Defining Globalization

Globalization is a term that is tossed around in IR theories, classrooms and by researchers as though it is truth itself1. Every person conceives of it in a slightly different way, some have tied it to culture, to international economic relations, interconnectedness and the internet, while still others define it by structures, institutions and international agreements. None of these is completely true, nor completely false; however, all the definitions only elaborate one part of globalization at a time and what they are missing is the starting place that most leftist critics raise: the effects and who is benefiting from them.

Many theorists and researchers have attempted to define globalization and through their definition, come up with different time lines based upon their particular take on what is globalization in actuality. Globalization in truth is nothing, the word has had definition upon definition and a plethora of connotations depending upon who is using it. It is thereby necessary to say that globalization is nothing more than a concept and is indeed not a thing; rather just like sovereignty and rights, the meaning changes as people view it differently over time. While the word itself can be traced to a particular time and place, the phenomena that globalization researchers have attempted to define and explain, existed through all of human time (the horse-drawn wagon, boats, trains, planes, language, letters, writing, television and now the internet). In order to truly consider what these researchers and historians are looking at, we must rather look to the origins of such attempts, the social, economic and world situations at the time of the attempts to define it. As William Rees of the University of British Columbia and epidemiologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that human beings… “subconsciously are still driven by an impulse for survival, domination and expansion… an impulse which now finds expression in the idea that inexorable economic growth is the answer to everything, and, given time, will redress all the world’s existing inequalities.”2 And this thought is one of the bases for the definition of globalization and consumer capitalism that will be used in this paper.

This paper will argue the first attempts at defining this phenomenon came about after the rise of international capitalism, its spread and internalization in the public consciousness; that what we call globalization is morally neutral but the side effects of its current incarnation are not and that this trend is being driven by those who are reaping the profits of our modern globalization. This has come about by the usurpation of the true definition of globalization and its side effects; globalization human nature, the desire to interact with others, exchange ideas and meals, see new places and live. But in the past 100 years this innate nature has become hijacked by the economic system which now has enveloped the entire world, capitalism. What this author will attempt to show is that what we are referencing when speaking of globalization, is actually the negative and positive side effects of the hijacking of human nature by capitalism and now neoliberalism. For this paper globalization will mean: “the rapid spread of the capitalist market around the world, including consumer society based on materials produced for a mass market3.” This understanding is inline with this author’s premise, that what people refer to globalization is the globalization of consumerist neoliberal flavored capitalism and what Marx and Engles wrote 166 years ago: The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere… It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them… to become bourgeois in themselves. In one word, it creates a world in its own image.4

Globalization, Capitalism and Inequality

“To understand what goes on in the world today, it is necessary to understand the economic [forces] that stand behind the political events.”5

