14 July 2008

The Politics of Globalization

"The benefits of the market economy can indeed be momentous, as the champions of the market system argue (on the whole rightly). But then the non-market arrangements for the sharing of education, epidemiology, land reform, micro-credit facilities, appropriate legal protections, women’s rights and other means of empowerment must be seen to be important even as ways of spreading access to the market economy (issues in which may market advocates take astonishingly little interest). Indeed, many advocates of the market economy don’t seem to take the market sufficiently seriously, because if they did, they would pay more attention to spreading the virtues of market-based opportunities to all. In the absence of advancing these enabling conditions for widespread participation in the market economy, the advocacy of the market system end up being mere conservatism, rather than supporting the promotion of market opportunities as widely as possible. The institutional requirements of an equitable use of market efficiency go well beyond the confined limited of simply 'freeing the markets'."
This is one conclusion to an editorial by economist Amartya Sen that I read this morning in The Daily Times (Pakistan). The bottom line is that, if they are to work well, markets presume a considerably higher degree of equality - both procedural and substantive - than most hard core proponents on globalization are interested in promoting. That is why the cry for freeing markets typically sounds so much like "mere conservatism." It is. So, while Sen may find it astonishing (I suspect he overstates this here) that proponents of market reforms pay little attention to the "enabling conditions" needed to make markets work in normatively attractive ways, a little attention to the politics of development and less reliance on moral arguments would be useful.

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