Friday, October 2, 2009

Hobsbawm's Economic Globalization

Like Abu-Lughod, Hobsbawm approached globalization from an economic standpoint in the first chapter. The economic climate of the 19th century was vastly different from that of the 13th century, however. According to Hobsbawm it was now “genuinely global”. There were much deeper divisions between the rich and poor of the world, greatly contributed to by the new technology emerging at this time. Industrialization was transforming the workforce, although agriculture continued to be the main source of employment. Literacy was becoming more and more common and a distinction between first and third world countries. And by this time Europe had clearly taken on a hegemonic role in world economics and politics. Hobsbawm states that although “large parts of ‘Europe’ were…on the margins of the core of capitalist economic development and bourgeois society” (17), still Europe “was not only the original core of the capitalist development which dominated and transformed the world, but by far the most important component of the world economy and of bourgeois society” (18). This is quite a departure from the world described by Abu-Lughod.

The second chapter is slightly more pessimistic, in its discussion of the slight economic downturn. The world was still prospering in the late 19th century, but business and trade were not growing as quickly as they had been. This fact, however, did not hurt globalization but rather helped it as it encouraged landless peasants to emigrate. And more and more distinctive traits of capitalism were emerging. Although we today fear inflation, the people of the 1890s feared deflation, and that is what they had to contend with, along with the lack of a large enough mass market for consumer goods. Governments took a more active, though still liberal role in business- mainly by coming to the rescue by putting protective tariffs on foreign goods so that domestic companies had less competition. However much these capitalist ideas spread, they could not reverse the depression. Thus imperialism developed as a way to counteract the economic recession.

Hobsbawm says that the correlation between the beginning of “territorial expansion” and the turnaround in the economy is significant but the exact relationship between the two cannot be pinpointed. Still, imperialism very well may not have developed had the 19th century economy not slowed down. So this institution came to be because a capitalist society needed to sustain itself. It reminds me of how Marx liked to emphasize the greed of capitalists and the lengths they will go to to gain wealth and power. Imperialism seems extreme nowadays, as well as being morally questionable. And yet it was admirable then. The British Empire, the most perfect example of imperial power, was respected and feared around the world. Even today it is still spoken of with awe. With the modern ideals of independence and every country’s right to self-governance, strictly enforced by the more powerful countries, it is unlikely that anything even slightly resembling the British Empire will exist again in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment