Globalization and politics in the modern West

Writing in City Journal, Christopher Caldwell describes the work of “real estate expert” Christophe Guilluy:

At the heart of Guilluy’s inquiry is globalization. Internationalizing the division of labor has brought significant economic efficiencies. But it has also brought inequalities unseen for a century, demographic upheaval, and cultural disruption. Now we face the question of what—if anything—we should do about it.

A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well.

Guilluy doubts that anyplace exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.

Yet economic opportunities for those unable to prosper in Paris are lacking elsewhere in France. Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system.

The whole thing seems to be a pretty insightful look at the political economy of Western countries in the 21st century.

Hat tip: Ross Douthat

Evangelicals in Paris’ suburbs

Mira Kamdar writes about her experience of living just outside of Paris in a banlieue (suburb, often with the connotation of poverty and non-white residents). There was an unexpected paragraph in the middle:

I’ve learned a lot during my long commutes on the metro. One thing is not to underestimate the cosmopolitanism of my fellow travelers. I found myself sitting once next to a young French-African woman. I was stunned when her phone rang and she answered in serviceable Hindi. When she finished, I couldn’t help asking her how it was that she spoke the language. Oh, she explained, she belonged to an evangelical church and had learned Hindi, in Paris, to spread the good word among Indian immigrants. I knew evangelical Protestantism was flourishing in immigrant communities in France, but this cross-cultural example floored me.

Hat tip: Philip Jenkins, who excerpted this quote at his blog on Patheos

Also, I linked to a much darker picture of contemporary Paris about two years ago here.

American exports

In The American Interest, Tyler Cowen writes that American exports have a bright future for three reasons: better manufacturing technology, including artificial intelligence, that makes cheap labor less necessary; shale oil and natural gas reserves ripe for the fracking; and the growing wealth of the developing world that will enable consumers there to buy our more expensive products.

Cowen also predicts a number of effects that this will have on American society and politics, which are far out of the realm of my competence to evaluate. His optimism about exports seemed pretty well-founded, though.

Peter Berger on Globalization and Religion

I listened to Speaking of Faith program (transcript and audio here) from 2006 today that talked about how globalization has impacted religion.  You might be familiar with the rather Eurocentric thesis that said that secularism would accompany modernization, just as it had in Europe.  In fact, sociologist Peter Berger held this view as well, before realizing that it just hasn’t played out that way.

Rather, he said, modernity has brought pluralism and increased contact with multiple points of view.  People don’t live in areas where everyone shares a common belief system, where religion is taken for granted.

Now, this taken-for-granted status is lost with the coming of pluralism because you realize there are other possibilities of belief and of life. And therefore people are forced to make choices, and that is a very big change.

I’ve described modernity as a gigantic transformation from destiny to choice. People must choose what they believe, how they define themselves, how they are to live, which is quite a burden. I mean, it can be a liberation, but it’s also a burden. And then you have to ask, what are the ways in which people can cope with this loss of taken-for-granted status?

There are three options, as he sees it:

One is to try to restore taken-for-grantedness in the entire society, the totalitarian system. Now, the other little more plausible project is to forget about the larger society and to create a taken-for-granted subculture. So, if you like, it’s the sectarian option. You create little groups, tightly controlled, and within those groups, whatever the religious tradition is, it again becomes taken for granted. There are lots of examples of this. It’s also difficult because of the turbulent pluralism outside. So you have to keep very tight controls over your members. The third possibility is to engage with the pluralism and to enter into dialogue with the alternatives that exist to your own traditional belief system. That is difficult also. There are no risk-free options in any of this. But it’s possible, and many people go that way.

This helps to conceptualize the different responses we see around the world to modernization and globalization, I think.