavour the monopoly of few powerful developed countries on whom the less developed countries depend. State intervention can provide an effective response to the dangers of the corporate power and the systematic biases that persist. The increased investment in the infra-structure, agriculture, technology, manufacturing, employment, education, food security, and economic growth should prioritise the needs of the large mass of citizens rather than the corporate world. Therefore, it is pertinent to work out alternative development strategies to the econometrics model that determine the agenda of development in the developing countries.
Bhambhri, C.P. (2014): “Contextualising Development in a Democracy”, Book Review of Politics in India Structure Process and Policy by Subrata. K. Mitra in The Hindu, April 29, p. 16.
Gelina, Jacques B (2003): Understanding Predatory Globalisation, Zed Books.
Gilpin, Robert(2001): Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, Princeton University Press.
Harvey, David (2005): A Brief History of Neo-liberalism, United States: Oxford University Press.
Held, David (2004): A Globalising World? Culture Economic Politics, London and New York: Routledge.
Kennedy, Paul (1993): Preparing for 21st Century, Random House.
Sen, Amartya (2006): Identity and Violence: Illusion of Destiny, New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Stiglitz, Joseph (2002): Globalisation and its Discontents, New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Subramanian, K. (2014): “Guiding the Development Debate”, Book Review of Catch Up Developing Countries in the World Economy by Deepak Nayyar in The Hindu, February 11, p. 17.
Subramanian, K. (2014): “Policy Driven Economic Stagnation”, Book Review of Dominant Finance and Stagnant Economies by Sunanda Sen in The Hindu, April 29, p. 15.
Swamy, Subramanian (2014): “A New Economic Agenda”, in The Hindu, April 25, p. 8.
Winant, Howard (2004): “Teaching Race and Racism in the 21 Century: Thematic Considerations” in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, Institute of Research in African American Studies, Columbia University, Vol. 6. No. 3-4.
Suranjita Ray teaches Political Science at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.