Globollocks, again

by Daniel on December 31, 2003

One more in our occasional ill-tempered and extremely unfair series keeping track of breathless and/or mendacious “Globalisation” commentary from neoliberal commentators. This time, we take a look at an interview in Reason magazine with Johan Norberg, a Scandinavian who “used to be part of the left but then saw the light and is now back with a book explaining it all” (where have we heard that before). I realise that some will call “no fair” on using a Reason interview, because it’s a bit of a libertarian house mag, but Norberg is unlikely to confine himself to the specialist media going forward, and I thought I’d get my retaliation in first. Besides, as a piece of Globollocks, this one is off the scale.

Scoring

(for detail on scoring, see here

HEALTH WARNING: The “Globollocks” scale is meant to rate pieces of journalism, not whole ouvres and certainly not people. This is an important qualification as Globollocks pieces are usually produced by people who actually understand the issues quite well and often by people who have written other works on the subject which are not Globollocks. It is particularly important to observe the distinction in this case, as this is an interview with Reason magazine, and it is thus wholly unfair to pin the whole Globollocks score on Norberg; a lot of the Globollocks in this interview appears to me to be responses to leading questions. But anyway, on with the show ….

Misleading characterisation of economies as “Globalisers”

Two points straight out of the box for saying that “Take just about any statistic, any indicator of living standards in the world, and you can see the progress that has been made over the exact period that worries globalization critics. In the last 30 years we’ve seen chronic hunger and the extent of child labor being halved. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen life expectancy going up to 64 years in developing countries […]”. This is exactly the sort of thing that my category “Reproduces ‘falling inequality’ results from Sala-i-Martin or similar without emphasising dependence on China and India” was meant to pick up.

I’ve worried about whether “Mentions Korea or Malaysia without qualification” was really such an awful sin as to merit 3 points, but as you’ll see below, there are enough unpunished offences in this piece that I’m happy to let it stand. After all, they got Al Capone for tax evasion, and his discussion of the Vietnamese doi moi program is misleading enough to justify this score on its own ….

We also have a case of “Identifies (Botswana) Hong Kong, Singapore as a development model”. Some commenters in the original Globollocks thread disagreed with me over specific questions of the economic history of Singapore, but I remain of the opinion that 1) you can’t argue from small dense populations to large diffuse populations and 2) the investment capital put into Singapore by the British was material to its development and it is not realistic for any other economy to expect this level of foreign investment. So two points here.

7 points

Equivocation between capital and goods market openness

I see here that the Globollocks scorecard unfairly discriminates against articles which engage with the technical issues. Norberg appears to be full of it on this one, but doesn’t make any really specific claims.

“General failure to distinguish between capital and goods openness” only gets you one Globollocks point, but “particularly egregious examples” has a tariff of up to 3 points, and I think the full 3 are appropriate here. Norberg has written a book about free trade and called it “In Defence of Global Capitalism”. The equivocation is right there in the title, and is ruthlessly exploited throughout the interview. Maybe this is the fault of the Reason interviewer (my past experience in this matters is the Ronald Coase/lighthouses affair, which certainly involved someone making claims in a Reason interview that he didn’t care to defend elsewhere), but I didn’t give Doug Henwood the benefit of the doubt, so I’m damned if Norberg’s gonna get it.

3 points

Conflation of WTO agenda with “openness”

I’m gonna give 1 point here for the sliding scale of “In general, argues back and forth between general statements about trade and specific statements about currently live negotiations” for the discussion of genetically modified food. This is probably a bit harsh, as Norberg does actually argue lower down for unilateral free trade.

1 point

World Bank and IMF apologia

None.

Europhobia and miscellaneous

I didn’t think I’d ever catch anyone with “Specifically in the case of Vietnam, says or implies that children working in Nike factories would not alternatively have been going to school”, but five points it is. Norberg apparently carried out some interview in Vietnam, but he’s equivocating madly between the adult workers in the Nike plants (young women whose alternative employment is probably agriculture) and the school-age workers (who would otherwise be in a government-run school).

There are also a few passages on “economic liberalism” which look like they “talk about privatisation of domestic industries as if it was relevant to ‘globalisation’”, but since the context is global capitalism rather than globalisation per se, I’m gonna let it ride.

5 points

Cliche points

One single paragraph just racks up the points here like a stuck pinball. Within a few sentences, Norberg “Says or implies that there is no anti-globalisation movement in developing countries” (2 points), “Says or implies that developed world antiglobalisation movement is opposed to trade (1 point) and “wants poor countries to stay poor” (1 point)” I’m also going to make an ad hoc award of two cliche points for what JohN Quiggin has correctly identifed as a “Sunday School conversion story“.

Final score

This piece manages to rack up a staggering 16 Globollocks points and 6 cliche points! I draw readers’ attention to the disclaimer at the top of the piece, however.

