Pangalos takes on neoliberalism

Although the full implications of the terrorist assault of September 11 on the globalization process are still unclear, the process of world integration will certainly not emerge unscathed. Moreover, many in the Western world have pointed out a connection between the terrorist strikes and the workings of the world economy. Neoliberalism, its critics say, contains the seeds of its own destruction, for it breeds resentment among the under- developed and impoverished masses. This view can also be found in Theodoros Pangalos’s new book, «Globalization and the Left» (Livanis 2001). Debatable as they may be, the failings of what is commonly referred to as neoliberal globalization were readily evident before the September 11 attacks. In a world where old-style socialism has died of exhaustion and maladjustment and neoliberalism has clearly failed us, it is of special interest to read the opinion of a former socialist minister and now deputy of a socialist party which came to power in the early 1980s and has ruled, almost uninterruptedly, ever since, through the end of the Soviet system, the transformation of the former socialist states into market economies, and now the launch of a single European currency. In his book, Pangalos clearly embraces globalization as a positive development but he goes on to attack its neoliberal expression. Pangalos’s approach is quite simple and schematic as he goes on to strip globalization of its ideological mantle before describing his own vision of global integration. Globalization, for Pangalos, is a neutral process which has coincidentally (p.113) been permeated by neoliberal ideology. But «globalization per se is neither responsible for the current trend of overaccumulation of wealth nor for monetarist policies… Globalization cannot and should not be automatically and mechanically linked to the overall trend of commercialization… The sufferings which bedevil societies round the world should be attributed to neoliberalism and not generally and abstractly to globalization.» It is questionable, however, whether one can separate globalization from neoliberal ideology. The free-market economy is actually one of the main engines of globalization and not simply a system affected by the process. Ideas and ideologies are not simply a response to structural change but often the driving force behind it. Similarly, neoliberalism is embedded in and is one of the most powerful vehicles of globalization. For globalization is not a neutral phenomenon driven merely by technological progress – which is anyway a self-fulfilling process. Integration also requires economic freedom; raising trade barriers is as easy as removing them. In his critique of neoliberalism, Pangalos actually sets himself an easy task. His condemnation of free-market fundamentalism seems effortless and cost-free as the failings of neoliberalism are openly acknowledged and well known. Utilizing the oft-cited criticism regarding growing inequality, pollution, the disruption of communities and the disintegration of cultural norms, Pangalos finds little resistance to his sweeping demolition of the prevalent neoliberal paradigm. The issue of globalization, of course, cannot be comprehensively analyzed in a 130-page book. Rarely does the writer delve deeply into the issues raised to fully expose related aspects and the problems which bedevil neoliberal globalization – let alone to discuss potential counterarguments and counterproposals. Therefore, given the broad consensus on the inadequacy of neoliberal theory, the weight inevitably falls on his description of an alternative – a feasible and sustainable politico-economic proposal. This is of particular interest, given that the writer himself says, «We cannot possibly tackle the problems of the new era with the arsenal of ideas and the proposals of the previous decades.» However, although Pangalos himself admits that our political and ideological legacy has been overwhelmed by global developments, he does not point out a new path, his own version of a «third way.» Nor is much said about a political alternative, except that it aims to substitute man for the market as the center of a «political or cultural globalization.» But abstract talk about an «ecumenical policy of solidarity and culture» falls short of a systematic political theory. The cash value of his phrase is uncertain. Pangalos’s humanistic vision is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, utopian. This book is little more than a diagnosis of the evils stemming from neoliberal administration of the international system. The author offers no theory or guidelines about how to revive civic culture, how to utilize the dynamism of the markets with the public interest in mind. He does not show how we (or the PASOK socialist party) can sustain socialist values and apply them to a globalized world. In short, Pangalos fails to show how we can renew social democracy.