The paradoxes of globalization

Image: Antonio A Costa


Globalization has delegitimized human rights, democracy and, in the end, the very idea of ​​the same species

In an article posted on the website the earth is round, I examined the main paradox of globalization from an economic angle, namely, the optimistic view of the economist Dani Rodrik about a possible restoration of market economies, after what he called “hyperglobalization” and what I called “de-profitability” of the economy : the decrease in the dynamics of the current capitalist mode of production in pursuit of excessive profit, anchored in the ideas of some theorists cited in the article.

In this sense, whenever I need to return to the question of this indispensable dichotomous moderation between “the unlimited desires of the human being x the scarce resources of the planet”, in the context of politics, I will resort to these thinkers in addition to introducing other important ones such as the main theorist of degrowth, Serge Latouche, and the leading figure in critical dissociation-value theory, Robert Kurz.

This article is centered on the contemporary contradiction between a political regime in frank decline – the liberal democracy that should have been victorious after the fall of the last great bastion of totalitarian regimes in history,[1] the USSR, and the systematic advance of extreme right forces in these first decades of the XNUMXst century. As an effect, the dismantling of the Soviet bloc, at the end of the last century, gave the impression that finally the then cold war between the Western countries committed to neoliberalism had won the East Europe and the countries that followed the primer of the ubiquitous State, in the stage of political ideas. Today, in the middle of the third decade of the XNUMXst century, especially after the economic/financial crisis of subprime Americans of the years 2007/2008, the so-called neoliberal victory seems to have been precipitated. What went wrong?

Let's start with a thinker, Michael Hudson, already mentioned in the previous article: economist and adviser to several countries and economic agencies in the world Michael Hudson. In a recently translated article,[2] The political victory of the modern variant of the debt-based economic regime – US-centric neoliberal finance capital – has imposed on the Western world a new oligarchic warlord elite that is stifling today's globalized society. In other words, we are making the same mistake as two thousand years ago, when first Greece, and then Rome, justly succumbed to what the Greeks called philarguria, that is, the obsessive love for money, for silver, the exaggerated consumption provided by the wealth obtained through the dependence and subordination of the weakest to the debts contracted.

Really, even with history showing us the folly of these two great past civilizations that adopted the political model of debt bondage, we are again in trouble for a fictitious and almost unlimited financial credit system that produces a sick society in its fetishistic form of consumption until exhaustion. Indeed, as Hudson said, “What distinguishes Western economies from earlier societies in the Middle East and most of Asia is the absence of debt forgiveness to restore balance to the entire economy. All Western nations have inherited from Rome the pro-creditor 'sanctity' of debt principles that prioritize the claims of creditors and legitimize the permanent transfer to creditors of the properties of defaulting debtors”.[3]

The current political regime of liberal representative democracy in most western countries, and already in a good part of eastern countries, is outdated precisely because it has not overcome domestic austerity in favor of the oligarchic imperialism of the ruling elites of the globalized world, except in brief historical periods, such as the most recent so-called “thirty glorious years” of the post-war period in the last century. With the due caution that we must exercise when comparing antiquity with the current stage of civilization, we must agree with Hudson when he reduces US-sponsored globalization to a financial form of the old colonialist model.

If, as he puts it, “Oligarchy and debt are the defining characteristics of Western economies”,[4] It is easy to see that US imperialism follows the same path as previous dynasties of foreign military spending and growing domestic debt that led to the two world wars of the XNUMXth century.

In this vein, even though today it is agreed that Rome was never a democracy, and that Aristotle had serious misgivings about this form of government, believing that it would always end up in an oligarchic variant, the inability of the West to finalize the rhetoric between autocracy and autocracy is impressive. versus democracy, as the greatest paradox of a civilization that did not know how to overcome the mercantile period and its strong time-space expansion across borders, for a life guided by the common good.

On the contrary, we left a historical period of inclement polarization of income and wealth distribution, with its apex in the partition of Africa, still in the XNUMXth century, to a civilization of virtual rentier parasites. The reproduction of physical money is no longer the basis of the greed of the powerful, along the lines of what Marx called “amazing speculation”, but a kind of “planetization” of fictitious money that no one knows how it actually reproduces itself.[5]

Thus, contrary to what neoliberalism publicly claims, a universal policy of governments limited to specific actions in which the market has no interest (yet) in the daily routine of second-class citizens, even in most developed countries, what this doctrine The dominant economic policy it has made over the last few decades has been to take oligarchic control of the most important governments on earth, imposing not a weak government, but a strong civil government on the main stages of global decisions that monopolizes control of the countries' most pressing wealth. who have the unpleasantness of having them.[6] Hence we find that, contradictorily, the multipolar world sung in verse and prose by the so misleading global advertising technique, is reduced to a unipolar order, under the auspices of the contemporary hegemonic power, the USA, which transformed globalization into the foreman of the totalitarian ideology.