World capitalism has been undergoing a period of profound restructuring since the 1970s, bound up with the world historic process that has come to be known as globalization6. In the 1970’s Stephen Hymer noted that “an international capitalist class is emerging whose interests lie in the world economy as a whole and a system of international private property which allows free movement of capital between countries… there is a strong tendency for the most powerful segments of the capitalist class increasingly to see their future in the further growth of the world market rather than its curtailment7” (Hymer,1979, 262). When we speak of this phenomenon we must keep in mind that before the globalization of capitalism, particularly liberal and neoliberal capitalist expansion, communication, creating closer ties and interacting were understood to be human nature, it is the modern neoliberal changes in this natural tendency that we are describing. The effects of this debasing of human nature which has had most of the negative effects, and the benefits of what is commonly referred to as globalization (the internet, travel, etc) were not originally creations by this consumer-capitalist neoliberal system but are instead advancements of mankind that just happened to be created during the reign of capitalist, liberal, and neoliberal ideologies. Specifically this section is speaking to the global trend to increase wealth gaps, poverty, inequality, and decreasing ability to find upward mobility, for the non-elites of the world. Neoliberalists have promised that laissez-faire globality would yield material prosperity for all humanity”8 but it has not, as we will see. For this we must look back and remember that “although earlier thought considered economic inequality as necessary and beneficial”9, it has “more recently come to be seen as a growing social problem”10. While GDP has indeed gone up in many of the nations adopting these neoliberal trade schemes, the question of who exactly benefits from this growth of GDP and why do the supposedly free trade agreements invariably seem to benefit those who are already economically elite, and why do these agreements (pushed, designed and made for those selfsame elites) rarely speak of trade, never include true provisions that incorporate human rights, workers rights, health and safety terms or any other beneficial thing that can be enforced? The answer though, is depressingly simple “globalization benefits elites in both rich and poor countries”11; this comes as no surprise considering that through “the reduction of territorial barriers”, globalization “has not brought with t a reduction of social barriers”12 So these supposedly free trade agreements are lobbied for, written by, advised on and for elites; not for the progressive or liberal reasons touted in media, corporate board members or by politicians. In fact, within the last 50 years there have been “retreats from progressive taxation, with consequent widening of class gaps; reduction in state-supplied social services, with disproportionately harmful effects on the disabled, children, the elderly, women, people of color and less advantaged classes”13; which is precisely the opposite of what free trade hawkers have been saying would occur from implementation of free market, neoliberal policies. It has been found that “several studies suggest that world income inequality has been rising during the past two to three decades, and a study of manufacturing pay dispersions buttresses the same conclusion from another angle”14 and that “absolute income gaps are widening and will continue to do so for decades”15. Then rather than progressive lofty ideas of freedom, reducing poverty and inequality, just the opposite has happened as “globalization has exacerbated inequality; this is particularly true in the case of income inequality.”16

What free trade agreements and fast tracking really mean is destruction of popular resistance to a corporately-modeled world and life; reducing the power and effectiveness of unions; environmental or human rights considerations and popular democracy. How these secretive agreements, treaties and partnerships undermine workers is by undercutting their bargaining power, job security and that “what [has] changed was not the demand for skilled workers, but the balance of power between workers and their employers”17. Examples of this are: NAFTA, WTO, IMF, TPP, TTIP, GATT and are created with no transparency, with no public ability to comment and consider legislation that will have direct effects on their lives and livelihoods; and as such constitutes a “device to undermine democracy, designed to transfer decision making about people’s lives and aspirations into the hands of private tyrannies that operate in secret without public supervision or control.”18 Hans Morganthau condemned the regular stance of most intellectuals throughout history as “conformist subservience to those in power”; it is this very tendency that partially explains why people are not up in arms, revolting daily across the world together. Most academics and journalists have made a concession, by giving up criticizing and investigating concentrations of power (economic, political or military) and exploring its repercussions, they are rewarded with the title of expert or professional, given prestige, esteem and as long as they hold up their end of the bargain (of silence) they are included by those with power and money and sell out their humble brothers and sisters in the streets. The next section addresses the issues of media, consumerism and the elite control of consent which has allowed apathy and indifference to create a culture of misunderstanding and ignorance that plagues us.

Anti-democratic Trends within Media and Globalization

“The globalization of the consumer society has given status to high consumption, especially of items from the international market.”19

For this section the term “consumerism” is usually referring to the sense first used in 1960, “emphasis on or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods”. Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts20. And is used to describe the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with commercial brand names and perceived status-symbolism appeal, e.g. a luxury car, designer clothing, or expensive jewelry. Consumerism can take extreme forms such that consumers sacrifice significant time and income not only to purchase but also to actively support a certain firm or brand21. Why this is important is that “..globalization led consumerism in its nature creates two important issues which could be taken into debate which are; the patterns and effects which exacerbates inequalities and the unsustainable consumption and depletion of the environmental resources.”22 This has statistical relevance for our discussion because it has been shown in study after study that globalization of consumer-capitalist flavored neoliberalism can be tied directly to the social inequalities mentioned in the second section of this paper, and that the papers pushed through as treaties, partnerships, agreements and pacts between governments in lieu of elite economic interests is not simply a likelihood but a statistical reality. As Praveena Rajkobal in Globalization, Consumerism and Unsustainable Consumption, found:

“a connection between globalization and consumerism could be established within the domain of three main factors which are: 1) Access to resources and markets on a global basis; 2) Production of consumers all over the world with an extensive range of products and services that were not easily available before; 3) Central and fundamental understanding of globalization and the modern world being the notion of ‘consumerism’… Globalization therefore sets the conditions for consumerism through an interrelated process which works through the above mentioned factors.”23

How this is managed is through controlling public opinion, by influencing the spectrum of public debate (using press releases and news wires in place of true journalistic work; censoring dissent, discontent, silencing critics or using flak to inspire conformity, etc); and thus creating apathy in those who are supposed to be in control of the government, namely the people. This is facilitated by the fact that the “mainstream media have maintained close ties with governing circles, links that further inhibit probing investigative journalism on issues of global political economy”24 The reason economic, military and political elites keep, manage and encourage these connections and ties to journalists and academics is that “the more ‘free and popular’ a government, the more it becomes necessary to rely on control of opinion to ensure submission to the rulers.”25

“every day we are bombarded with one persuasive communication after another. These appeals persuade not through the give-and-take of argument and debate, but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions. For better or worse, ours is an age of propaganda.” (Pratkanis and Aronson, 1991)

The media play a large part in shaping public opinion and the spectrum of public debate26. Considering their popularly conceived role of informer and watchdog over public and private misuse or abuse of power and corruption, it is vital that they provide this information in a truthful manner. However, main steam media has and continues to control the public, by presenting a distorted view of domestic and international events, and it reduces the public spectrum of debate to one of elite legitimized controversy, removing real alternative options for the public to shape beliefs, create and debate informed positions27. Which means that the laws, treaties, partnerships and other institutional structures created by these elites has no chance to be discussed in public due to the system of propaganda in place by using distraction, distortion and ignorance through media presentations. In doing so elites protect their interests, their privileged status and further entrench neoliberal ideologies in international and domestic law. This, for example, can be seen in domestic politics of the United States by the domination of the political sphere and representative options by a two-party system, made up of Democrats and Republicans. It is reflected also in televised debates between elites consisting of false experts designed to give the appearance of neutrality in news presentations. It is further reflected in the absence of true alternative visions of socio-economic order within the mass corporate media.

What is worse is this system of distraction and propaganda requires not just a carrot and stick, but requires that the targets of media products have something to participate in. This is where the consumer and consumerism is born, from the need to not only distract but to sell products to the masses; convincing them with subtle suggestions of meaning offered in the false experience of consuming. But consumerism is not simply buying and using in the name of experience through purchase; but, it also implies the over production of goods, over use or misuse of natural resources, waste, toxic left overs, poisoned waters, air and ecosystem. A perfect example of how academics and the media fit into supporting the status quo is that:

“consumption [never has] received the attention it deserves from researchers in either the natural or the social sciences. Indeed, certain economists view consumption as the natural purpose of the economy.”28

…so beyond simply silence within critiquing the secretive trade agreements, concentrations of wealth and power, mainstream academics and journalists contribute to the destruction of the environment but not examining and exposing the terrible damage that consumerism has on the environment. This has a significant impact on our environment, our resources and the physical lives of every being on earth and now with the recent admission that inevitable doom is coming for our environment and the world ecosystem29 (though this news passed through mainstream media and academia with little fanfare).