{ 24 comments }

1

ASG 12.31.03 at 1:29 pm

Confused — child labor is legal in Vietnam? Why? Is it one of those laws that’s on the books but never enforced? If not, wouldn’t the solution to kids working in Nike plants instead of going to school be: ban child labor and impose compulsory education?

2

dsquared 12.31.03 at 1:42 pm

Education in Vietnam is compulsory (an ambiguous benefit, of course, given all the connotations of “education” in a totalitarian state). It is not practical to have a blanket ban on child labour in what is still an agricultural economy, however, so it is extraordinarily difficult to enforce the laws as they stand.

In fairness to Nike, they do now (post-1998) have a quite strong policy against child labour, so it’s not really fair to pick on them. But Norberg’s comments would make no sense if one pretended that their scope was restricted to the single company Nike, and lots of the other “globalising” companies which have sweatshops in Vietnam have much worse child labour policies (mainly because they produce much lower value-added goods than Nike shoes, which in turn is because there are very few goods which are quite as value-added as Nike shoes).

3

Morgan 12.31.03 at 1:55 pm

So are you in favor of the Bush Administration’s protectionist anti-globalization policies?

4

david 12.31.03 at 2:15 pm

“wants poor countries to stay poor” (1 point)”

I keep saying, that’s got to be more than one point. And if it’s tied to “look themselves in the mirror and see someone who wants to” (Brad DeLong’s favorite insufferabilism) more points still.

5

asg 12.31.03 at 4:50 pm

In the U.S., child labor laws have some well-defined exceptions (e.g. kids younger than 16 — I forget what the absolute minimum is — can work in family-owned businesses or farms). So while I can certainly understand why a blanket ban on child labor is not practical in Vietnam, what is the political barrier to a non-blanket ban?

6

dsquared 12.31.03 at 5:01 pm

The political barrier is that the Communist Party is very touchy about scaring off the small amount of foreign investment they’ve got.

7

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.31.03 at 7:41 pm

“Reproduces ‘falling inequality’ results from Sala-i-Martin or similar without emphasising dependence on China and India” was meant to pick up.”

I’ll admit that my intuitions are often wrong about these things, but why would a reliance on China and India be bad? Are they not two of the largest countries? Are you complaining that the largest populations are ‘unrepresentative’? I don’t get it.

8

Jason McCullough 12.31.03 at 7:57 pm

So I was thinking about this again the other day; are there *any* examples of countries that turned industrial *without* sheltering domestic export industries? I can’t think of any.

9

Barry 12.31.03 at 8:14 pm

Great Britain? :)

10

Matt Weiner 12.31.03 at 8:39 pm

why would a reliance on China and India be bad?

I am a child in these matters, but I was under the impression that d-squared’s point is that China and India did not attain their growth (over the measured time-period) via “free and open markets and the liberal political, economic, and social institutions that support them” (directly relevant quote from Norberg, and I assume he would include unfettered free trade in there). So they’re unrepresentative in the sense that they exemplify the phenomenon that they’re adduced to support. If I’m wrong on this, do let me know.

11

Matt Weiner 12.31.03 at 10:10 pm

Perhaps OT, but I think I caught a good one:
Take the discussion that’s going on now in Saudi Arabia about whether women should be allowed to drive, which they can’t legally do now. While it’s unlikely the situation there will change anytime soon, it’s progress just to have the discussion. People are saying it’s extremely costly to hire drivers, often from other countries, to drive women around. You can see how basic economics, basic capitalism, creates the incentive to give women more rights.
Shouldn’t globalization reduce the cost of hiring drivers, and thus the incentive to give women’s rights? In fact, isn’t that why so many of the drivers are foreign? How on earth can Norberg possibly think this supports his point?

12

Michael Pollak 12.31.03 at 11:52 pm

At first this struck me as a mystery. I went back and looked at your list of globollocks fallacies and was surprised at just how sharp a list it is — surprised because the occassional pieces derived from it are not only “ill-tempered and extremely unfair” as you rightly put it, but, IMHO, bloated and unenlightening as well. And yet everything else you write is concise and brilliant. So somehow the list seems to be twisting you. But how, if it’s inherently such a good list?

And then the obvious dawned on me: this is purely a list of minuses. A real evaluation, of anything, weighs minuses against pluses. Real pluses, precisely because they are original, can’t be scaled. But your scale erases even the stock pluses. It erases all pluses. It renders whatever you examine by definition virtueless. If someone wrote the wittiest and most incisive contribution to the debate ever, it would show up in your scale as a zero.

So it’s not at all surprising that’s the results are consistently unfair. It’s a completely rigged court. Anyone — and I mean anyone, including you — who is dragged before it will be rated. The only question is how much.

And yet, there’s no denying the original list is great. It shouldn’t be just tossed out. So I have a suggestion. I think you should repackage it. You should change it from a scale to a checklist. And you should get rid of the numbers. Instead, you should link a short paragraph to each fallacy, explaining concisely, in your inimitably wry way, just why it’s false.

Because every day I run into people who say “I just read this article that says globalization is the greatest thing since effective contraception. I feel he’s pulling several sleights of hand that I’m just not detecting. But I just can’t find them. Is there something I could read that would allow to just right see through things like this?

I would love to be able to say: Yes. Just search out Daniel Davies’ _The New Quintillian: A Checklist of the Most Common Logical Fallacies of Globalization and Why They’re Wrong_.

Just a suggestion of course.

Keep up the great work,

Michael

13

Jeremy Osner 01.01.04 at 3:55 am

I will second Mr. Pollak’s suggestion.

14

clew 01.01.04 at 6:12 am

I don’t see how calling it a checklist, on which some things are more important than others, makes it differently useful than adding up points. If I were buying a used car, I’d have a checklist, but “Brakes don’t work” would count for more than “Funny smell.” Indeed, d^2 is being kind in reading all the way to the end even when he hits fallacies of the worse type.

Well, not kind, but fair.

15

Zizka 01.01.04 at 6:14 pm

I’d like to second Jason M’s observation. What I know about the rise of the “Tigers of East Asia” seems to entirely refute the idea that other countries can match their success by following the World Bank — WTO — IMF rules.

Has anyone here read Palast’s work on the WTO, etc.? He has very strong opinions but seems to be very sharp. He recently co-authored an academic-looking book on the economics of government regulation.

16

dsquared 01.02.04 at 7:04 am

hmmm yeh, that would be more useful for other people than just pointing the finger and going “yah, boo, Globollocks”, but tragically it wouldn’t be as much fun for me so I don’t think it’s going to happen.

17

David 01.02.04 at 9:26 am

That would seem to the last word, unfortunately, but could someone recommend some good stuff that’s critical of globalization and/or for protectionism, written in terms relatively comprehensible to a simpleton such as myself, by someone who is not vulnerable to “he’s not a real economist/I did some back-of-the envelope calculations/this is Econ 101” (or “his complaints aren’t intellectual…but are complaints about implementation” [Delong on Stiglitz]) -type attacks?

18

Michael Pollak 01.02.04 at 9:49 am

True enough. But it’d be a lot less work than writing a book. And it might make you just as famous.

But yeah, you’re right, it’s easy for me to say that.

Still, it needn’t be that much work to start. You could post it pretty much as is without any explanatory links for beginners, just with a new introductory paragragh, and it’d still be an addition for the numerous intermediates in the world who have yet to make your acquaintance.

And if you were ever moved to make the explanatory links, I suspect most of them could be cannabalized from the lengthy articles you’ve already written.

Not to mention how much time you’d save not writing the next one :o)

Anyhow, if you’re ever game to do your half, I’d be glad to take over publicizing it.

19

Matt Weiner 01.02.04 at 2:20 pm

Perhaps it is possible to include a bit more explanation of the scoring system without reducing the “yah, boo” level hardly at all. Comments like “Botswana’s development model (discover diamonds) is hard to reproduce” did the trick fine. I’m just saying–obv. I don’t have to do the work, either.

20

dsquared 01.02.04 at 3:39 pm

Globollocks Watch certainly needs a thorough overhaul; Michael is absolutely right that the actual list is quite fun, but the pieces derived from it are lumbering and terrible (they’re not all that much fun to write either). But on the other hand I’m still in love with the idea of a numeric points scale, because it allows me to pretend that I’m the Grand High Duke of Splat, awarding marks out of ten to people who are far more prominent and better paid than myself. I’m gonna think about this a bit …

21

Jason McCullough 01.02.04 at 7:37 pm

Maybe rather than space invaders scoring you should blow up quoted one-liners into full-bore attacks on the theoretical foundations. I’m not sure if it’s the most convincing stuff you produce, but it’s amusing.

22

Roger Karraker 01.04.04 at 6:31 am

As to Michael Pollak’s and Jeremy Osner’s suggestion, I would suggest a visual component. I’ve had good response from my college writing students to my annotating texts in color with a color-coded legend along the side.

I’ve used this technique to highlight logical fallacies, or to demonstrate techniques in narration.

With a lot of the crap that’s out there these days color-coding of the text can oftentimes demonstrate how little of worth remains.

23

Michael Pollak 01.05.04 at 8:21 am

But Norberg, Kamm & Henwood aren’t famous.

You probably make more money than they do too.

24

dsquared 01.05.04 at 6:02 pm

I know, I know (Kamm actually earns a lot more than me but there you go …). But Friedman and DeLong, the actual source of the problems have been unaccountably quiet in supply the raw material, thus leaving me with no option but to launch ill-considered attacks against a hastily assembled “Axis” on the basis of no very good reason.

Comments on this entry are closed.