As SANTOS says: “Since the current hegemonic techniques are, all of them, children of science, and as their use takes place at the service of the market, this amalgamation produces an ideology of technique and the market that is sanctified by science, considered, itself , infallible. This, by the way, is one of the sources of the power of the single thought. Everything that is done by the hands of the fundamental vectors of globalization starts from scientific ideas, indispensable to the production, which is accelerated, of new realities, in such a way that the actions thus created impose themselves as unique solutions”.[7]

This totalitarian ideology subordinated to the market is reinforced by an increasingly reductive and reduced science of what really exists in the world. And SANTOS continues: “In such conditions, competitiveness, save-yourself-who-can, the return to cannibalism, the suppression of solidarity, accumulate difficulties for a healthy social life and for the exercise of democracy. While this is reduced to a market democracy and demeaned with electoralism, that is, consumption of elections, the 'polls' are profiled as a quantitative gauge of opinion, of which it turns out to be one of the former, leading to the impoverishment of the debate of ideas and the very death of politics”.[8]

Consequently, the degradation of sociability through the exacerbation of consumption, selfishness, narcissism, immediacy and the frantic rise of the pragmatic ethics of individualism leads to the spread of totalitarian thought and practices. What remains of the democratic ideology is just a euphemism for a financial oligarchy that has become globally creditor of almost all monopoly privileges around the world, which imposes financial, economic, political and, if necessary, even military control, externally predatory on the less developed countries, but also internally to less favored class segments, to suicidal austerity.

Having said all that, let's now look for a more critical approach to globalization itself. For such purpose, nobody better, in our understanding, than Robert Kurz. He was a German thinker who died prematurely as a result of a medical error, and who became known in Brazil in the 1990s with the book The collapse of modernization.[9] In it, in the face of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, two years earlier, Kurz goes against the triumphant discourse of the final victory of the Western model, therefore of democracy and capitalism, to say that the end of the USSR was just a stage of the global collapse of society mercantile, in which the "socialist" countries were only a minor branch. In fact, assuming a Marxist stance of the inevitable failure of “real socialism”, Kurz denounced that the end of the USSR would not open a period of global prosperity and universal peace, or even a happy “end of history”, but would mean the entry into an era more troubled than before: the global collapse of the capitalist system.

In fact, for Kurz, the difference between the planned economy and the market economy was only relative, since their common basis, namely “abstract work”, weighed much more. Thus, although the USSR managed, in the Stalinist period, to reproduce the extensive accumulation of the early period of capitalism, it proved unable to pass to the later stages, since accumulation now had to be intensive. This problem was repeated with the newly independent countries of the 1950s and 1960s.

Contradicting the widespread belief at the time that it was enough to replace an “erroneous” economic model – socialism – with a “fair” model – the market economy – in order to achieve the same prosperity in all economic spaces, Kurz stated that the market economy does not it is extensible at will: on the contrary, it appears as a beast condemned to devour itself. Any increase in productivity in the most advanced centers invalidates the production of value in countries that cannot keep up, therefore, no economic autarky is truly possible. In this race, the economies of the third world collapsed, followed by those of the “socialist” East, while a final struggle took place among the western countries themselves.

In this sense, Kurz described in detail the aporias that undermined the very foundations of the two new “locomotives” of the world economy during the 1980s and 1990s, Germany and Japan, which, together with the rest of Western Europe and North America, made part of the capitalist “triad”. It was not a matter of talking about a cyclical crisis, but the last leap of a production model based on abstract work; now, a very high level of productivity is increasingly in flagrant opposition to its subordination to the self-movement of money. The end of the book is even apocalyptic, since, for him, a growing part of humanity, especially in the destroyed peripheries of South America, Africa or the Middle East, are no longer suitable for exploitation, as they are being disconnected from any link with the core economy and civilization. What is striking is that the global crisis of the commodity-producing society of recent decades has largely confirmed Kurz's predictions. He went above and beyond.

Until his death in 2012, Kurz was very prolific in his critique of capitalism. He has written several books and articles. In one of these articles, published by Krisis Magazine, in 1994, he wrote some theses on the crisis of the commodity form regulation system to announce “The End of Politics”.[10] This long article deals with two very important things: (1) the differentiation that the basic concepts between “economy” and “politics” took throughout history, until the current modernity. He emphasizes, above all, the changes in these two concepts from pre-capitalist society, to what he called “abstract universality in modern societies determined by the commodity form”; (2) The pronounced structural schizophrenia in modernity based on commodity production, as the form of the totality (money and merchandise) that appears at the same time as a particular “functional sphere” of that economy.

