The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World
By: John Ralston Saul
Publisher: Penguin
Price: $35

Remember TINA? She sprang fully formed into New Zealand life in the 1980s as reformist Labour government embraced neo-liberal economic theories with passion and dedication unmatched anywhere else around the globe. “There Is No Alternative” cried our political leaders as they reacted to the country’s rather parlous financial state with an unprecedented and unexpected bout of structural reforms along ‘public = bad, private = good, market = rule’ lines.
It was process that not only transformed our economic and social landscape but the language we used to describe it. Complex relationships and nuanced approaches were subsumed by ideological conviction. Suddenly you could only talk about things like education in terms of markets, competition or customers rather than in the context of public good.
You can tell you’re in an ideologically driven period when attempts at putting forward moderate arguments which suggest choice is possible are met with anger, dismissal and seen as dangerous backsliding, Canadian philosopher and essayist John Ralston Saul told an Auckland audience on recent visit to promote his new book (title above).
It’s evident he’s not fan of TINA. She’s far too reductionist for someone whose books generally encompass huge chunks of human history and draw on an eclectic array of philosophical beliefs. “To believe in the reality of choice,” says Saul, “is one of the most basic characteristics of leadership.”
She’s also far too disempowering for someone who continually urges the thoughtful engagement of all citizens in society. That sense of engagement is vital as the ideological certainties of the past few decades crumble.
To shape society, says Saul, “we need to think about the origins of what is now passing – the origins of globalisation, its promise, rise, hesitation and fall” as well as other forces that are increasingly setting the pace today.
Which is basically what his latest book is all about. It outlines what globalisation promised – world where power lies with global markets not nation states; where economics, rather than politics and armies, shape human events; where trade would lead to growth and prosperity for all etc – and the rather different reality it delivered.
It’s an interesting and accessible read in which New Zealand gets chapter all of its own as the former poster child of globalisation that “flips again” to become place where, in Saul’s words, “economics is an important servant, not the purpose of, society”. VJ

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