Review from Arches alumni magazine, Spring 2010
Globaloney 2.0: The Crash of 2008 and the Future of Globalization
Michael Veseth ’72, Robert J. Albertson professor of international political economy
238 pages, hardcover or paperback
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
Review by Byron Gangnes B.A.’82, P’08
Whether right or wrong, stories matter. And most of our stories about globalization are, well, globaloney—extravagant claims backed by flimsy anecdotal evidence. This was the premise and title of Michael Veseth’s acclaimed 2005 book, which took a critical look at many of our commonly accepted notions about globalization.
In Globaloney 2.0, Veseth revisits globalization rhetoric from our post-crisis vantage point. What do the 2008 financial market meltdown and subsequent Great Recession add to our understanding of globalization? What do they tell us about the changes needed to support a more stable global economic future?
In material that is new to this edition, Veseth describes the origins of the crisis and the role globalization played in it. He cites many mistaken notions that contributed to the crisis, including misplaced faith in the ability of technology to eliminate risk and inadequate attention to perverse regulatory incentives. The “globaloney” is that global financial markets are stable; “safe as houses” is the purposefully ironic English term he uses. Veseth describes why globalization of finance can reduce stability, in part by bringing masses of foreign money into play. And of course, spreading the resulting pain around the globe.
This is good stuff, but I must confess that I find other chapters of the book more compelling: “Golden Arches Globaloney” and “The Only Game in Town,” where Veseth picks apart the myth that globalization is really Americanization, and “Grassroots Globaloney,” which challenges the idea that globalization is The Borg—Star Trek’s universal exploitive force against which “resistance is futile.” This is where the best stories are: the Indian McAloo Tikki spiced potato sandwich; David Beckham and the European dominance of that greatest sports franchise, soccer; and the fascinating geography of global trade in used clothing. These stories deftly deflate common myths and reveal a globalization that is sometimes more local and malleable than commonly believed.
Both sides of the globalization debate have become Globaloney Grandmasters, harnessing simple stories in order to evoke fantastical benefits and fearsome costs. (To be sure, they follow a rich tradition, as Veseth describes in a nifty critique of Adam Smith’s famous pin factory story.) In the real world, globalization is a complex and nuanced phenomenon. We can see how pressure for ever-greater efficiencies can produce McDonald’s mediocre sameness—nothing too bad, but nothing exceptional, either. But we also see how globalization might provide avenues for sustaining and developing the particular features of particular cultures.
There is some discussion of policy in the final chapter on the future of globalization, but that is not the book’s strong suit. Instead, the high point of Globaloney 2.0 is the stories themselves and Veseth’s evident joy as he picks them apart. (To be fair, he also picks apart his own globaloney!) To Veseth, stories matter—they frame our view of the world and our choices—so we need to work on creating new stories, ones that tell a more accurate truth. After all, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Globaloney 2.0 is written in Veseth’s characteristic conversational style, with plenty of playful humor. (Non-economists, fear not; there is very little jargon.) This would make an excellent book for an undergraduate course in international economics, politics, or sociology, but it is also an accessible and entertaining read for any curious person.
Byron Gangnes is an associate professor of economics at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.