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The United States in the World: Making Sense of the Past Forty Years (1981-2023)-Part 2

The United States in the World:  Making Sense of the Past Forty Years (1981-2023)-Part 2 — Kim Scipes   NOTE TO READER:  This is the second part of a five-part article.  It follows the section on “Imperialism,” and is part of explaining essential concepts of this study plus elaborating on how they interact: GLOBALIZATION[1]  …

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Kim Scipes


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The United States in the World:  Making Sense of the Past Forty Years (1981-2023)-Part 2

— Kim Scipes


NOTE TO READER:  This is the second part of a five-part article.  It follows the section on “Imperialism,” and is part of explaining essential concepts of this study plus elaborating on how they interact:







Globalization is an on-going process. Using the term means taking a planetary scope, no longer restricting one’s analysis to the level of the nation-state. This does not mean that the nation-state is obsolete, irrelevant, etc., but that we cannot confine our political analysis to just the nation-state level. Jan Nederveen Pieterse expands:

Among analysts and policy makers, North and South, there is an emerging consensus on several features of globalization: globalization is being shaped by technological changes, involves the reconfiguration of states, goes together with regionalization [e.g., European Union, Latinamericanization-KS], and is uneven (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015, Globalization and Culture:  Global Mélange, 3rd Ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.: 8).[2] 


He further writes that while people oftentimes refer to time-space compression, “It means that globalization involves more intensive interaction across wider space and in shorter time than before” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8).

There are issues, however, concerning globalization where there are still considerable controversies. Following Nederveen Pieterse, this author argues that in addition to the above, globalization is multidimensional (i.e., cannot be confined to just one aspect, such as economics, but includes things like politics and culture) and should be seen as a long-term phenomenon that began thousands of years ago in the “beginnings in the first migrations of peoples and long-distance trade connections and subsequently accelerates under particular conditions (the spread of technologies, religions, literacy, empires, capitalism” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 70-71).[3]  In other words, globalization predates capitalism and modernity, which means it predates the “West.” And, of course, that it did not begin in the 1970s.

While globalization is a much broader, deeper, and longer set of processes than is usually recognized, these processes began accelerating in the early 1970s.

If globalization during the second half of the twentieth century coincided with the ‘American Century’ and the period 1980-2000 coincided with the dominance of Anglo-American capitalism and American hegemony, twenty-first-century globalization shows markedly different dynamics. American hegemony has weakened, the US economy is import dependent, deeply indebted, and mired in financial crises.

The new trends of twenty-first century globalization are the centers of the world economy shifting to the global South, to the newly industrialized countries, and to the energy exporters (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 24).[4]


He further points out these changes are taking place in economic and financial spheres, in international institutions, and in changing patterns of migration. He summarizes, “The unquestioned cultural hegemony of the West is past” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 24-25).

While this author agrees with Nederveen Pieterse’s thinking about globalization—including that it is multidimensional and that it predates modernity—I want to add another point about globalization: it is multilayered (Scipes, 2012a, “Globalization from Below:  Labor Activists Challenging the AFL-CIO Foreign Policy Program.” Critical Sociology, Vol. 38, No. 2: 303-323.  On-line at­_the­­_AFL-CIO_Foreign_Policy_Program; Vandana Shiva, 2005, Earth Democracy:  Justice, Sustainability and Peace.  Boston:  South End Press; Amory Starr, 2005, Global Revolt: A Guide to the Movements against Globalization). This is an important point.

Business and governments have appropriated the term “globalization,” insisting that is a monolithic force of “good” that is deluging the world, and is enveloping all within it, like a wall of flood water that cannot be stopped.

Activists initially responded to this by being against globalization; for existence, Amory Starr’s 2005 book was titled Global Revolt: A Guide to the Movements against Globalization. However, activists came to see that we were not against globalization, but against the type of globalization that was being promoted and propagated (e.g., Thomas L. Friedman, 1999, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:  Understanding Globalization.  New York: Picador.).

A number of authors think a better idea is to recognize that there are two levels of globalization—claiming there is “top-down,” corporate/militaristic globalization, and a “bottom-up,” global movement for social and economic justice—and that these two levels are based on values completely antithetical to the other (Shiva, 2005). By that, I mean that globalization is not a monolith, a single, collective phenomenon, but argue it has at least two layers, so we can refer to as “globalization from above,” and “globalization from below.”  What does that mean?

Accepting Nederveen Pieterse’s claim that “globalization involves more intensive interaction across wider space and in shorter time than before” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8), we must look at the values of each of these levels of globalization. The values of top-down globalization are those that promote the unhindered spread of economic exploitation and corporate domination around the world, and the militarism (and related wars and military operations) needed to ensure that is possible; in other words, top-down globalization is the latest effort to dominate the world, all living beings and the planet.

This can be seen when looking at the issue of culture globally.  Basically, top-down globalization promotes a “universal” culture whereby the culture of the dominant actors is projected as though it is, or should be, the culture of every human society; it ignores or seeks to decimate all local cultures for the sake of acceptance of the dominant one that it projects.

Globalization from below, on the other hand, is life enhancing: it rejects domination in all of its forms, and seeks to build a new world based on equality, social and economic justice, and respect for all living beings and the planet (again, see Shiva, 2005). The two worldviews, and the values on which each are based, could not be more opposed.

This is where my call for macro-level thinkers to incorporate progressive unionism into their analyses becomes even more important: these progressive unions[5] are part of the global movement for economic and social justice (whether they recognize it or not), and that as they gain such consciousness, they will find ways of developing solidarity with workers and other unions, women, peasants, students, the urban poor, etc., around the world.

Thus, understanding that there are two different levels of globalization, and that they are opposed to each other, means that people need to choose: which side are you on?

And, more practically, it means that our search for allies around the globe should be focused on building ties to those who are advancing the values, goals, and organizations of the “globalization from below” movement as they seek global economic and social justice from all places in the world for all places in the world.





[1]      This section on “globalization” is taken from Scipes, 2016b, “Introduction” to Kim Scipes, ed. Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization (Chicago:  Haymarket Books): 2-3, 16-17.  On-line at

[2]     This point about unevenness is very important. It means that these processes affect countries differentially, and they can hit at different times, with different intensities, etc. In fact, they can affect different regions in the same country differentially.

            This must be understood: globalization is not a single monolithic force sweeping the globe, affecting each social order, region, economy the same way at the same time; its impact is uneven.

[3]     Charles Tilly, 2005 (“Foreword” in Joe Bandy and Jackie Smith, eds. Coalitions Across Borders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal Order. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.) agrees with this long-term understanding: “Starting with the movement of humans out of Africa some fifty thousand years ago, humanity has globalized repeatedly.” He then discusses three waves of globalization that have taken place since 1500.

[4]     Nederveen Pieterse, 2008 (Is There Hope for Uncle Sam? Beyond the American Bubble. London and New York: Zed) examines the decline of the US in considerable detail; see also Scipes, 2009 (“Neo-Liberal Economic Policies in the United States:  The Impact of Globalization on a ‘Northern’ Country.” Indian Journal of Politics and International Relations, Vol. 2, No. 1, January-June: 12-47.  On-line at, McCoy, 2017 (In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Chicago: Haymarket Books).does this as well.  Needless to say, there are numbers of other works on this issue.

[5]     Not all unions are progressive; some can be terribly reactionary.