Saturday, June 11, 2005

John Ralston Saul

Went to see John Ralston Saul talk tonight. He is on a tour promoting his new book "The Collapse of Globalism." I didn't copiously take notes, but toward the end of the talk I pulled out my calendar and scribbled a couple of points that stood out for me from the talk:

The current economic system we have been undersince the early 1970s actually has nothing to do capitalism, and is instead a re-invention of 17th century mercantilism.

Internationalism in itself is not bad. Globalism, though, is a narrow subset of internationalism in which, foolishly, all political decision making is based on economics. This, incidently, runs counter to traditional economic wisdom. Karl Marx and Adam Smith, contrary to popular conception, both eschewed this thinking, and Smith in the end actually argued precisely the opposite.

According to Saul, globalism is actually dead now. It was alive from about 1971 to 1995. He cited numerous examples, and said he could have cited thousands more, where politicians have violated the principles of globalism by raising a tariff or something similar when one's own interest is threatened. The example that stands out for me was raising tariffs on Chinese exports when it was predected that it would flood Western markets with cheap exports. Why become protectionist: to protest slave wages? That was a factor in the exports being cheap, but not why the attention from Wstern markets. There was no hue and cry in response to Sri Lanka or Bangledesh in that regard.

Speed is a hallmark not of civilization, but of war and barbarism. Napoleon got things done very quickly. Civilizations, on the other, require time and patience to ensure that everything, not just economics, is considered.

There are two kinds of nationalism, positive nationalism and negative nationalism. Negative nationalism is often based on religion and always based on fear, whether it's of the erosion of one's culture, or of the unkown, or whatever. He criticized Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" as a book that, intentionally or not, promoted fear and racism.

Positive nationalism, on the other hand, is using the nation state to make a positive contribution to world affairs. Forgiving the debts of thrid world countries is an example of that, and n fact, recent and soon forthcoming announcements in that regard could usher in a new, more positive era of internationalism.

He concluded his talk by saying that it is key that young people from NGOs get involved in electoral politics. While maintaining considerable respect for them and recognition of their importance,he seemed to be suggesting that the real difference can be made in the electoral realm (I actually disagree with him on that).