This is how the globalization of neoliberal flavored capitalism and consumerism have allowed elites to maintain control, looking at the funny, but true picture above, one can see while this is meant to be partially a critique of media and maintain a simple message; it is really standard for academia and journalists to produce such news products or scientific findings in ways that exacerbate rather than call to account the existing system which seeks to further entrench and imprint itself on the human experience. Beyond just the chemical leftovers, physical detritus, junk/ trash, wasted food, plastic wrappers, oil spills, etc, that are destroying our ecosystem; as long as consumerism is the main ideology surrounding life we are doomed. “Trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing the drug addiction.”30

As noted above with the criticism of academia and journalists, worse than simple consumerism is the lack of variety and information available in the mass corporate media. As Lawrence Davidson noted in How the US Propaganda System Works, published by Consortium News on May 9, 2014:

“Westerners are “culturally conditioned, narrow range of opinion fed to the vast majority of Americans by their own media. The differences in story lines and opinions in the “news” given by well-watched television channels such as ABC. CBS, NBC and CNN, or those of the nation’s major newspapers and news magazines, is minuscule… One venue that stands out is Fox TV, and its “news” and opinion offerings verge on the mendacious. The narrow range of views offered creates a uniform background noise hiding most of what is at variance with the standard message. In other words, media practices constitute de facto censorship.”

In order to make choices about how we wish to see our world we, the people must have the information necessary to make important decisions, regarding not only what our world is structured around, who we wish to represent us in government and what laws we wish but the future world we wish to create. Without this information we cannot possibly participate in government in a meaningful way, nor can people have educated debates or beliefs when true information is essentially hidden behind other stories, or distorted when examined by researchers and journalists. Democracy is a three faceted dynamic involving circumstances of education, institutional process, and social structure, all three must be satisfied in order to realize veritable democracy31; and as the examples above have indicated we cannot say that any of the three facets are realized nor have been in several decades. Which leaves us with a bit of a dilemma, if what we are currently surrounded by does not work or produce outcomes as a democracy can we really say that our governments are democratic? Actually according to Gilens and Page32 in their forthcoming study it was found that “despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”33 What this means is that we, as in all of us must think about what we really want, how do we wish it obtained and are we actually in accord with the past 100+ years of profit running our world, our social interactions and our minds? The next section is addressed to possible actions for retaking our human nature for interaction, expansion and expression back from the hands of profit and capitalist elites and putting it on the path that we want. This author will develop and outline for a viable strategy to create change, essentially taking back the human nature of globalization from the entrenched elite interests which have taken control.

Methods for Change

Before this section begins let this author make clear that in no way to the current institutions offer an opportunity to change the system, protect democracy, rights, the environment or the interests of the people. (See Table I and Table II) Which means that new strategies for change must be considered, created and utilized in order to effect real change. While corporate public relations specialists are thinking of ways to make consumerism sound or feel green to the public, they are simultaneously seeking to further the companies they represent from being associated to the ecological damage these clients create. As such this author will reject ideas that are in substance nothing more than attempts to put a nice label on pollution, exploitation of labor, human rights atrocities, corruption and war; such as: green consumerism/capitalism, corporate governance, and corporate social responsibility.

Method 1 – Drain the Current System to Create a New System

The strategy that this author will suggest as the most viable and least likely to allow the current socio-economic hierarchies to be reconstituted within it is an aggressive strategy to remove resources, time and energy out of the current system and relocating them in new structures. These new structures will be filled with the resources that would go into the old, essentially making them nothing but drained out shells by removing wealth, meaning and power from the old ones. Such a strategy would require diligence and community, particularly since its creation would not be greeted kindly by those who support the status quo. The basis for this strategy is to recognize that consumerism, capitalism, liberalism and neoliberalism are enemies to humanity, the environment and are tools of coercion, oppression and exploitation. It is necessary to not induce self-isolation, into communities completely removed from the current system; but rather to leech, siphon and drain as much as possible from the existing order for as long as possible, while replacing it with a new order, community, and ideas – the things we truly seek from life. So rather than advocating a radical aggressive violent action, such as seizing the existing institutions directly; (which could potentially create change but at a terrible cost) it is more useful and attractive to abandon the old while participating in the new. Rejecting the old instead of fighting it, using it to kill itself in this manner by localizing institutions such as banks, governments, and schools; effectively removing the ability for control from the existing institutions. This would include a non-hierarchical and non-commodity based set of institutions which would allow for more democratic, accountable and transparent systems.

