"From Asia to Zurich, there's no place to hide": Review of One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
Author: William Greider
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997
Review by: Brad Pokorny
What do metalworking unionists in Zurich,
Muslim women in Malaysia, and peasant-farmers-turned-aircraft-parts-makers
in China have in common?
Like the rest of us, they are being swept
up in a powerful process of social and economic transformation
unleashed by the globalization of capitalism - a process that,
depending on our collective willingness to control it, could lead
to a worldwide economic collapse or to new heights of global prosperity.
That is the general thesis, at least, of a new book
by William Greider, entitled One World, Ready or Not: The Manic
Logic of Global Capitalism.
A respected if somewhat iconoclastic journalist whose
previous books on economics and politics have won numerous awards,
Mr. Greider traveled extensively to gather facts and details -
and especially to talk with individual workers and managers -
in an effort to understand and explain how the rapid expansion
of world markets and finance are affecting people and communities
in virtually every nation, at all levels of society.
His conclusion (although no summary can really do
justice to what Mr. Greider painstakingly lays out in 528 pages):
that the globalization of business and enterprise is a revolutionary
force - akin to the sort of transformations wrought in the past
on a country-by-country basis by such developments as steam power,
the assembly line, and/or the proliferation of the internal combustion
engine - that is today remaking the world's entire social and
"The essence of this industrial revolution,
like others before it, is that commerce and finance have leapt
inventively beyond the existing order and existing consciousness
of peoples and societies," writes Mr. Greider, who is national
editor at Rolling Stone magazine in the United States. "The
global system of trade and production is fast constructing a new
functional reality for most everyone's life, a new order based
upon its own dynamics and not confined by the traditional social
understandings. People may wish to turn away from that fact, but
there is essentially no place to hide, not if one lives in any
of the industrialized nations."
Although many books in recent years have pointed
to similar themes and trends, what makes Mr. Greider's book especially
interesting is the way he brings a reporter's eye to the subject.
By visiting factories, union halls and homes around the world,
he explores what effect the globalization of industry is having
on the lives of individual people, giving a human face to the
processes that others mostly theorize about.
That reporting, coupled with a sharp eye for big
picture trends, brings home the book's central message: that we
are indeed rapidly becoming "one world" - "ready
or not." Assuredly, if there are still serious thinkers who
have doubts about this process, the concrete details and close-up
observations provided by Mr. Greider in this book will go far
to help them visualize the real world impact of globalization,
and especially to see that economic globalization cannot be had
without similar transformations in the social, political and even
For example, Mr. Greider visits an American-owned
semiconductor factory outside Kuala Lumpur and observes how the
surprisingly high technology jobs it has provided to Muslim women
are gradually introducing major changes in their cultural life.
While describing how young women in ankle-length dresses and traditional
headscarves don spacesuit-like overalls to begin the exacting,
clean room routine necessary to the manufacture of silicon chips,
Mr. Greider quotes an American manager, Roger Bertelson, who describes
how the process of recruitment and training and motivation for
this sort of work required certain changes in regional social
"'We had to change the culture,' Bertelson said,
'because the Malay home does not encourage women to speak out.
The daughter is supposed to have babies and take care of her husband.
The idea was to break down the resistance to speaking out. We
use positive reinforcement, just like you would work with school
children. First, convince them that you are going to listen to
them. Then we have them stand up before their peers for recognition.'"
Or consider the changes in a remote Chinese village,
where peasant farmers have been taught to produce world-class
aircraft parts for Boeing. Although many of the workers at the
Hongyuan Forging plant in Shaanxi Province still live in houses
with thatched roofs and keep goats for the milk they produce,
and although the factory they work in is located in a series
of caves - a site chosen in the 1960s as a shelter from nuclear
attack - they are able to produce high-tech titanium-alloy support
struts for the engine mounts on new 747s.
Again, as is frequently the case in the book, some
of the keenest insights come from the people that Mr. Greider
quotes. "'Since we have business with Boeing,'" says
Kang Feng Zio, the factory's general manager, "'this makes
us upgrade our forgings so our technology is very close to the
world standards… We intend to develop our company as the
biggest in China, the biggest in East Asia. I think in this way
- the way of the market - it won't be long before China will have
These two scenes also illustrate a central point
of the book: that modern industrial techniques have in some ways
empowered people everywhere - again, illustrating that we are
one world. As Mr. Greider writes: "The global system of production
is teaching a powerful lesson: people everywhere are capable,
everywhere in the world. Every nation, especially the wealthier
ones, promotes its own version of national arrogance, a natural
self-centeredness that is very difficult to set aside. But global
commerce undermines - and perhaps will someday destroy - the ancient,
nativist stereotypes by which different peoples are ranked and
One downside of all of this is that for many workers
in industrialized countries, the availability of so many capable
people around the world tends to push wages down, in many cases
leading to the elimination of their jobs. Mr. Greider illuminates
the quandary faced by high wage workers when he visited a meeting
of the International Metalworkers Federation in Zurich. Delegates
from some 90 countries had gathered to celebrate 100 years of
solidarity and to adopt an "action program" to confront
global capitalism. But, writes Mr. Greider, their "reunion
seemed more melancholy than celebratory, for it mainly delineated
how the globalization of production has dismantled a century's
work, the collective mobilization of workers."
