Democratic Globalization Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

Democratic  globalization is the idea that all humans share  a common  interest  and  should  have a common say in the future development  of humanity.  Its supporters  counterpose democratic  globalization to existing globalization, which they claim reflects the interests of state, corporate, and financial elites. These groups  control  policy in existing global institutions and the world’s 200 or so states. Instead, supporters of democratic  globalization  insist  on  globalization “from below” rather than “from above.”

Few  human   communities   in  history  have  ever grown up in isolation from one another. In this sense globalization is not new. But the paradox of capitalism’s  political  economy  is that  as it has developed in the last five centuries  the world has been brought closer  together   in  some  ways  but  become  more divided in others. The end of the Cold War in 1989–91 seemed to suggest that this had changed. Market capitalism had triumphed.  The next years saw a huge wave of globalization talk and claims of a qualitative shift in global relations. Critics saw the euphoria  of this “globo-babble” as the equivalent in ideas of the “irrational exuberance”  that  seemed  to characterize markets at this time. It served to allow corporate  and financial interests to try to remold the economy more in their favor.

“Free Market Fundamentalism”

Free market and neoliberal economists argue that markets  are welfare enhancing  and work best when they are free. They deny that there are serious tradeoffs or  choices  and  argue  that  if some  gain  more this  is of little consequence.  Everyone can hope  to gain something  through  the  trickle-down  effects of the integration  of global markets.  These ideas were embodied in the politics of the Washington  Consensus and the policies of the U.S. government  abroad, the  International Monetary  Fund (IMF), the  World Bank and, from 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO). “Free market fundamentalism,” as its critics call it, has been invested with a moral character, part of the  struggle between  good and evil. These ideas are  propagandized,  advised, and  even  imposed  on many parts of the world as part of the conditionality of Western aid.

Such ideas always had their critics but it was not until November  1999 when a meeting  of the WTO in Seattle met  with huge protests  that  this opposition found its real voice. Described variously as the anti-globalization    movement,   the   alter-globalization  movement,  or the  anti-capitalist  movement,  it developed into an alliance of groups with varied (and sometimes  competing)  perspectives.  They shared  a common skepticism about the claims made for globalization and the trustworthiness of the forces behind it. This informal alliance is often chaotic. Nevertheless it has sustained campaigns around the globe and regular meetings of a World Social Forum, initially at Porte Allegre in Brazil but later at changing locations. The movement also began to develop into an anti-war movement opposing U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and threats elsewhere.

This movement  for democratic  globalization was immediately attacked as naïve, utopian, and even irresponsible. But it was able to mobilize considerable pressure and arguments  in its favor. It was helped by internal critiques of earlier globalization talk and not least by the  work of the  leading economist  Joseph Stiglitz. It also found support  from the International Labour Organization’s World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization (2001–04), which concluded  that  “seen through  the  eyes of the  vast majority  of women  and  men,  globalization  has not met their simple and legitimate aspirations for decent jobs and a better future for their children.”

Supporters  of democratic  globalization  challenge the way in which existing globalization is shaped by the  interests  of powerful  states  (the  United  States, United  Kingdom,  European  Union,  Japan) and  the major multinational corporate  interests.  Some even suggest these interests now form the basis of an unaccountable transnational ruling class. They argue that there can be no truly democratic  globalization without there being a local democratic  base. This democracy must extend to the democratic control of the economic and social structures  of the world. Even where formal democracy exists there  is a large democratic deficit, and at the global level there are no structures that  allow the proper  relationship  to the interest  of the mass of humanity.


Current  global governance  reflects the interests  of powerful states. The United States plays a decisive role followed by the other members of the G8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United  Kingdom [UK]). The United  Nations  (UN) is dominated   by its  five veto-holding  permanent members  (the  United  States,  UK, France,  Russia, and China). Leadership of the IMF and the World Bank is shared by Europe and the United States, but with the United  States having a de facto veto. The WTO  is formally more  equal at the  level of state participation  but actually operates on a two-tier system of the same powerful insider states and supplicants outside.

These  and  similar  institutions   are  characterized by a  lack  of transparency   and  accountability.  Key decisions,  especially in trade  and  finance, are even negotiated by ministers with limited input from their government  colleagues, let  alone  their  parties  and their electorates. This is sometimes justified as putting control into the hands of experts and so “depoliticizing decision making.” What it actually does is enable global policy making to be subject to the influence (if not be determined by) big companies  and their lobbyists who have direct access to the decision-making process. This accounts for the narrow and self-interested priorities  of existing globalization, which conflict with the interests  and priorities of those on the outside.  The  global  arena  remains  a  lawless  one. There is no legality independent of the interests of the powerful. Such “global law” as exists tends to codify the interests  of the strong, since they determine  and enforce it. Its use is highly politicized and it is used effectively when it is in the interests  of the powerful states and their clients.


