The Conceptual Foundations of International Politics: Commentary and Critique of the Columbia University lecture series at Lecture Nine: Jeffrey Sachs: The future of Globalisation

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The Deep Forces of Globalisation
This is a very important lecture and its form and content appear to depart from that which we have experienced so far in this lecture series. There are statistics and interpretations aplenty making this the most data driven lecture thus far. There are however, conceptual and ethical confusions

Sachs begins with a historical observation that the modern era began 200 years ago which given the date of this lecture series in 2007 is around the time of Napoleon just after he entered Königsberg, the home city of Kant who had died one year earlier in 1804. Sachs then wishes to divide this era into two. The first 150 years and the last 50 years. In the first 150 years he argues that the Industrial revolution was the expression of what he called the force of divergence which began to occur in the world between those North Atlantic countries who embraced and drove the industrial revolution for all it was worth and those countries in the world who experienced this revolution through contact with the industrialisers or colonisers and the goods produced by a technological advantage they did not possess. This process of divergence between the industrialisers and those countries affected, opened up a gap between rich and poor which was very quickly experienced as a gaping wound.

In the second period of this 200 hundred year span–the last 50 years–this deep process of globalisation has fundamentally changed its nature from divergence to convergence. Sachs says the following:

“I believe in the last 50 years that process has fundamentally changed to a process of convergence rather than divergence and the mechanisms that triggered this unprecedented period of economic, military and geo-political development before are now a worldwide process. So that China, India, South East Asia, Brazil and Africa can also now experience the advantages of rapid development.”

Technology, Sachs argues, is the key. The developing countries need to find ways and means to adopt the technologies that the developed countries have in their possession. Once this can be done on a large enough scale the gap between the rich and the poor parts of the world will narrow. This prediction from the year 2007 we now in the year 2018 know to be true. Hans Rosling in various lectures and works, e.g. “Factability” have clearly demonstrated this thesis to be fact. Sachs points to the most dramatic example of this development:

“The most dramatic aspect of this is the rise of China principally because of its population of 1.3 billion people. The growth rate per capita is rising at ca 8-10% making the doubling time between 7-9 years. The doubling time for growth in the developed countries is much much slower, somewhere in the region of 35 years.”

This is the argument for the fact that the deep force of divergence has now transformed into a process of convergence which Sachs regards as the first driver of globalisation. The second driver is population increase which as Rosling has pointed out has slowed significantly. Sachs, however is still very concerned with the fact that in spite of this good news we are still adding ca 85 million per year to the total population of the world–a country the size of Germany is being added every year to the population of mostly poor countries. Put this in the context of:

” a world of open borders, mass economies and mass migration”

and, he claims the possible consequences are disturbing. Sachs points to the statistical facts. In 1830 the world population was one billion. by 1930 it was 2 billion. The current projection is that the 9 billion mark will be reached in 2050. Even if we can slow the momentum of this explosion down, Sachs argues the large number of young people in the world will still mean ca 8 billion people in the world by 2050, making the world a very crowded place. For 80% of the world involved in the process of convergence and catching up, this will be a less serious development but for the remaining poor 20% the consequences of strained resources will be felt more acutely. Natural resources are going to be used on a scale never seen before and apart from the natural consequences of shortages of land, water, fossil fuels, available animals to hunt available fish to catch there will be a significant effect on the climate of the planet. Current estimates, Sachs argues are that the predicted level of the use of resources will as he puts it:
“wreck the planet by the end of the century, if not sooner”

of course on the way to doing that will entail witnessing a number of natural disasters. Carbon based emission must be radically reduced he argues.This is the third driver of Globalisation–Ecosystem pressure.

Sachs then elaborates upon this point by referring to the work of Paul Crutzen,the winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry for his discovery of the problems with the ozone layer. Crutzen believes that we are now situated in a new geological era, what he calls the Anthropicine Age. That is he believes that the driver of the earths fate is no longer a non anthropomorphic factor such as the orbit of the world in relation to the sun(the factor that caused the last ice age) but is rather a factor related to mans activity here on earth. The climate threat is man made, a result of human activity on the planet. Climate change is only one consequence of ecosystem pressure.

The fourth and last driver of globalisation is Failed states although I am not sure that it is semantically correct to name this variable a “driver”. In relation to this point Sachs claims that he is an optimist in relation to Technological innovation. He refers to diffusion processes in the world which improve the human condition and claims that both ideas and technology spread rapidly everywhere in the world. This means that even if technology and ideas are generated in the wealthy states these can relatively easily be distributed to the poor states. But it is important to realise that there are regions of the world that are not part of this diffusion process:- the so called failed states. States can fail not just for political reasons but also because they are so poor, i.e. possess very few resources. There have always been failed states throughout our long modern history but in a globalised world the consequences of their presence are felt today as never before. To take just one example..the attack on the twin towers by terrorists working for an organisation based in Kabul, Afghanistan surprised everybody. Who would have thought that a city so far away in such a remote corner of the world would be able to orchestrate such an attack with such devastating world-wide consequences:

“There is no place on earth that is too far away to care about, and this is true in a political sense, and a public health sense. Diseases like Aids started in jungle in West Africa with a chimpanzee hunter. This disease has now killed 40 million people and is responsible for several million deaths per year. In a way one event was a premonition of what was to come–the gunshot in Sarajevo which caused one of the worst wars in history.”

So in summary Sachs produces an overhead listing the 4 deep drivers of the globalisation process:

“1. The end of North Atlantic Hegemony
2. Demographic change
3. Ecosystem pressure
4. Failed States”

Sachs calls these 4 items “phenomena” and he clearly thinks of them as causal agents which can be politically mediated on the condition that we can agree on international political action, given the fact that all of these causal agents are operating across the current borders of our political systems. Sachs recognizes a logical problem here. Our current political institutions are confined to particular countries, with the exception of the UN,Nato, and the EU
which have been formed in recognition of the logical problem Sachs refers to. He does not however refer to these kinds of organisations but has this to say:

“The political decisions we need to take are more global than ever. We need global decision making–we are not good at this. Most of the above issues cannot be solved at national level. The most preposterous site we can witness is that of the US trying to act and decide on these issues unilaterally. This is 19th century thinking which we can clearly see did not work in the 20th century. George Bush may have been a good Sheriff in Texas in 1840.

What is somewhat perplexing is that Sachs does not mention the UN in relation to this demand. Is he, one wonders, a “member of the great platoon of the walking wounded” who believe that the UN inspired by the vision of Kant has had sufficient time to solve the problems of the universe and has significantly failed in its declared missions? Kants response to this would probably be to warn us of raising expectations too high when the problems to solve are so complex.

Sachs then produces an overhead which differs somewhat to his remarks in the introduction. He seems now to wish to talk about the forces of divergence and convergence in relation to a longer time span:

“Forces of Divergence 1750-1950
Concentration of technological capacity, resource endowment. Political conquest

Forces of Convergence 1950-2050
Diffusion of technological capacities”

Sachs also amends his N Atlantic thesis by recognizing Japan as a counterexample. Divergence between 1750 and 1950 does not he now argues include Japan on the side of the industrialised but rather on the side of the industrialisers.

Sachs notes in this context that the Industrial Revolution driven by the technological innovation of the steam engine powered with coal began around the 1750’s in England. This spread rapidly to N Atlantic countries and gave its possessors a military advantage over those who did not possess this concentration of technological capacity and endowment of natural resources. A wave of colonial occupation swept over the Indian Ocean and the margins of Africa. This military occupation served to widen the gap between those that possessed these technological and military capacities and those that did not. Being subject to colonial rule made it almost impossible to develop ones industry:

“The Colonial system of every power was designed to hinder this process of development. It was designed to extract raw materials from the home country. Educational development was also not encouraged.”

Sachs also mentions in this section the presence of a racist ideology amongst the colonial powers and challenges the position of Niall Ferguson in relation to his claim that the “The British Empire modernised the world”:

“It would have been better if England had stayed put and become just a trading partner.”

Sachs is not a friend of Europe, the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle,Newton, Darwin, Kant and Wittgenstein. He recognises that Economic development relies on ideas even more than it does on coal, which was phased out when the internal combustion engine and oil proved more efficient. Ideas were spreading rapidly over the world when , as he rather starkly puts it, Europe went into a process of self annihilation with two world wars in a relatively short period of time. The Great Depression followed the first world war putting an end to Imperialism. Sachs does not mention that the second world war was fought over the issues of racism and freedom or that the United Nations was formed shortly afterwards. It seems that by ideas he means “economic ideas” and he does not appear to see History as Kant did in terms of a progression in the understanding of the political significance of knowledge and freedom. He does not either appear to see History in terms of the development of the democratic form of the rule of law and ethical behaviour. A rule which also involve ideas but of a kind which would subject his “drivers of globalisation” to a philosophical and ethical analysis that would place them side by side with other “influences”. Influences which seen from a philosophical point of view would provide solutions to the logical problem of the decisions that need to be taken if we are to survive the consequences of the spread of economic ideas and destructive technology( such as the invention of the weapons of mass destruction). In the realm of ideas worthy if being distributed the Europeans are not proud of their history of colonisation and recognise that the phenomenon occurred because economic ideas took precedence over the Philosophy of humanistic liberalism which was evolving. Ideas connected to living a life in accordance with this Philosophy are the contributions Europe can make to the world. In this Philosophy the factor of acting so as to actualise the fulfilment of unnecessary desires which economic development encourages is the telos of European development. There is no mention of these “constructivist” “influences” in Sachs’ account.

Sachs moves to 1950 and discusses Japan, claiming that they practically invented the art of imitating and “catching up”via processes such as “reverse engineering” in which one begins with a product and reconstructs all the processes that must have been involved in its production. This latter process combined with a desire to make ones product just that little bit better ensured that Japan in some areas of technology and business have “leap-frogged” over the leaders and become a world leader in technology and innovation themselves. Sachs does not mention that in the realm of the development of Philosophy or Democratic ideas or life-styles the Japanese will remain a footnote to the texts of the world history of ideas.

