Narratives of Globalization Examined in International Business Law Lecture
The 2023 Brooklyn Lecture on International Business Law centered on the influential book Six Faces of Globalization: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why It Matters (Harvard University Press, 2021), which explores six competing narratives of globalization and the political and economic effects of each.
The well-attended lecture, held March 27 at the Subotnick Center, featured Nicolas Lamp, Associate Professor of Law, Queen’s University, Ontario, who co-authored Six Faces with Anthea Roberts, Professor and Director, Centre for International Governance and Justice at Australian National University. Professor Lamp was joined by a panel of scholars who offered their perspectives on the book based on their expertise in global affairs, critical race theory, employment law, international economic law, and tax law, among other areas. The lecture was sponsored by the Dennis J. Block Center for the Study of International Business Law and the Brooklyn Journal of International Law. Irene Ten Cate, Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at Brooklyn Law School and Associate Director of the Block Center, moderated the discussion.
Following welcoming remarks from Vice Dean Miriam Baer and Professor Ten Cate, Lamp started with a description of the 2015-2016 events that initially prompted this exploration of globalization narratives. These events include Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency and the Brexit referendum, which, Lamp said, provoked dismissive reactions within the discipline of law. Lamp said he and Roberts “set out to provide a map to this state and a framework for understanding the current debates around globalization that would facilitate more productive engagement.”
That framework is built around six narratives:
- The Establishment narrative embraces the view that international trade is a win-win scenario that benefits everyone, as it purports to increase economic independence, fosters an interdependence that promotes peace, and raises global standards of living.
- The Right-wing Populist narrative calls for a roll-back of globalization, telling the story, Lamp said, “not of global prosperity but a game where workers, especially U.S. workers, have been cheated out of jobs and their communities have been devastated” by companies moving offshore to achieve lower production costs.
- The Left-wing Populist narrative, which arose out of the world financial crisis and domestic movements such as Occupy Wall Street, posits that globalization’s productivity gains “are held by the 1 percent of the population and are not filtered down to wages of the middle and working classes”—a win-lose scenario.
- The Corporate Power narrative focuses on international agreements that protect corporate investments by allowing corporations to sue governments, to extend protections of their intellectual property, to interfere with regulatory processes, and to play governments of different countries off one another by sending the message that if a country does not offer wage cuts or other benefits, “we can just move to another country.”
- The Geo-Economic narrative identifies a power rivalry between countries that have a strongly interdependent trade relationship but that, as in the position of the United States and China, are not in a secure position of trust with one another, calling, said Lamp, for an uncoupling.
- The Global Threats narrative is concerned with globalization’s risks, such as environmental damage or the dependency of one country on another for products, as exemplified by the supply-chain crisis experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this view, Lamp said, “what globalization has essentially done is to take an unsustainable model of production and consumption from the West and diffuse it globally.”
Drawing on the work of psychologist and researcher Philip Tetlock, who espoused the advantages of viewing problems from a 360-degree perspective, Lamp said the book’s message is that we can only begin to understand the complex problems posed by globalization “by trying to see it not in a preconceived way but from as many different angles as possible.” He stated that the framework provides a normative perspective that can then be the basis for critiques.
The floor was then turned over for commentary to the panel of Steven Dean, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Block Center, Brooklyn Law School; Diane Desierto, Professor of Law and Global Affairs and Faculty Director, LL.M. in International Human Rights Law, Notre Dame Law School, and Professor of Law and Global Affairs, Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame; Robert Howse, Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law, NYU School of Law; Rebecca Kysar, Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law; and Shirley Lin, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School.
Dean, an expert in tax law, launched the panel discussion with the idea that the stories told by supporters of the various narratives are more complicated than they appear and may not always be based in truth, especially as they relate to race. He stressed the importance of looking for the story underneath the narratives. “We have to be willing to challenge these stories,” Dean said.
Rebecca Kysar, a former Brooklyn Law professor who served in the Biden administration’s Treasury Department, spoke of how the narratives operate in practice. She discussed how the narratives not only had explanatory power but could also be employed strategically during international negotiations and to obtain buy-in from local populations. She stressed the importance of being able to pivot between and even blend narratives.
Shirley Lin spoke of the importance of thinking about and discussing Lamp’s work “not as about six stakeholders but as ways of looking at power and the ways in which power prevents redistribution.” She emphasized the need for dignified working conditions and called for more conversation about globalization's impact on vulnerable populations.
Robert Howse called on scholars and policymakers to consider the truths within each narrative and think about “a synthesis that somehow preserves what is valid in each while discarding what is defective or false.” The goal, he said, is to arrive at more adequate truths or at better public policies. He also stressed the need for policymakers to go beyond specific narratives to fulfill “a responsibility to the agenda that has put them in power.”
Diane Desierto critiqued the book for omitting the narrative of human rights. She stressed the need to include the lens of the Global South within the complex narratives about globalization as a meaningful alternative to the Global North’s “implicit narrative of wealth creation and global progress.”
Lamp responded to the panelists’ contributions by clarifying that the book was not intended to prescribe a method for policy creation, but rather to provide a tool for gaining a richer understanding of globalization. He concluded by saying that the framework presented in the book “allows us to gain an appreciation of globalization’s problems in greater complexity. That’s the goal we set out to achieve.”