Supporters of democratic globalization challenge this global democratic  deficit. At the level of theory, the more radical supporters  of democratic  globalization question the role of markets themselves. Less radical supporters  accept a role for markets  but argue that market  failure is endemic  because,  as Stiglitz puts it, markets  are  always incomplete  and  information always imperfect.  Far  from  being  competitive,  the global economy can only be understood through  an analysis of the imperfect  competition  of global corporations  and  financial institutions  which have the power to ignore externalities and exploit informational and other asymmetries.

Contrary to textbook simplicities, comparative advantage does not always produce  a win-win situation. Resources do not flow easily from the rich to the poor  but  often  in the  opposition  direction.  Knowledge is not treated as a public good but protected  by patents  whose reach is being extended  by corporate campaigns   for  trade-related  intellectual   property rights (TRIPS). Knowledge is also being trapped  by attempts  at “corporate bio-piracy” through  the patenting  of naturally  occurring  forms,  including  the processes  of the  human  body. Powerful states, too, that  advise deregulation  and state minimization  for others  regularly protect  their  own through  regulation, subsidy, and protection.

Controversy also exists over the claimed successes of globalization. At the level of individuals there is no dispute that deregulation has allowed a growing concentration of personal wealth in the hands of global elite as wealth and income inequality has increased. At the turn of the new century it was estimated  that the 225 largest personal fortunes  were equivalent to the income of nearly half the world’s population. The top 15 fortunes  equalled the income of the whole of sub-Saharan  Africa. If absolute  global poverty  has decreased, and this is contested,  it is because tens of millions now survive just above the $1-a-day poverty marker than below it. No less, “the great divergence” between the worlds’s richest and poorest countries is continuing  to grow. Whereas in 1960 the top 20 percent of the world’s population had an income 30 times the poorest 20 percent, by 2000 their income was 80 times that of the poorest.

But not all countries have remained poor. In recent decades rapid progress has been made in East Asia, including more recently China. The problem is knowing whether  this is explained by these states following the prescriptions  of the neoliberal globalizers or ignoring and violating them as their critics argue. This dispute  becomes  especially sharp  at times  of crisis when  supporters  of democratic  globalization  argue that  global institutions  use  their  power  to  enforce neoliberal measures as part of a “shock doctrine” that risks undermining economic and political gains in the world at large.

The use of “shock” to enforce  “economic globalization” over democratic  globalization is seen as an expression  of the way in which the “invisible hand” of the market  often depends  on a very visible fist of power. War and intervention have always been a part of globalization from above. In the 19th century when gunboat diplomacy was used to open markets, it was commonly  supported  by a moral  rhetoric.  “Barbarians” were thought  to fail to appreciate  the  benign nature  of Western  power  (even as that  power  was being used to enforce the payment of odious debt or to force the opium trade to the Far East).

Latter-day   Western   states  have  proven  equally adept at supporting,  even bankrolling, undemocratic states when it is in their interests. When it is not, they use the rhetoric of “humanitarian imperialism” to justify overthrowing those who are now seen to stand in their way. Globalization from above and imperialism are therefore two sides of the same coin. This is even reflected in the “revolving door”  effect as individuals move from one job to another. Robert McNamara (1916–), for example, rose from being the first nonfamily president of the Ford motor company to prosecuting the Vietnam War as U.S. secretary of defense (1961–68) to becoming president  of the World Bank  (1968–81). A generation on, the career of the neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz (1943–) took him through various positions  in the  U.S. defense establishment including deputy secretary of defense (2001–05) (in which role he advocated the invasion of Iraq and then oversaw the first years of its occupation) to president of the World Bank (2005–07) until he was forced to resign amid accusations of abuse of his position.

Many supporters of democratic globalization argue that  the  2003 invasion  of Iraq  and  its  subsequent bloody occupation  seemed  as much  about  oil and the seizure of Iraqi assets under  the guise of liberal deregulation  as it was about rescuing the Iraqi people. The reduction, for example, of odious debt accumulated  by Saddam  Hussein  was made  conditional on the opening of the Iraqi economy and making its resources available to Western multinationals.


The potential  breadth  of the  movement  for democratic  globalization  can be seen in a number  of its achievements. One strand is built on single-issue politics and has often proven creative in mobilizing youth through  its association with youth culture and music. The 1980s popular campaigns against debt and South African apartheid  can be seen as forerunners of later  developments.  Nongovernmental organizations  (NGOs)  successfully led  a  campaign  against land mines in 1997 against the opposition not least of the U.S. government.  As the 1990s neared their end, Jubilee 2000, drawing on the churches,  mobilized a huge campaign for debt relief of the poor countries, which chimed with a new wave of youth campaigns, concerts, and the like.

