Repackaging Globalization

The 15th World Congress of the International Economic Association (IEA) kicked off a five day convention yesterday, June 25th, entitled “The Challenge of Globalization.” Guillermo Calvo, President of the IEA, welcomed the participants by placing emphasis on the importance of the congress: “The IEA World Congress offers an ideal setup to discuss globalization issues because the Association encompasses many countries around the world and, since its inception, encourages scientific and nonpartisan debate.” He went on to speak on some of the more current mainstream debates and issues being put forth in the area of international economics:

Globalization issues have become central to the discussion about a good number of important topics such us trade and financial liberalization, global warming, and poverty and income distribution. Although most people would agree that globalization opens up new and exciting possibilities, risks are very real and cannot be ignored. Financial crises in emerging markets, for example, show that opening up channels for capital to flow from rich to poor countries – a process that has the potential of benefiting everyone, rich or poor -could backfire and turn the tide in the opposite direction. Even in cases in which globalization has brought about higher growth rates, one hears loud and angry voices claiming that the winners are just a handful few, while most of the population is left behind. To the extent that this perception prevails, the political sustainability of globalization will always be at stake, weakening the credibility of policy and policymakers, and bringing a new wave of massive and indiscriminate interventionism with global implications.

The main themes being discussed at the congress were listed as; “international finance, political economy considerations, macroeconomic policy, the role of the state and institution in a globalized environment, migration issues, global imbalances, and globalization in historical perspective.” Keynote speakers included Joseph Stiglitz (former chief economist of the World Bank ), Dani Rodrik (Harvard professor of international political economy) and Arvind Panagariya (a professor of Indian political economy at Columbia).

As we can see from Calvo’s opening remarks, the perspective taken at the congress is one which sheds a favorable light upon the “potential” of globalization and the need to address some of the issues and crises threatening it. Taking this viewpoint, globalization is not a problem in and of itself to be solved or changed but is rather a positive advancement being misconstrued as a problem by “angry voices.” It seems that the speakers at the congress are addressing political sustainability of globalization—how globalization is perceived, and the threat of “interventionism”—instead of the nature of capitalism and whether or not it is a legitimate and healthy springboard for global economic integration.

Despite the claim to address “global imbalances” and “migration issues,” we didn’t notice any evidence that people most negatively affected by neoliberal globalization were invited to participate. Conspicuously absent from the talks are labor and community spokespeople who could best represent the detrimental economic affects of globalization on their wages, working and living conditions, cultures, and societies. The conference seems more like a chance for the elites who dominate the conversation of international economics to gather and exchange ideas about policy solutions and the image of globalization with no intention to involve regular people or seriously alter the status quo.

Given that we are not in attendence—and the interesting and relevant subject matter being discussed—we are hopeful that the conference actually addresses the some of the issues concerning the harmful economic affects of globalization on workers and poorer countries. But without adequate representation from these interests, and what looks to be a dedication to only changing the image of globalization instead of the way it works, we are skeptical.

The website for the IEA Congress can be found here.

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