Consequently, Kurz goes on to say that the old pre-capitalist society, which originated from a profound religious structure, and which contained an abstract universality that tended to be immediate, diffuse and relaxed, in a totality that was little differentiated from the vital and social process, split with the transformation of modern society with a fetishist constitution into a system of separate spheres, in which the commodity becomes its own mediator. With this, structural schizophrenia is institutionalized in the appearance of separate spheres in antagonistic pairs, namely, “economy-politics”, but also “individual-society” and “public-private”. Thus, the process of metabolism with nature previously characteristic of pre-capitalist societies is no longer codified by religious-type traditions, but by the abstract process of the commodity form.

However, as commodities cannot be “subjects” of themselves, the need arises for a different and superior regulation than existed in pre-capitalist societies, to be transferred to the separate functional sphere of “politics”. Hence, the state apparatus assumes functions of regulating the totalized production of goods. It is this structural schizophrenia exponentially aggravated by the fetishist society of the commodity form that leads to its own terrain of an uninterrupted commodity production system and transforms the human subject into a double homo economist e homo politicicus. Kurz also criticizes what he called the “grandchildren of Critical Theory” and the “rest of the left”, for not being able to understand that it is not enough to warn of the danger that democracy runs due to the risk of a new fascism or a new form of “ total domination. It is necessary to go beyond this process that permeated a good part of the last century to realize that democracy today is threatened by the intensification of the totalitarian form of the market.

As Kurz says: “The “total domination” was a preparatory stage of democracy and not its opposite, nor a historical constellation destined to return. It will not be “politics” that will again carry out an alleged control over the “economy” or an alleged totalitarian suspension of circulation, but, precisely on the contrary, we are facing the catastrophic end of “politics”. The progressive loss of the capacity for political regulation indicates the extinction of the capacity for economic, social and “gender” reproduction of the commodity producing system. At its historical end is not the renewal of “total domination”, as a return of a past form of ascension, but rather the decomposition, after secondary barbarism, of civilization based on domination”.[11]

It would be quite convenient for this scribe if the text were finalized now. However, ten years after the death of Robert Kurz, the world has already changed a lot, for better and for worse (in my view more for the worse, unfortunately). In this sense, it is true that the process of continuous inexhaustible growth of the world economy, stimulated by international agencies, entails a scenario of uncertainty and fear. Therefore, I think it is also important to point out alternative paths for this excessive growth. It is true that the Meadows Report already pointed out, back in the early 1970s, to the depletion of natural resources by the rhythm of the current commodity production system, which we mentioned above (XIV). It is quite possible that we have already, so to speak, “doubled the cape of good hope”, but we are not yet at the end of the story. So we can also cling to a more salutary adage, namely, "while there's life, there's hope."

That said, my last intervention in this article is to talk about Serge Latouche's book and his proposal for a “serene degrowth”. Right in the introduction of the book he denounces our current stage of alienation and selfishness when he says: “But, with our meal tonight guaranteed, we don't want to listen to anything. We hide, in particular, the question of knowing where we come from: from a growth society – that is, from a society engulfed by an economy whose sole purpose is growth for growth's sake”.[13]

What Latouche really means with these words is that a blunt critique of the techno-economic and scientific model of ungoverned human progress is necessary, beyond a capitalist society, which has led us to an impasse, namely, an infinite growth with a finite world. In other words, it is necessary to be aware of the limited regeneration capacity of our biosphere, in the face of a systematic and unrestricted growth of world capitalism, recently driven by financial capital that practically eliminated the borders between countries.

At this point, for Latouche, our society of unlimited accumulation is condemned to growth, based on “advertising, credit and the accelerated and programmed obsolescence of products” (p. 17). Thus, it is estimated that humanity consumes almost 30% above the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. To get around this situation, there is even the possibility of “massive population control or reduction, mainly in the third world” (p. 31). However, the problem is not overcrowding, but knowing how to share resources equitably and ethically. Latouche affirms that today we are on the brink of catastrophe and that a quick and very energetic reaction is needed to change course.

The theory proposed by Latouche of “Degrowth” is, fundamentally, a slogan political with theoretical implications, which aims to end the “politically correct jargon of drug addicts of productivism” (p. 4). It is imperative not to confuse degrowth with negative growth. Indeed, the decline in growth plunges our societies into uncertainty, unemployment, abandonment of social, health, educational and cultural programs, among others. Therefore, to understand this concept is also to understand that degrowth cannot be reduced only to sustainable development. It arises to get out of the confusions of this field.

