So we have good globalisation and negative globalism, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
He is right, up to a point, about the benefits of globalisation.
The IMF warned this week of the dangers of contracting international trade. Since David Ricardo in the early 19 th century it has been basic economics that trade, especially international trade, is “a good thing” because it is a “win-win” in which both parties benefits.
But, and it is a big but, like most economics, it relies on assumptions.
On international trade, it assumes that the producers of goods and services do not have to pay for many of the earth’s resources that they use. That might have been fine in the early 19 th century when the earth’s resources seemed limitless.
But now the world is getting smaller.
For example, Japan could use its superior technology to scoop up vast amounts of the oceans’ fish. That does not make Pacific Island nations better off if they have to trade other products to buy Japanese canned fish.
Similarly, airspace is limited as is the broadcast spectrum. More broadly, so is the atmosphere and the waterways.
So the doctrine of free trade breaks down unless some rules are applied so that some nations do not get unfair advantage by producing things more cheaply because they do not have the cost of controlling pollution.
And then, we can ask, should some nations get unfair advantage by using slave labour, child labour or sweat-shot labour?
And should some nations get unfair advantage by tearing away the habitat of native flora and fauna to produce cash crops.
And should some nations get unfair advantage by exploiting colonial people who are crying out for independence and control over their own resources.
Should trading nations trade with nations that subjugate their people and deny them rights of expression, for example.
This is why later in the 19 th century in the 20 th century nations increasingly came together to make rules so some nations do not get these unfair advantages.
At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson delivered his 14 points. While acknowledging the importance of global trade and freedom of navigation of the seas, the points also importantly called for an international League of Nations so that nations could use law and rules rather than war to resolve disputes. He also called for self-determination for peoples and an end to colonialism.
Alas, the Senate blocked the US joining the League of Nations and the US retreated into a decade and a half of disastrous Republican-led isolationism.
There has always been resistance to international cooperation and rules-based order.
“Good globalisation”, under the Morrison, Murdoch, Koch Brothers view of the world, is where it is deemed legitimate for big corporations and high-wealth individuals to extract as much of the planetary resources (natural, capital and labour) for as little payment as possible to maximise their profit.
Negative Globalism, under the new Morrison doctrine, on the other hand, “coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community. And worse still an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.
It is dangerous stuff. Morrison is promoting the rugged individualistic pursuit of profit over forces that say we must cooperate and act collaboratively to solve global strife and catastrophe.
The difference in language is subtle, but crucial. The “good” global-ISATION is contrasted with the “bad” global-ISM.
Examples of “isation” include positive things like realisation, characterisation, specialisation, modernisation, and dramatisation.
Examples of “ism”, of course, include “communism” and “Nazism”.
It may be good speech-writing but it bad policy.
Morrison said, “To paraphrase former prime minister John Howard, as Australians, ‘we will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them’.”
It mirrored President Donald Trump’s statement: “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots”.
It is a narrow, selfish and ultimately self-defeating view of the world.
Just as free trade benefits us all, so does a rules-based system.
Morrison did, however, have a point when he stressed the importance of national governments being accountable through the ballot box and the rule of law. Of course, if all nations were like that, the agreements made by them would have greater legitimacy.
Nonetheless, because the democracies have at least veto rights over proposed international agreements, they still carry a lot of legitimacy when the non-democracies agree with the democracies to ratify them.
But international co-operation will not be effective if all nations take the Morrison position of “under my leadership Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests”.
Sometimes nations have to sacrifice a bit against their immediate interests in order to be part of a rules-based system that works better in the long run than each nation’s government selfishly pursuing its own interests, even if they are democratically elected.
If that is globalism, so be it.
Indeed, aside from climate change, there is another existential threat to democracies that realistically can only be dealt with through international co-operation or globalism – the undermining of our liberal democracies by elected autocracies like Russia or unelected autocracies like China, often using the internet.
We thought a free internet would spread freedom from free countries to unfree ones when in fact it has enabled unfree countries to undermine democracy in free ones. Maybe we need an agreement among the liberal democracies – post-Trump no doubt – to shut out countries that do not comply with some basic standards.
And that is the real point of globalism – the enforcement of universal standards irrespective of the transient interests of national governments. Morrison’s “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy” is in fact a group of people not acting selfishly like big corporations but acting unselfishly within the bounds of what their governments have collectively set.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 12 October 2019.