Globalization by the People, for the People

April 13, 2018

Why This Matters is a series from Roosevelt staff connecting our individual work—from papers to reports and everything in between—to our broader vision of creating a better, more equitable economic and political system. This series will give readers the top takeaways from our latest writing and thinking, with a focus on why they matter as we redefine the rules that guide our social and economic realities.

From anti-immigrant sentiment to insurgent populism, critiques of the current global order are everywhere in politics. But few politicians have offered proposals that would actually improve the lives of the working men and women they claim to represent. Globalization today is shaped by institutions that serve the few over the many. In his new book, Judge Knot, Roosevelt Fellow Todd Tucker provides a path forward, arguing that reformed investment law can be the foundation for a remaking of the global economic order—one that rejects false promises and instead puts democracy and shared economic progress at its core.

Tucker’s analysis has particular resonance as we debate a tariff policy that fails to challenge the current power structure and is likely to hurt America’s “forgotten men and women.” In Tucker’s convincing account, it makes no sense to be “pro-globalization” or “anti-globalization,” as the effects of globalization are not inevitable but rather are shaped by the institutions and interests that govern global trade agreements. Judge Knot offers an alternative to globalization-critics who suggest closed borders and targeted tariffs can successfully counter the weight of global supply-chains, free movement of capital, and sanctioned migration patterns. But he avoids the rosy platitudes of globalization-champions who speak in aggregate and ignore dislocated workers, environmental degradation, and consolidated power of multi-national corporations.

The book adds evidence to Roosevelt’s argument that a small handful of people hoard way too much wealth and power, allowing them to write the rules of our economy, and of globalization, in their own advantage. Specifically, Tucker highlights the investor-state dispute settlement regime—the international courts where companies and arbitrators have quietly placed limits on national environmental, financial, and consumer regulations in over a quarter-century of litigation to pursue their own self-interests. By rewriting these rules, as Tucker argues, we can start to subvert the interests of large corporations and global capital to more democratic and transparent law.