Degrowth is, for Latouche, a concrete utopia and a revolutionary proposal for a better life. Far from hiding in the unreal, degrowth tries to explore the objective possibilities of its application, as a political project. In this regard, the author makes his greatest contribution: a concrete proposal on how to enter a “virtuous circle” of serene degrowth, represented by eight interdependent changes that reinforce each other: reevaluate, reconceptualize, restructure, redistribute, relocate, reduce, reuse, recycle (p. 42).

There are several steps to achieve this goal. The first is to invent local ecological democracy, to oppose peripherization, “pari passu” with the attempt to recover local economic autonomy, which implies food, economic and financial self-sufficiency. Decreasing local initiatives must also be promoted, as already exist in various local communities in various parts of the world.

According to Latouche, very simple measures can initiate virtuous circles of degrowth. For this purpose, it is necessary to increase various attitudes such as: introducing an ecological footprint equal to or smaller than a planet; add, to the transport costs, the damages generated by the activity; relocating productive activities; re-establish peasant agriculture; convert productivity gains into reduced working time and job creation; encouraging the production of relational goods, such as friendship; reduce energy waste; heavily taxing advertising expenses and enacting a moratorium on techno-scientific innovation, with the aim of taking stock and reorienting research in line with new aspirations. Latouche highlights, in particular, the quantitative reduction and qualitative transformation of work, in order to restore meaning to the freed time and lead to a “reappropriation” of existence.

Consequently, degrowth harmonizes with the conception of a deep ecology, since it is the very survival of humanity that is at stake. Therefore, it can be understood as a humanism that calls us to replace the ecological concern in the middle of the social, political, cultural and spiritual concern of human life. In this sense, degrowth is one of the forces that has advanced the most against the modern commodity-producing society in recent years. It offers a radical paradigm alternative to what is already in place and that is leading us to the situation of structural crisis that modern society has reached.

As Latouche says: “The critique of modernity, in turn, does not imply its pure and simple rejection, but rather its overcoming. It is in the very name of the Enlightenment project of emancipation and the construction of an autonomous society that we can denounce its failure in the heteronomy that is now triumphant under the dictatorship of the financial markets”.[14]

Undoubtedly, the current impasse of this situation deserves strong responses and a 180º change in society, taking the focus away from the consumption of products and rescuing essential goods for a common life. It is certainly not an easy task. However, as Latouche says, it is the very survival of humanity that is at stake. The “realization of a society of degrowth necessarily involves a re-enchantment of the world” (p. 149). It is essential that this process of change takes place both at the individual and collective level, in our relationship with the environment, with the planet and with life. It is necessary to “remythologize” humanity, in the sense of mitigating the trivialization of life proposed by the consumption of things produced by the thermo-industrial system. The superabundance of the material world and the “stuffed” human being that Latouche referred to, did not even reach all of us.

On the contrary. As he says: “In the end, the virtuous circle turns into an infernal circle … The worker's life is generally reduced to the life of a 'biodigester' that metabolizes wages with goods and goods with wages, moving from the factory to the hypermarket and from the hypermarket to the factory”.[15]

For all these reasons, we agree with Latouche that this paroxysm of society, globalization, this totalitarian form of supremacy of the market over other forms of human life, has delegitimized human rights, democracy and, in the end, the very idea of ​​a same species. It is not the first time that human beings have created in their imagination their division into more than one type of living being. It might not even be the last. In the distant past, until just over a century ago, legalized slavery distinguished men (and women) only by skin color. Today, slavery to the market separates us by our solvency capacity. Tomorrow we may be separated just because we have perfect bodies, so that the “market-god” can legally perform memory transplants.[16]

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral candidate in social policies and citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).



[1] In fact, there was even a celebration of this victory through the book by political scientist Francis Fukuyama The end of history and the last man. Rock, 1992.


[3] ditto, p. 5;

[4] ibidem, p. 7;

[5] Just look at global financial transactions in virtual currency that exceed the value of world GDP by around 10 times of everything that is actually produced on the planet;

[6] Peripheral countries do not care if they are civil or military governments, as long as they adhere to neoliberal doctrine;

[7] SANTOS, Milton. For another globalization – from single thought to universal consciousness. 2nd. Rio de Janeiro. Record. 2000, pg. 53;

[8] Same, pg. 54;

[9] KURZ, Robert. The Collapse of Modernization.


[11] Ditto.

[12] For those interested, just search the internet;

[13] Ob. cit., pg. 13;

[14] Idem, pgs. 147/148;

[15] Same, pg. 17;

[16] For those interested, the “Altered Carbon” series makes this clear.


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