Legitimacy, Globally: The Incoherence of Free Trade Practice, Global Economics and Their Governing Principles of Political Economy
64 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2001
This article observes the legalized character of the phenomenon popularly called "globalization." We examine what it means to be a legalized phenomenon, and observe that an important part of legalization is legitimation. In domestic legal regimes, legitimation is accomplished through the Rule of Law which makes certain claims about the nature of the society of which the legal regime is a part. In the international trading system of which globalization is the legalized regime, the legitimizing role is played by Ricardo's so-called Law of comparative advantage. This globalized legitimation, similar to domestic legitimation, makes certain claims about the nature of the system of which it is a part. We examine what features of globalization are supported by the Law of comparative advantage, and note how the legitimating role of that Law conceals the true nature of those features. We note that comparative advantage requires that both capital and labor be immobile and that, absent that dual mobility, WTO reliance upon the Law of comparative advantage seems foolish. We also note that comparative advantage requires that technology be freely transportable and that attempts such as TRIPS (paradoxically premised upon comparative advantage) to internationalize intellectual property and erect barriers to its free transport violate this fundamental principle in a similarly foolish manner. Unsurprisingly, the features we examine, contrary to their express claims, produce disastrous global resource disparities. We conclude that it is the legitimizing functions of the Law of comparative advantage that allows globalization to proceed in this manner while claiming to do the opposite. The legitimizing function of the global regime thus prevents a true understanding of globalization's nature. The Law of comparative advantage, in its rule-based legalism, condemns opponents, almost by definition, as lawless anarchists. But more progressive opposition must be seen as legitimate, as a traditionally Left effort to protect the weak and to oppose rules that owe their legitimacy only to the fact that they have been posited, without regard to whether they truly benefit a global citizenry. Much of globalization relies on intellectual incoherence, and the cause of Internationalism (certainly not globalization) deserves something more than that.
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