Sachs points out that Japan becomes the focus of Chinese attention in 1978. Japan in their eyes is the economic example to imitate. With the emergence of China, it is argued , there is not such a gap between the technological leaders and followers anymore:

“The diffusion of good ideas is so fast that even if the US were the leader of all innovation in the world, these innovations would still spread rather quickly to the rest of the world.”

If this is correct then what we are witnessing is the waning of the American empire of science pragmatism and technology simply in virtue of the fact that several other powers in these fields are emerging to share the limelight.

Sachs elaborates on Demographics by pointing out that two thirds of the world population has lived in Asia for the past two thousand years. . He notes that with the arrival of the industrial revolution in Europe and the US that Asia’s share of the world’s wealth fell from 60-20%.We are also, he argues beginning to experience the consequences now:

“At a recent Africa economic conference Europe was courting Africa but was surprised to find China also competing for economic influence in the region. The trends are reversing:

“in 2050 Asia will possess more than 50% of the worlds population and Africa will move up from its current 13% to 20%. At the moment the USA economy is roughly twice the size of the Chinese economy and China has 4 times the population. But by 2025 the Chinese economy should be the largest in the world. By 2050 the Indian economy will be larger than the US economy and there should be a population of 1.6 billion people in India. AlreadY today the country is crowded. The countryside feels crowded.”

ThE above trends are the result of life styles. the rich have few children and invest heavily in each child. The poor have ca 6 children because 2 will probably die before adulthood and there is a tradition of not investing so much time and energy in each child. Children growing up in poor families are normally undernourished and under-educated.

Sachs points also to the demographics of Europe as part of illustrating how power shifted from East to West during the middle ages with the tremendous growth of population in Europe and the stagnation of the growth of population in the Islamic countries. Superior political and legal institutions also played some role in this shift. The industrial revolution in Europe during the 19th century ensured that Europe had superior military capability. But now, Sachs points out, the Islamic population is reaching parity with Europe and by 2050 it will outnumber Europe:

“Geo-Political change”

argues Sachs

“is on the way”

He also points out that there is a greater number of fighting young males in the Middle East compared to Europe and further:

“in a global world the structure of our internal populations will change to reflect external structures..The US is becoming more like the rest of the world ethnically. By 2050 50% of the population will be non white(where nonwhite includes the Hispanics) The same thing could end up being true in Europe because the Muslims living in Europe have high fertility rates. By 2050 Muslims could be between one fifth and one quarter of the population overall but could be between 40-50 % in the cities.”

Finally Sachs takes up possible factors which prove the above predictions to be false. That is growth could be slowed down for the following reasons:

“War, economic global collapse and large scale ecological damage. If one of these “inhibitors” swing into operation then he argues:

“current trends are terribly dangerous”

Yet Sachs points out there is no need to be pessimistic about the future because the solutions to the problems are, economically speaking not that expensive. He argues that it would cost about 2 and a half percent of world GDP to solve the failed states problem and probably only 1% of world GDP to solve the problem of climate change. War is not currently a problem in the rest of the world but it is in the failed states.

The logical problem remains however. We could help economically but there is no agency, it is claimed that can make decisions and organise such solutions effectively. he asks the obvious question:

“Once the technical analysis is done how can we collectively decide what to do? Collective choice involves business, society, government, international organisations and treaties but there is no conductor of this orchestra. The US does not want to lead this process. We need to find a means of collective decision making. We need a new kind of global organisation. The IPCC(an international group of scientists)were given the Nobel Prize for their work on climate change. Perhaps it is in collectives like these that we can find the answer.”

Or the answer may lie closer to hand, in the UN which is already orchestrating much work and effort into many areas of international need. It is after all the organ of peace in the world.

Science has not got the greatest of records for its contributions to the causes of peace. It was after all a similar collective that worked together on the Manhattan project and provided the world the means by which it could destroy itself if it decided to do so. I do not know whether this was on Sachs’ mind when he chose the speech of John Kennedy to close his lecture. The speech below was given shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis where the world stared into the abyss for a few brief moments as the advisors of Kennedy suggested he launch the missiles that came from the collective effort of the scientists of the Manhattan project:

A Presidential speech by a real President on Peace in the World

John Kennedy 10th June 1963

“We need to examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But this is a dangerous defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that War is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man made and they therefore can be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.
Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable. I am not here referring to the absolute and universal concept of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the values of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical more attainable goal—based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution of human institutions in a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single simple key to his peace—no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic not static, changing to meet the needs of each new generation. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems. So let us not be blind to our differences but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and the means by which these differences can be resolved, and if we now can not end our differences at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures and we are all mortal.”

A brilliant speech with many Aristotelian and Kantian moments but also containing wonderful moments of American pragmatism where one pretends to forget where all our ideas and key democratic institutions came from.


What better definition of structure and purpose of the United Nations could there be!