RecensionsBook Reviews

When Things Don’t Fall Apart: Global Financial Governance and Developmental Finance in an Age of Productive Incoherence, By Ilene Grabel (2017) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 400 pages. ISBN: 978-0-26253-852-7Laid Low: Inside the Crisis that Overwhelmed Europe and the IMF, By Paul Blustein (2016) Waterloo, Ontario, Centre for International Governance Innovation, 504 pages. ISBN: 978-1-92809-633-7[Record]

  • Chris Roberts

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  • Chris Roberts
    Director, Social and Economic Policy, Canadian Labour Congress, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Students of national industrial relations systems are wise to take note of the global economic and financial order, and the way it constrains and conditions collective bargaining, labour-market regulation, and income redistribution. Just as the Bretton Woods era of fixed exchange rates and regulated capital flows was conducive to institutionalized collective bargaining, financial globalization has been an important factor in undermining unions and wage setting institutions, decoupling productivity increases and wage gains, and driving down the labour share of income. More than a decade on from the global financial crisis and recession, political turbulence is forcing international financial institutions and multilateral organizations to confront the political and economic by-products of globalization. In many parts of the world, the long stagnation of working-class incomes, rising inequality, and resentment of austerity policies are fueling authoritarian right-wing challenges to liberal nostrums. As part of a growing concern with poor job quality and precarious employment, the OECD now promotes “inclusive growth.” Recent publications have relaxed the OECD’s singular emphasis on labour-market flexibility, and given limited support to collective bargaining and social dialogue as a mechanism for sharing productivity gains. Similarly, IMF economists studying inequality and wage stagnation have found that structural reforms to collective bargaining regimes increase inequality, but with little benefit in terms of economic growth. Does this occasionally-grudging acknow-ledgment of the virtues of wage setting institutions add up to a new dispensation for collective bargaining? Does it signal an opening for new approaches to regulating labour markets and labour relations in the context of globalization? The prospects for change and economic development afforded by the global system is the focus of Ilene Grabel’s study, which pays especially close attention to the emerging market and developing economies. Currently Distinguished Professor of International Finance at the University of Denver, Grabel argues the 1997 Asian financial crisis, 2007-08 global financial crisis and subsequent Eurozone crisis have ushered in an age of ‘productive incoherence’ for development innovation and experimentation. Drawing on the work of heterodox economist Albert Hirschman, she identifies the emergence of a diversity of institutional and policy practices exploiting the contradictions and lacunae of the post-crisis world order. Grabel assigns particular significance to the IMF’s partial rehabilitation of capital controls as a tool for coping with sudden financial crises, the Fund’s arguments in favour of debt restructuring during the 2010-12 Eurocrisis, and the spread of regional and multilateral development banks offering developing countries greater options for development and financial stabilization. In Grabel’s view, the nascent experimentation occurring in the interstices of the US-centred world order is gradually fostering South-South networks and a set of fledgling institutions of financial governance that widen the scope for development. Grabel occasionally overstates her case by suggesting that emerging market and developing economies, once constrained by the global financial architecture, are now enjoying development and financial policy autonomy. However, she is usually careful to concede the continued centrality of the US-led world order, and appropriately warns that the incoherence she identifies may further break down into economic nationalism, trade tensions, and beggar-thy-neighbour policies, with negative consequences for workers’ organizations and freedom of association. Grabel is right to acknowledge that the global financial system continues to significantly constrain developing countries. Open capital accounts, floating exchange rates, and increased indebtedness over the past decade continue to restrict income and employment growth, increasing financial fragility in the process. In addition to macroeconomic discipline, IMF loan agreements themselves continue to expect flexible hiring and firing, greater latitude for employers on hours of work and atypical employment, and restrictions on collective bargaining and the right to strike. Perhaps the ...