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<nettime> Just Linkage
Doug Henwood on Fri, 14 Nov 2008 23:55:36 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Just Linkage

Michael Pollak reviews Just Linkage. Everyone should check it out. The  


Just linkage: The power of positive sanctions

International Trade and Labor Standards: A Proposal for Linkage
Christian Barry and Sanjay G. Reddy
(Columbia University Press, New York: 2008)

by Michael Pollak

This is an important book. It could change how people think. It could  
even affect the world?and even if it does neither, it?s kind of a  
dazzling argument just by itself. But because it is dense and  
maieutic, I?m afraid that very few people will read it if they aren?t  
persuaded beforehand that it will be worth their effort. So my goal in  
this review will be to summarize the authors? argument in bold strokes  
in order to make people curious enough to read it in its full form.

The problem linkage is supposed to solve

Many books have been written on the question of whether globalization  
is good or bad. This book starts with this question of moral  
evaluation but takes it in a new direction. Having read seemingly  
every polemic on the subject, the authors claim they have distilled  
out the common evaluative principle shared by all sides. This they  
call Proposition O (as in the Objective): international economic  
system A is morally better than system B if it better improves the lot  
of the least advantaged (and worse if it makes them worse off).

Globalization has been created in large part by a cumulative  
succession of international agreements. As soon as we initial one, we  
start the round of negotiations on its successor. It has become an  
article of faith among globalization?s supporters that such continual  
revision is a necessity. As they put it, economic liberalization is a  
bicycle that has to keep moving or it will fall over. So the moral  
question then becomes, What would be the best way to reform our  
agreements to best advantage the least advantaged? This then brings us  
to the argument about linkage.

Linkage is the idea that the best way to reach Objective O would be to  
make raising labor standards, i.e., wages and working conditions, a  
condition of membership in the system of international economic  
cooperation. The beauty of the idea is how direct it is. If you want  
to make the poor less poor and exploited, then raise their wages and  
improve their working conditions. And if globalization is such a  
powerful force?perhaps the only other thing its critics and supporters  
both agree on?then yoking that power to raising those standards sounds  
like a pretty great idea.

There?s only one big obstacle: at the moment, almost everyone who has  
given it some thought believes linkage is a terrible idea. It is one  
of the rare areas of agreement between orthodox economists and  
critical left activists. The general consensus is that linkage as it  
is normally conceived would punish the people it is supposed to help  
and give new leverage to the powerful to frustrate and abuse them.

This is what makes this small and unassuming book feel like such a  
Copernican revolution. It sets out to prove we?re all wrong....

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