NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Invisible Hand" Versus the "Dead Hand": Conflicting Models of Globalization

January 31, 2002

Brink Lindsey, who founded the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, wanted to counter what he called "equal doses of hype on both sides of the globalization debate," and to explore "why the process of globalization has been shown to be so infernally messy." The result is a new book, "Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism."

  • In 1913, he writes, "merchandise trade as a percentage of gross output totaled an estimated 11.9 percent for the industrialized countries" -- a level unmatched until the 1970s.
  • The hiatus which occurred between the two periods was a result of the notion that if large commercial enterprises could advance by planning and control, national economies could be run the same way -- with more efficient and humane results than the "chaos" and competition of the marketplace.
  • This "industrial counterrevolution" took many forms, from the politically benign to the totalitarian -- but the result was a turn from economic openness toward closed national markets, the better to enable political planning and control.
  • Today's globalization is occurring because political leaders no longer believe that state-directed economic decision making is the path to prosperity.

The result has been a clash between Adam Smith's invisible hand and the "dead hand" of central planning, and what Lindsey calls the "blind pragmatist lurch" away from the worldview and policies that ended the last great era of globalization almost a century ago.

Lindsey notes the importance of countries establishing trustworthy judicial systems, as well as removing government controls. Despite his cautionary tone, Lindsey that economic liberalism -- with reliance on markets and competition -- will eventually win out.

Source: Virginia Postrel (author of "The Future and Its Enemies"), "Economic Scene: Globalism and the Liberal Model: Playing the Invisible Hand That's Dealt Us," New York Times, January 31, 2002.


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