Globalization's perilous imbalance: constraints for Canada's governments, opportunities for Canadian citizens.

Author:Clarkson, Stephen

It has been fifteen years since the birth of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which marked the apogee of United States-driven, neoconservative economic globalization; nine years since Osama bin Laden's attacks on New York and Washington, which laid a terrorism-obsessed, border-raising paradigm on top of the previous market-liberalizing, border-lowering paradigm; and two years since the collapse of the American financial system, which heralded China's entry onto the world's stage as its next political and economic giant.

It may therefore appear disconnected from present reality to focus the Viscount Bennett Lecture on such a cliched subject as globalization's constitutional challenges. But for a Faculty of Law that considers Canada's position in the world through the lens of legal theory, globalization still presents a legion of conceptual and normative puzzles that cry out for a comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis that is capable of guiding the policies of Canada's governments and channelling the energies of Canadian citizens toward the effective but urgent action needed to correct the perilous imbalances that threaten the sustainability of human society on our planet. I will defend this broad claim first by explaining my approach to the phenomena known as globalization; second, laying out the framework that defines the still dominant, exclusively domestic conceptualization of constitutionalism in the legal academy; and third, elaborating on the evidence that the world's constitution has produced dangerous asymmetries that are being operationalized by states and market players. Finally, I will make a properly Canadian--that is, muted--call for both governments and citizens to work toward a new paradigm so that our governments and citizens can contribute constructively and deliberately to saving our still-resourceful planet.


    * Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing end of the Cold War, we have required a new label--globalization--to make sense of everything happening beyond national control. Most of the many aspects of what we have called globalization are obvious as soon as they are stated: political globalization, the rise of transnational political regimes in which corporations, civil society organizations and governments establish new norms for global trade, environment and human rights.

    * Economic globalization: lightning-fast flows of currencies, a spectacular increase in transnational investment and a dramatic expansion of world trade in goods and services.

    * Societal globalization: massive movements of peoples, transnational networks of activists and a transformative proliferation of personal interaction in cyberspace.

    * Technological globalization: the instantaneous worldwide communications networks now provided by information technology, employed particularly in the industrialized world.

    * Medical globalization: societies' increasing vulnerability to epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS or influenza, the devastation of which respects no borders.

    * Cultural globalization: the increasing global domination of American (and to a lesser extent European) entertainment industries and cultural products.

    * Ecological globalization: the emergence and rapid intensification of environmental trends, from ozone depletion to climate change to biodiversity loss.

    * Criminal globalization: spreading networks of sex trade, narcotics trafficking and terrorism, as well as the rise of white-collar corporate crime employing sophisticated tools and having transnational effects.

    * Military globalization: the rise of "humanitarian intervention;" the War on Terror; the Iraq invasion and resulting civil strife; a burgeoning global arms trade and the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Haiti and other states torn apart by conflict, crime or corruption.

    * The globalization of consciousness: a growing collective consciousness of humanity, the planet earth and its ecosystems as a single community with a shared fate.

    * Ideological globalization: militant Islam, Christian fundamentalism and other radical doctrines that proselytize across all borders.

    Irreducibly heterogeneous, inherently dynamic, and fundamentally contested in all its meanings, globalization's analysis must be sensitive to the conflicts generated by efforts to facilitate, reverse or even merely to understand its various manifestations. The purpose of this text is to propose a legal-economic-political framework with which to make sense of the phenomenon's chief characteristics in order to point the way forward to resolving its most dangerous contradictions.

    During those first, optimistic years--after the collapse of the Soviet bloc but before ethnic cleansing and global terrorism painted "globalization" with a darker face--the label was a corollary for American triumphalism, which was celebrated ideationally as the victory of liberal capitalism and even the "end of history." In the grimmer, post post-Cold War first years of the 21st century, when the United States lost its moral leadership, military invincibility and economic hegemony, it has been easy to focus on the bleaker and more immediate realities of terrorism and dismiss neoconservative globalization as a historical phase now transcended. We should not be in such a hurry to wipe out the recent past.

    At its launch in 1995, the WTO was eulogized as an almost utopian, world-federalist forerunner of global governance. After all, it gave concrete expression to mankind's yearning for universal rights and the global rule of law. It was based on the principle of freedom. It approximated Karl Marx's dream about replacing the management of men with the administration of things, a minimal state machinery having been set up to steer the market's free hand as it lifted human welfare to ever dizzier heights.

    The catch lay not in the WTO's logic but in its asymmetry. The rights it proclaimed were only for transnational corporations (TNCs), not for citizens. The laws were certainly universal, but they promoted a deregulated marketplace, not coordinated global governance. The principle of freedom operationalized by its rules was to extend the global sway of already powerful TNCs, not to empower the wretched of the earth. The administration of things was an efficacious dispute-settlement process designed to resolve international conflicts between corporations and governments, not to ensure environmental survival or human justice.

    This most powerful, most novel, and, for many, most disturbing manifestation of globalization, which had been immediately celebrated and later vilified, is now half forgotten. I believe that the WTO needs to be rescued from its semi-obscurity and given its theoretical due, not just because its powers are substantial but because, internationally, they diminish the capacities of all other multilateral legal instruments and, domestically, they constrain the regulatory state, thereby exacerbating the perilous imbalance both within and between states that should become our era's normative concern.


    For centuries, the legal concept of constitution has been applied to those written documents or unwritten...

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