Tag Archives: Ulrich Beck


In the age of globalization, there are two distinct ways of giving voice to, and putting a push behind, your political views. One is through the time-honoured rules of national politics – elections, polls, and petitions to government. Many of us have become disillusioned with that way of doing politics, at least in part because corporations don’t play by those rules unless it suits their convenience.
Thanks to a plethora of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, and to the ease of communication in the 21st Century, corporations, or anyone that wields serious financial power, can circumvent the old rules, by moving their activities or their money to countries more favourably inclined toward them. However, as I’ve argued in previous posts, the rest of us can play the same game.
We’ve watched as the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) failed in the face of massive demonstrations. In Europe, after storms of angry public reaction, Shell Oil backed away from plans to sink an oil storage facility into the sea and Monsanto re-thought its venture into genetically modified seeds. Noreena Hertz (cited at the end of an earlier entry) sees this kind of consumer power as a major weapon for ordinary people in countering the excesses of globally mobile corporate and financial power. I have my doubts.

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What’s the impact of globalization on politics? Many commentators pronounce on this complex and multi-faceted topic with great confidence, but an overview of the literature suggests that we are still struggling to understand it. An obvious characteristic of globalization is that money, goods and manufacturing have become far more mobile than they once were, with the result that corporations are freer than ever to move, and finance to invest, wherever they choose.
Therefore, national governments are less able to control the activities of mobile businesses than in the past, while corporations and finance are in a better position to dictate to national governments. They do this by relocating their activities to – and buying the currencies of – states whose policies they approve and abandoning, or threatening to abandon, the rest.
So what are the political implications of this fundamental shift in the balance of power between international business and governments? Susan Strange argues that the state is in retreat. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri invoke a very different conceptual framework to conclude, somewhat similarly, that sovereignty is migrating away from the state. Noreena Hertz and George Monbiot warn of the commanding power of corporations over the state, but Paul Doremus and his colleagues emphasize the continuing importance of the state and political culture. (See citations below.)

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