Comment 27280

By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2008 at 20:35:35

The "dawn of capitalism"? When was that? There were markets, empires and trade in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America long before the Europeans came around with their own military and ideological empire-building machines.

The jury is also still out as to whether or not it was Britain's empire that enabled it to build such a formidable industrial powerhouse. Scholars are now pointing in equal measure to an "industrious revolution" over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries - the evolution of home-grown cultures and institutions conducive to large-scale capital investment such as we have today (institutions of risk-management, for example). There is also a lot of debate over what effect the empire actually had on this process. Your own take on this stems heavily from the version popularized by Immanuel Wallerstein in the 1970s. There is near unanimity in the historical community to the effect that the empire was actually a drain on British resources, not a net contributor.

Nor am I entirely comfortable with what appears in your comments, Undustrial, as well as the article above, to be an idea of globalization as a unidirectional, teleological process. With, perhaps, the exception of the internet, almost any measure of globalization versus locally based production, consumption and identity-formation, points to the nearly synonymous and countervailing (and perhaps dialectic) impact of globalizing and localizing "forces" (for lack of a better word). In the eighteenth century, there was Indian indentured labor displacing indigenous laborer in the British Caribbean. Between two "world wars", the 1930s saw the enormous, nearly worldwide popularity of various locally-based, xenophobic "nationalisms." For a more locally-relevant example, consciousness of a particular "Canadian" identity has progressed almost lock-in-step with Canadian consumption of American material and cultural productions.

I don't necessarily disagree with the tenor of much of what appears above (including the article itself). I'm just nit-picking (and not - God forbid - trolling). It just so happens I have academia on my mind, and a tad too much time on my hands, so bear with me!

While I don't think our concerns our necessarily misplaced, however, I sometimes think that too much is made of the tragic "way things are now" without placing present-day conditions in historical context. The movement of large labor forces across the globe has taken place at least since at least the 18th century. Labor has been conscripted, indentured or simply underpaid for millenia. In my opinion, the fact that the people working these jobs (in Thailand, Indonesia, or whatever) are at least, by and large, choosing to work these jobs represents a marked improvement over the past.

At the same time, Ted, I'm no believer in the magic and mysticism of the financial market's ability to determine universal happiness or providence, and I agree on the need to interrogate existing power structures and modes of managing wealth if they lead to such a wide income disparity.

A. Smith's ideas make more sense to me if I broaden my notion of the "market" or "economy" to include, for example, economies of highly subjective personal value at the highest level of abstraction. While I question the universal applicability of this model to real-life decisions of civic and global finance, I certainly don't think they're worthless for this purpose, and I think that they possess more value on a different level.

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