Seattle then saw the birth of a more openly political and broader movement for democratic  globalization. It became difficult for international organizations that had previously met in comfort to come together save in heavily guarded  and remote  locations  for fear of provoking  major  demonstrations, counter meetings, and festivals of resistance. As opposition to the war in Iraq mounted,  an estimated 35 million demonstrated globally in January–April 2003, including  some  20 million on February 15. These are the biggest demonstrations ever held and led the New York Times to talk of a new “world second superpower.”

Three political tendencies have played a major role here.  One  has been  the  French-based  organization ATTAC—the Association for the Taxation  of Financial Transactions  to Aid Citizens. This was founded in 1998 with a focus initially on campaigning against global financial  speculation,  but  its  interests  soon widened to pressuring nation states toward reform. A second strand is a more radical socialist one looking for more fundamental  change. A third is the autonomist strand that contests traditional concepts of political power.

Strategy And Tactics

There are four overlapping areas of debate about strategy and tactics. One is whether we can imagine a world in theory, and achieve it in practice, where those who hold power will relinquish their domination in favor of more  democratic  decision  making  and  whether this democratization is compatible with capitalism or needs systematic change from it. Those who suggest that it is compatible point to the fact that two centuries ago national democracy seemed a dream and was frequently said to threaten  the survival of capitalism. Yet it developed  in many countries  and  some now argue that  capitalism  and democracy  can be mutually supportive.  Advocates of the need for systemic change argue that earlier democratic advance still involved major upheavals and even then it produced an attenuated democracy. Economic power remains protected  from democratic control. It is just this economic power that needs to be challenged to achieve democratic globalization.

The second debate is over organization. But in part because of the negative experiences  associated with supposedly left-wing dictatorships,  some sections of the movement are deeply suspicious of the dangers of over organization  and thought  control.  Others  insist that a degree of centralization and movement democracy is both  possible and necessary if the campaign for democratic globalization is to be a success. Spontaneous organization is limited, especially when your opponent is well organized as is existing globalization with its formal state-based  meetings,  summits,  and forums and its informal but real structures  of power.

The third area of debate is over alliances within and outside the movement. The role of NGOs is a special problem. Some see them as the basis for a new global civil society. But while the movement for democratic globalization could not exist without  them, they are nevertheless  often seduced (or forced) to work with the existing system rather than challenge it. Some see the dangers of this reflected in the career of Bernard Kouchner   (1939–),   who  courageously   cofounded and  led the  medical  humanitarian NGO  Médecins sans  Frontières  (Doctors  without  Borders)  only to become  a supporter  of “humanitarian  intervention” and a French government  minister, UN High Representative in Kosovo (1999–2001), and French foreign minister. No less a cause of debate is how far alliances would  be made  with  establishment  politicians  and political forces. The self-appointed rock and film stars who meet  presidents  one  day and  popes  the  next, while pausing to announce the success of a major initiative to a group of reporters  on the way, also have a contradictory effect. They bring enormous  publicity but also disorientation and confusion and misplaced optimism  about where power lies and who is an ally and who is not.

The fourth  area of debate  is over priorities.  The roots of the movement for democratic globalization lie in concerns over economic and social injustices, poverty, unfair trade practices, sweatshops, debt, and so on. Necessarily, though, concern reaches out to other issues like the environment,  climate change, and war. Should the  movement  for democratic  globalization embrace all of these or is there some virtue in separating them and emphasizing a narrower  rather  than a broader agenda? Western interventionism in the new century  has provoked tensions  as some argued that the movement  for democratic  globalization had also to be a movement against war while others criticized the danger of having too broad a set of goals. While the  strength  of antiwar  sentiment  and  criticism  of U.S. policy worked in favor of the first view, these tensions were evident within different groups’ countries and between them.

Democratic globalization remains therefore an idea and a movement  in motion  and development.  To its critics it is an unwelcome diversion. To its supporters it is the basis of a new and better world that needs to be built.


  1. Callinicos, An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (Polity Press, 2003);
  2. Bowman Cutter, Joan Spero, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson “New World, New Deal: A Democratic Approach  to Globalization,” Foreign Affairs (v.79/2, 2000);
  3. Mark Engler, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008);
  4. Hardt and A. Negri, Multitude (Penguin, 2005);
  5. Indymedia, (cited March 2009);
  6. Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Penguin, 2007);
  7. Neale, You are G8, We are 6 Billion (Vision, 2002);
  8. Ramonet, Wars of the 21st Century: New Threats New Fears (Ocean Press, 2004);
  9. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (Norton, 2006);
  10. Joseph S. Tulchin and Gary Bland, Getting Globalization  Right: The Dilemmas  of Inequality (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005).

This example Democratic Globalization Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!