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Development and social change: a global perspective.

(Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press 1996).

THE LITERATURE on globalization has grown enormously in the last several years, but not a lot of it is easily accessible in style or content to the university student. This book by Philip McMichael was written to be used as a text for university teaching; it is uncommonly rich in illustration, comprehensive in its reach, and eminently readable.

The book is framed by the idea of the "development project" and its transformation into the "globalization project." Beginning in the post-World War II era, McMichael traces economic development within the nation-state and its emergence into the present supra-national economy. The multi-dimensional picture that he draws happily takes the text out of the traditional restrictions of the disciplines and makes an interdisciplinary approach an important strength of the book.

In the first chapter, McMichael outlines in general terms the "rise of the development project" in the period from the 1940s to the 1970s, which he described as the spread of capitalism in the form of national economic growth. Not only does national capitalism consolidate itself in the industrial nations, but also it encourages postwar decolonization, and thereby lays the foundation for global restructuring in this period.

This same subject is addressed more specifically in the second chapter, where the author examines the role of Marshall Aid, the Bretton Woods System, and GATT in the emergence of the "development project." His description of the "remaking of the international division of labor" is not dissimilar from what has been said elsewhere many times, but the strength of this chapter lies in the author's insightful and significant work on the growth of the "international food regime." The construction of global food interdependency, centered on US agriculture production and technology, reveals a side to postwar economic development that is often overlooked.

The next two chapters describe how the global system of production grew out of "national programs of economic development." If Chapter 3 outlines the broad shape of the disintegrating national and the emerging global system, Chapter 4 details the economic structure and mechanisms of a transnational political economy. The author's focus, however, is more or less restricted to the financial side of global subordination to transnational corporations. The rise of global banking, the so-called "debt regime," and the consequent "structural adjustment programs" are all effectively described as the underpinnings of the global system.

Chapters 5 and 6 define the rise and structure and effects of the "globalization project" respectively. This "project" is defined principally by the shift from public policy to corporate management, by the implementation of "global market rules" by the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, by the concentration of market and financial power in the transnational corporations and banks. The effects include the destruction of traditional ways of life, urbanization, structural unemployment and increased poverty, the "informalization" of the economy, and a growing crisis in political legitimacy everywhere.

The next chapter takes up the question of the "social responses to globalization" and it covers a range of topics from religious fundamentalism, to environmentalism, to the "new social movements," to feminism, to "cosmopolitan localism" as typified by the Chiapas movement.

This notion of "cosmopolitan localism" is carried over into the final chapter entitled, "Whither Development?" Here McMichael reviews the present state of global affairs and points to the new questioning of "the idea of the development project" in light of what it has meant to the world. Local participation and empowerment in local communities, the promise embodied in the Chiapas revolt, is the response that he sees as possessing "some answers" to the present dilemmas.

This good and comprehensive description of the roots and rise of the postwar global political economy is replete with detailed, well-documented, examples and it written with clarity and purpose. Although the ideas, arguments and breadth of the material outweigh the problems, the book is not without its shortcomings. Principal amongst these is the fact that the book remains on the level of description and does not attempt to give an explanation of the expansion of the national to the global economy and the social and political consequences. The reason the author appears unable to leave this level is most likely the choice of organizational categories, namely, the "development project" and the "global project." They are self-limiting concepts in that they are purely descriptive; they contain no explanatory mechanisms. As a consequence, the reader is left without a sense of unifying argument in the book and with no idea of what driving force lay behind the national consolidation and international expansion of "economic development." The limited focus on the transnational corporation simply does not suffice as explanation.

Had McMichael placed more emphasis on the mode of production and its changes from the prewar to the postwar era and in the 1970s, he would have been able to provide a rationale for the developments that he so well describes. But discussion of advanced Fordism and then the computer technology that created the foundation for these changes is very much undeveloped. As a university text, however, the value of the book overshadows this shortcoming with its rich illustrative material and comprehensive survey of a complex and dramatic period of changes that we are still experiencing.

Gary Teeple

Simon Fraser University
COPYRIGHT 1998 Canadian Committee on Labour History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Labour/Le Travail
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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