Prem Shankar Jhas new book recounts in detail the growing threats faced by nation states as they try to resist the all encompassing hold of the rejuvenated global capital fed by astounding growth of technological capabilities. The insightful analysis on how mankind has survived through at least four such painful epochs over the past few centuries and why the current changes brought about by globalisation significantly differ in magnitude in a lucid and clear way makes this an outstanding work that can even surpass all other such scholarly efforts. A disturbing element is the pessimistic view of the future and the forecasts of increasing disorder and violence. And there is also some confusion in attributing all current day turmoils to the forces of globalisation even when it is clear that many of them are the persistent offshoots of the problems that originated from the cold war and the deeply prejudiced interventions of the great powers that sought to play off the smaller nations against each other and rule the world.
But these perceived shortcomings are a matter of perception and the author is perfectly justified in arriving at his conclusions given the substantial facts laid out to buttress such arguments. To be fair, far excessive claims have been made by other proponents who predicted the doom of the national states and even the end of human history. Of special value is Jhas ability to understand the growing resistance of the developing countries to the forces of globalisation in the context of his four decades of experience in dealing with the problems of Indias development. Such scholarly work linking third world perceptions of the globalisation to the historical evolution of capitalism are of immense value for a more balanced view of the current changes.
To be sure, the intense competition unleashed by the information revolution has unfurled changes that outpace the social, political and multilateral institutions, as claimed in the book. But it has always been the case. In Indias own case, the last two decades have thrown up more empowered institutions and new mechanisms to allow a greater say in governance for even very small communities. And signals of a slow change also emanate from multilateral institutions, whether it is the IMF, UN or the lesser-known ones.
The Twilight of the Nation State
Prem Shankar Jha Vistaar Rs 480; Pp 400
And it is just not technological changes that have facilitated globalisation and the continued shift of the incomes to the resource rich and relatively well governed developing nations. The new evidence on how demographic changes also push through such tectonic shift of global power and its future trends have also to be weaved into any analysis that seeks to have a better understanding of the phenomenon. The argument that the social system has started losing capacity to generate self-equilibrating responses to new shocks is not very convincing. It might be more accurate to say that voices of such resistance to change have been amplified by the same technology charge that unceasingly facilitates instant reports of such developments from the most remote corners of the globe.
Asymmetry at the core of capitalism has always been a disturbing aspect. But growing social mobility has dissipated at least some of such fears as more avenues have opened up for the disadvantaged and the poor. Of course life still remains devoid of any real hope for the large number of poor. But vast numbers have also gained new hope.