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The Intellectual Activist - An Objectivist Review

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What Is "Globalization" Globalizing? Global Capitalism's Engine of Cultural Progress


The mainstream American press is beginning to discover the new New World--that is, it is beginning to discover the new identity of the Old World, including the oldest Old World of all: the Far East.

The East once represented the most exotic, un-Western culture there was--and also, seemingly, the most ancient and unchanging culture, unreachable by Western influence. As Kipling told us, East was East and West was West.

But not anymore.

The name the media has given this phenomenon is "globalization." "Globalization" means the creation of a global economy in which the most remote and culturally distinct nations are joined together by a vast network of international trade.

The roots of globalization go back 50 years (and farther), but it was fifteen years ago that it really began to develop into the force that is transforming the world. And it is now becoming clear that two giant nations--nations rich in the global economy's most valuable resource, people--are fully joining the global economy.

Up to now, the nation that gained most attention has been China, which gradually abandoned its Marxist ideology and allowed a growing degree of economic freedom that is transforming China, for the first time in its history, into an industrial manufacturing economy.

The other nation, which has received far too little attention, is India. Since the early 1990s, the phasing out of four decades of socialist protectionism has liberated a fast-growing information technology and business services industry--and now promises to bring an Industrial Revolution to India.

This is a central part of the story that the press has been referring to as "globalization." But this is an odd, evasive term that does not clearly name what is happening. It seeks to name the fact that something is spreading across the globe. But it also seeks to avoid naming what that something is.

What is "globalization" globalizing?

The answer explains why the press doesn't want to name it: what is being globalized is capitalism--and all of the value associated with capitalism.

"Globalization" represents the slow but inexorable, unstated but largely unresisted recognition that free markets, property rights, and unrestrained international trade--i.e., global capitalism--is the system that produces prosperity and a vibrant, optimistic, benevolent, forward-looking society.

In my view, India is the clearest example of this process today. A few days ago, TIA Daily linked to a New York Times article (subscription needed), on just one small part of this story: the rapidly increasing production and purchase of automobiles in India. Note how clearly even the New York Times acknowledges the value of global capitalism. It refers to "India's growing consuming class, once denied capitalism's choices and now flooded with them" (while patronizingly describing these consumers as immature "kids in a candy store"). The article also acknowledges that India is recovering from "decades of socialist deprivation, when consumer goods were so limited that refrigerators were given pride of place in living rooms." Later the reporter concedes, flatly, "In a historical blink, capitalism, which postcolonial analysis once labeled poverty's cause, is now seen as its solution."

Well, of course capitalism is the cause of prosperity. Given the overwhelming evidence of the 20th century, only a New York Times reporter would regard this as a surprising or controversial conclusion.

What is more interesting is what the article reveals about the value system that comes with capitalism. The article describes a "new culture of money"--that is, a new culture introduced, encouraged, and rewarded by global capitalism. What are the values of this capitalist culture? Here are a few passages from the article:

"Indians are discovering in cars everything Americans did: control and freedom, privacy and privilege, speed and status. Car showrooms, the bigger the better, are the new temples here, and cars the icons of a new individualism taking root."

And:

"For a sliver of Indians, the go-go years are here. The same sentiment has permeated the countryside, where young men drive bright yellow motorbikes with names like Ambition and dream of becoming 'crorepatis,' or multimillionaires."

And:

"Indian society has always been more about duty, or dharma, than drive, more about responsibility to others than the realization of individual desire. That ethos is changing.. 'The value system is finishing now,' [Maj. Gen. B. C. Khanduri] said. 'We are gradually increasing everyone for himself.' "

If you read between the sneers inserted by the reporter (and the skepticism of the older, tradition-bound men she likes to quote), you discover that what is ultimately being globalized is the uniquely American ethics of individualism.

Individualism is the view that the individual is both the primary producer of values and their primary aim.

That he is the primary producer of values means that the individual is in control of his own destiny, that he is the driver of his life, that it is natural for him to act independently and to be filled with an ambition for unlimited achievement. Under the influence of individualism, young men riding their scooters through dusty village streets are not resigned to their traditional place in Indian society, but regard themselves instead as potential software moguls.

That the individual is the primary aim of the values he produces means that the individual expects to live primarily for himself--that he expects to enjoy his wealth and the independence it gives him--that it is acceptable, even laudable, for him to make a success of himself.

Notice the way that economic globalization has helped spread this ethics of individualism. There are two mutually reinforcing ways that men can learn new ideas. One way to learn new ideas is to hear them stated explicitly. The other way is just as indispensable: men must learn new ideas from experience. A new value system must be grasped as a truth reinforced by every fact of a man's life.

When a man sees that there are unlimited opportunities before him and that hard work and effort bring rewards, he is implicitly taught that he is in control of his own fate. And when he is continually rewarded for taking that control, he is implicitly taught that it is possible for life to consist of unobstructed enjoyment rather than resignation to duty.

And despite the New York Times reporter's attempt to portray capitalism as a kind of spree of materialistic hedonism, global capitalism also reinforces the value of _reason_. Note that the first and greatest beneficiaries of "globalization," especially in India, are those most steeped in the Western technological-scientific mindset: engineers and software programmers. Capitalism offers its greatest productive rewards to those who have unlocked the productive potential of the reasoning mind.

This is how global capitalism serves, not just as an engine of global prosperity, but as an engine of global cultural progress. By ending centuries of stagnation, it shows men that they control their own destinies. By rewarding them for hard work, ambition, and rational thought, it teaches them that they should expect success and happiness from life.

These are the implicit lessons taught by global capitalism. But note also--and the tone of the New York Times report is a typical example--that there is hardly anyone today who is able to explain those lessons in explicit terms or to defend the values of global capitalism. Even here, there is some reason for hope. India--and the many other sections of the world influenced by "globalization"--is still hearing individualism stated explicitly, both in the watered-down form expressed in many parts of American popular culture and in more powerful forms. For example, I have not talked to a single educated Indian who did not read Ayn Rand's manifesto of individualism, "The Fountainhead," in his freshman year of college, where the novel is considered a kind of rite of passage.

This is why I think the real top story of the current era is the mostly untold tale of the rapid spread to the East of the American culture of individualism--a cultural change reinforced and rewarded by the powerful motivating force of global capitalism. This is a vast economic and cultural change that has already radically improved the lives of millions of people, and which is beginning to radically improve the lives of billions--just as the achievements and values of capitalism revolutionized life in the West during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Starting this week, I will attempt to cover this story in every issue of TIA Daily, reserving my sixth top news story each day--or, in its place, a feature article like this one--for a story that relates in some way to global capitalism and the way in which it is helping to spread the values of individualism.

This is the biggest story of the coming century. Stay tuned.

Robert Tracinski is the editor of TIADaily.com and The Intellectual Activist.

See also:
Americans Against the American Dream

The Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness

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