The problem, writes Mr. Greider, is that as much
as the unionists want to support the idea of solidarity with fellow
metalworkers around the world, the fact that Asian workers are
able and willing to accept much lower wages than their European
and American counterparts, and that multinational companies are
accordingly relocating factories from Europe and American to Asia
as a result, has virtually destroyed the leverage that unions
once had in fighting for higher wages and better working conditions.
Mr. Greider quotes an Asian financial analyst, Rodney
Jones, who observes: "'Where is it written that white guys
in Britain are entitled to $15 an hour and five weeks of holiday
while Asians are supposed to work for $3 a day… Asian workers
are now part of the global economy and the West will simply have
to adjust to this fact.'"
Mr. Greider also offers an extended economic analysis
as to why and how these trends are happening. Some of this analysis
is straightforward. Mr. Greider notes that investors and businesspeople,
in their drive for an ever greater return on investment, have
raced far ahead of governments and other regulatory institutions.
Events ranging from the fall of Communism to the development of
the Internet have opened new markets and accelerated the pace
of business, and investors and corporations increasingly operate
without regard to national borders or nationalistic loyalties.
But some of Mr. Greider's observations are more controversial.
He argues, for example, that in their reach for global markets
corporations may well have overextended themselves in many areas,
building too many factories in the chase after too few dollars.
The result of this over-capacity, Mr. Greider writes, could well
be a global economic collapse.
In addition to the possibility of collapse, Mr. Greider
finds other faults in unregulated global capitalism. He echoes
those critics who say capitalists too often prosper at the expense
of the poorest of the poor, those peoples and nations who have
no hope of even getting into the race to make a high-tech aircraft
part or a knock-off Walkman stereo tape player. And he is concerned
that without consistent international standards for labor safety,
the exploitation of workers on the next rung up will grow worse.
In one chapter, he writes about workers in Thailand who, for $2
or $3 a day, make small stuffed toys for the American market in
sweatshop conditions - conditions that in 1993 led to a horrific
factory fire that killed some 188 people. Americans worry obsessively
over the safety of their children, writes Mr. Greider, yet they
took no "interest in the brutal and dangerous conditions
imposed on the people who manufacture those same toys, many of
whom were mere adolescent children themselves."
His prescription calls, first and foremost, for a
general recognition that the world has become one, not only in
its markets but also in the social and cultural effects that stem
from its interdependence. He then calls for increased regulation
of international financial markets - although he stops short of
proposing any specific new institution or agency to do this, other
than urging national governments to "reassert" their
power to "regulate players in the global market" while
at the same time "embracing the internationalist perspective."
He also calls for a number of specific measures,
such as writing off entirely the debt that has been accumulated
by poor nations, reforming central banks so that national monetary
policy around the world emphasizes the needs of workers instead
of "the prerogatives of stored wealth," and refocusing
"national economic agendas on the priority of work and wages,
rather than trade or multinational competitiveness." Mr.
Greider also argues for a much increased push to "democratize"
the ownership of corporations, principally through employee profit-sharing
plans, which he believes could be a key tool for increasing worker
involvement while maintaining international competitiveness.
From a Bahá'í point of view, Mr. Greider's
work is important on several levels. First, his recognition of
the world's oneness, and clearheaded argument that we must first
and foremost recognize this fact, is an echo of what Bahá'ís
have been saying for more than a hundred years.
Likewise, a number of his prescriptions parallel
long-standing Bahá'í proposals. Bahá'ís
have long promoted the idea of profit-sharing as a key tool for
creating unity and justice between capital, management and labor.
And his call for some kind of increased world governance or authority,
halfhearted though it may be, is consonant with Bahá'í
belief that our emerging world unity does indeed require equivalent
structures for global governance at the international level.
At the same time, however, if there is a flaw to
the book - beyond the various disputes over Greider's interpretation
of economic theory - it lies in his presumption that it is merely
the unleashed mathematics of deregulated economics and the market
system that are causing the profound changes known collectively
From a Bahá'í point of view, this puts
the cart before the horse. Bahá'ís would assert
that the engine of change is driven not by economics but by the
reality of human oneness, which is itself a spiritual process
that has gradually become manifest over the last century.
Yet, toward the end of the book, Mr. Greider does
come close to identifying the role that ethics, consciousness
and spirituality have to play in understanding and, ultimately,
healing the effects of globalization.
"Traveling around the world, between moments
of euphoric wonder and dread I began to sense that a new ideology
is struggling to be born - a new global consciousness…that
is still weak and unformed, too undefined to even have a name,"
he writes. This consciousness, he writes, cannot be called socialism
or even environmentalism, although it incorporates elements of
both, nor can it be wholly expressed by the new ideas about justice
emerging from feminist thinkers or the sense of global solidarity
promoted by unionists. "The world's great religions might
contribute important elements to this new way of thinking,"
he adds, "except their theologies still often reflect the
tribalism that exalts faithful followers and demonizes nonbelievers."
Rather, he writes, a new global ideology would start
"by accepting that, ready or not, we are all in this together."
And, indeed, that is exactly right.