Friday, November 18, 2005

A Review: Globalization and Fragmentation: International Relations in the Twentieth Century

Ian Clark has written a highly scholary account of international trade from the turn of the century (the previous turn) to the late 1990's. The good thing about a well researched and annotated account of global trade, from a historical perspective, is that it never really goes out of date. Perspectives change and comparative data or methods may increase. But this book contains a richness of information written in a lucid and understated style which some may call dry, especially if their preferred method of data collection is the internet, or television.

Some of the most interesting points Clark raises actually appear in the introduction. He defines the power vacuum in the withdrawal of British and European interests from China post WW One as being the point of entry for Japan's dominance in the Asian continent. However, Japanese influence was more easterly, more trading based than infrastructural during the period of European early imperialism in Asia; but his description is fascinating. As a result of the war and preparation for it, international trade at that time actually diminshed due to growth in national interests. As well, the polarization of Wilsonianism versus Communism invoked a compromise state of unionism which also impacted heavily upon the contemporary middle-class values of the day. They were heavily impacted upon by the needs and wishes of the lower-middle industrial classes on one hand, and the powerful corporations and national leadership interests remaining in power, and instituting where they could, international influence over national values globally, or at that time, merely the European and American worlds.

A lot of what Clark has to say about the 1880s to 1920s period in relationship to Germany and Japan would appear quite relevant to Chinese potential for growth today. In both periods, a new entrant to trade is surrounded by competitors and supplier markets; resource allocations and pricing strategies of varying accountability, and networks of national interests and corporate structures which do not always act in unisons or concordances. The interwar periods are described fairly succinctly, but Clark under-emphasizes the immense phase change and shift between a British-dominated international captial market and the American one. He does not fully come to terms with the implications for which America had profited through the institution of gold standard and Bretton Woods Agreements, nor the immense losses of British hegemony at that time. Clark interestingly analyzes the post war and Cold War Period, with several relevant hypotheses, one of which, the American in particular, distinction between internationalism versus globalism, as it is relevant to America's contemporary inability to maintain dominance in a globalized enviroment of free capital movements from which it originated growth but from which as it grows reduces American control.

He also makes interesting his title of globalisation and fragmentation, which helps explain how difficult it is to actually reconcile a true lack of globalisation among member nations in an international economic web of increasing delicacy, for example, the fact that ILO was instituted to protect worker rights, but in many participant nations, particularly in SE Asia, the real current schemes exclude non-visa issued transnational labour from even ILO minimum standards of treatment. In the end, Clark posits globalisation has worked best in the areas of FDI and capital movement, but on internationalizing the national economies of individual nations, he appears to discredit such ideas and claims that they are indeed the greater influence of fragmentationist events.

It took a long time to get through this book, and as it is routinely peppered by reference notes, it would not be the first book I would recommend on global economics. But it would be among the best I have read in terms of breadth and scope and greater economy of delivery.