Globalization and the Reproduction of Hierarchy and Unevenness

By Jason MacLeod on February 2, 2011 — 2 mins read

In David Held’s article, “Democracy: From City-States to a Cosmopolitan Order?”, he argues that globalization – the growth of complex economic interconnections among states and societies – has produced, and reproduces, both a hierarchy and unevenness in society.  Hierarchy, he explains, “denotes the structure of economic globalization: its domination by those constellations of economic power concentrated in the West and North” (330).  And, unevenness “refers to the asymmetrical effects of economic globalization upon the life-chances and well-being of peoples, classes, ethnic groupings, movements, and the sexes” (id).   Held argues, the hierarchy and unevenness of globalization produces and reproduces a globality were resources are accumulated by the global north to a larger and broader extent than the global south, and that, “the effective power that sovereignty bestows is, to a significant degree, connected to the economic resources at the disposal of a state or people.”(id).  Furthermore, he states, “[i]t is political and economic might that ultimately determines the effective deployment of rules and resources within and across borders in the Westphalian world.’ (331).

Globalization’s hierarchical process manifests in various ways, but one significant factor, connected to natural resources in particular, is the application and entrenchment of neoliberal economic discourses (a global north experiment).  Historically, this manifested in what Marx called “primitive accumulation”, whereby the aristocracy took land (particularly agrarian societies), enclosed it, expelled the population, and released it into the workings of capital accumulation.  The hierarchy created is the landowner (the capitalist) and the farm worker (the proletariat).  The worker is dependent on the owner to live, and the capitalist is dependent on the worker’s labor to exploit to create more capital.  Presently, this process is called “accumulation by dispossession”, whereby neoliberal policies (including structural adjustment program championed by IMF and World Bank) required (or forcefully recommend as seen in the ousting of Allende) the privatization of the commons (communications, healthcare, education, natural resources).  International corporations or business elite then bought up these commons.  This one factor of neoliberalism recreates the hierarchy of capitalist and exploited (the other three being financilization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions).  Privatization, in congruence with other hegemonic economic discourses, simultaneously creates and solidifies globalization’s hierarchy.

Unevenness manifests both nationally and internationally through development policies and determinations.  One example, ecological imperialism, provides a distinct lens to see this process.  Imagine a multinational mining company begins mining in Peru where the regulations are null and the labor is cheap.  Since the company doesn’t own the land, they are not concerned about its future.  They exploit the land and the labor and move on to another site.  The infrastructure they created – housing, healthcare, roads, etc, – is abandoned, while leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves.  This can be recreated through many natural resource projects (rainforest deforestation, mining, urbanization).  The unevenness is present, especially geographically.  A national example, often used by environmental justice advocates, is the presence of toxic producing manufacturing sites in low-income districts.  The presence of such plants would not lower the property values as much as if the plant was in high value district.  The political power of poorer districts is weaker than the richer districts.  In other words, resistance in poor nations/districts is to a lesser extent than richer nations/districts thereby providing an avenue of exploitation and victimization of a global capitalist economy not available in the rich countries (global north) or districts.