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Sunday, June 20, 2004The debate between democrats and globalizers is often too stylized. "The constraints on democracy, in reality, stem from the political structures of states themselves," Mehta, the author of this paper says, while "As part of a rhetorical battle, globalization gets saddled with causing ills it is not patently responsible for." Yet despite the sometimes dubious arguments made against globalization, he argues, the recent elections in India remind us that voters who protest globalization at the polls are "asking legitimate questions about the distribution of risks this process entails. Why should particular classes of labor be made more vulnerable by globalization than holders of capital? Why should the low-yield, but risk-averse farming strategies of an Indian farmer with a small plot of land give way to large-scale commercial farming that takes the land away from him?" These compelling questions deserve the attention of people at all levels of society, he says, and their democratic resolution could benefit a citizenry's economic and political life.Proponents of democracy and supporters of globalization are mutually suspicious of each other. Globalization is often opposed in the name of democracy, and democracy is often bypassed for fear that it may slow down globalization. Globalizers often argue that integration into the world economy will inevitably bring democratization in its wake. Is it an accident that only a third of regimes are now classified as authoritarian compared to two-thirds a decade ago.Like most debates, this confrontation of globalization and democracy is too stylized. The constraints on national policymaking that we attribute to globalization are not as strong as we often believe. A robust measure of self government is still possible. The constraints on democracy, in reality, stem from the political structures of states themselves. As part of a rhetorical battle, globalization gets saddled with causing ills it is not patently responsible for. In India, for instance, globalization is often blamed for everything from starvation deaths of farmers to scarce power and water. But what is it about globalization that prevents a government sitting on stockpiles of food from distributing it to its citizens? And if more is not invested in health care or water supply is it because of the constraints of globalization, or is it because states are captured by vested interests that divert resources to their own good? If anything, states stymie democracy more than globalization. And often those who oppose globalization in the name of democracy themselves have contempt for representative institutions; they ground their authority in that nebulous entity called civil society, rather than formal mechanisms of political authorization.
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