Method 2 – Direct Community Action Coupled with Education

Those who wish to see social and community action take a front seat in the changing of world systems would advocate for mass social movements. But it would require more than occupying and sit-ins, like past movements have done due to the new constraints placed in law which essentially have made protest, and expression illegal (look to the Occupy movement, UC Davis especially). With this in mind demanding change requires more than people with signs, but a committed education movement outside of the current structure of power designed to inform and unite. This would mean creating new sources of independent news, strengthening them with community support and targeting local political elites. Putting the spot light on political elites and by direct application of pressure in the form of voting, letters and mass demonstrations; change (though not a new system) could be realized. It has been shown34 that local politicians are more likely to mirror active and informed constituents and are able to be held accountable more effectively. When direct and immediate response is swift and effective, politicians are much more likely to respond in ways that are in line with their constituents. This author was able to read this book and have frequent conversations with the author of Tyranny of the Minority; during time spent at the University of California, Riverside and as such the example of Brazil is effective in proving such a theory. That when repercussions are immediate, local and direct and there is a concerned and educated group, even a subconstituency can impress the most stubborn of politicians when pressure is applied. This method should also be applied to journalists when news presentations are biased, misleading or important stories are not given a proper level of coverage. These two methods for enacting change of the current system are not representative of all actionable or effective methods but rather are two ideas which have gained traction in the past 5 years. By either by emptying and draining the old, in order to create the new system; or by direct community action and education it is possible to see that change and resistance to the negative side effects of neoliberal flavored globalization can be had, and with a concerned and educated minority each is a viable method for change. What academia needs to do now is seek out the alternative systems and effective modes of change that have been missing in the last few decades and return their mantle of official expert, returning to the true purpose of academia – advancing human understanding and knowledge.


What this paper has sought to do is define globalization in a meaningful way, which takes into account the timing of globalization research, attempts to name and define it and the systems which have been in place during this time. The definition that has been used here for globalization is “the rapid spread of the capitalist market around the world, including consumer society based on materials produced for a mass market35”; which itself is not an integral part of seeking out new people, connections, further interconnectedness and social interactions (on the internet or in person), but rather an attempt to use the nature human instinct for profit. This has been done through the introduction of consumerism, redefining the purpose of life, happiness, social interaction and value into a commodity. Time, food, medicine, good education are now privatized commodities; designed to profit those who have built and institutionalized international trade agreements and exploit world labor while taking no account of the negative consequences associated with this form of life and production. This paper has argued that globalization defined in this way, can be directly tied to climate change, pollution, human rights atrocities, the loss of workers rights, along with health and safety regulations around the world. This paper has sought to partially explain how this system is hegemonic by critiquing academia and journalists as implicit partners in the system and with elite interests. Finally this paper gave two examples of methods for change and redefining interconnectedness and globalization based upon educated choices and preferences. Hopefully soon, academics and journalism will redeem themselves and begin to call for real change, helping people to see true alternative visions of world socio-economic hierarchies, the implementation and conceptualization of new strategies to combat entrenched elite interests and power structures. This author does not expect this to happen, as optimism in not in my nature; but it should.


1 Leslie Sklair, (2002). Globalization. Capitalism and its alternatives. Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 35-58.

2 Coghlan, Andy. “Consumerism is ‘eating the future’” New Scientist. August 2009.

3 Catherine Hodge McCoid. GLOBALIZATION AND THE CONSUMER SOCIETY. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS)

4 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, (1848), in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works, Vol. 6 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976), 487-8.

5 Kwame Nkrumah, Leader of the Gold Coast & Ghana (1951-1966)

6 (Burbach and Robinson, 1999)

7 Stephen Hymer, The Multinational Corporation: A Radical Approach (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

8 Dollar and Kraay, 2000.

9 U.S. Income Inequality: It’s Not So Bad By Thomas A. Garrett| Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis| Spring 2010.

10 Wilkinson, Richard; Pickett, Kate (2009). The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Allen Lane. p. 352.

11 Michael Kremer and Eric Maskin, Globalization and Inequality. 2006.

12 Scholte, Ibid, 344

13 Jan Art Scholte, Globalization: a critical introduction. (Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2005), 345.

14 Robert Hunter Wade, “Is Globalization Reducing Poverty and Inequality?” World Development. Volume 32, Issue 4, April 2004, Pages 567–589.

15 Wade, Ibid.

16 Dreher, A. and Gaston, N. (2008), Has Globalization Increased Inequality?. Review of International Economics,

16: 516–536. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9396.2008.00743.x

17 John Schmitt, “Inequality as Policy: The United States Since 1979” Center for Economic and Policy Research. October, 2009.

18 Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People (London: Seven Stories Press, 1999).

19 McCoid, op. cit.

20 Peck, Linda, “Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England”, Cambridge Press, 2005.

21 Eisingerich, Andreas B.; Bhardwaj, Gunjan; Miyamoto, Yoshio (April 2010). “Behold the Extreme Consumers and Learn to Embrace Them”. Harvard Business Review 88: Pages 30–31.

22 Sam sundar chintha, Babu George “Globalization, Mobility, Identity, and Consumerism: an Analysis of the Genesis of Unsustainable Consumption.” Palermo: Business Review|Special Issue 3, 2012.

23 Rajkobal, Globalization, Consumerism and Unsustainable Consumption, p. 2.

24 Scholte, Ibid, 331.

25 Chomsky, Profit Over People, 44.

26 Schramm, W., Four Theories of the Press, 1972

27 “The power of the US propaganda system lies in its ability to mobilize elite consensus, to give the appearance of democratic consent, and to create enough confusion, misunderstanding and apathy in the general population to allow elite program to go forward.” (Herman 1996 p.2)

28 Myers, Norman. “The price of consumerism”. Nature, 418, August 2002 pp. 819-820.

29 “West Antarctic ice sheet collapse ‘unstoppable’: NASA”

30 Majfud, Jorge (2009). “The Pandemic of Consumerism”. UN Chronicle.

31 Scholte, Ibid, 371.

32 Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” Perspectives on Politics. Fall 2014 (forthcoming, but a copy was obtained by this author).

33 Further explaining their findings during an interview with Talking Points Memo, the author continued: “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” mean is that rather than average citizens of moderate
means having an important role in determining policy, ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily—although not exclusively –

34 Benjamin Bishin, Tyranny of the Minority: The Subconstituency Politics Theory of Representation. (Philladelphia: The Temple Press, 2009).

35 McCoid. Ibid.

Table I

Cases of US Imperialism Since 2000. Excerpted from ECONOMIC POWER AND THE CORRUPTION OF THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM by Jeremy Cloward. Published by Project Censored 15 January 2014. “our political leaders have been responsible for the deaths of many more people across the globe as a result of non-stop war on an ever-growing list of nations over the last decade. Sometimes referred to as a state of “permanent war,” since 2000 the US government has waged war upon or began “military operations” within the nations of: Sierra Leone (2000); Nigeria (2000); Yemen (2000; 2001; 2004-present); East Timor (2001); China – the Hainan Incident (2001); Afghanistan (2001-present); Somalia (2001-present); the Philippines (2002); Cote d’Lvoire (2002); Sahara (2001-present); Iraq (2003-present); Liberia (2003); Georgia (2003; 2008); Haiti (2004); Pakistan (2004-present); Kenya (2004); Ethiopia (2004); Eritrea (2004); Lebanon (2006); Uganda (2011); Libya (2011); Sudan (2011-present); Jordan (2012); Turkey (2012); Chad (2012); Mali (2013); and South Sudan (2013).


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