Monday, March 06, 2006

Football, and All Kinds of Enterprise

I have made some headway into How Soccer Explains the World, by Franklin Foer, my first leisure reading since I took the term off school. It was sitting at the top of my very tall pile of books To Read since sometime last Fall.

Foer undermines his own premise, I think, when he says that dislocation and economic conditions can only do so much to explain the more virulent forms of soccer hooliganism (and I do hope he is going to get past the hooliganism parts). So, he discards the arguments a lot of the key critics of globalization (in its institutionalized form; I’ll make a distinction about this later) have made (so we expect he's going to end up as an apoligist for globalization and I'm pretty sure that's what he's after). But in the very next graf, he says the football hooligans in Yugoslavia took more cues from African American gangster rap than their material condition, ignoring that gangster rap very much developed, if not exclusively certainly in large part, as a response to dislocation and economic deprivation. He also seriously misuses what Hannah Arendt meant when she described the banality of evil, but I promise to go off on that later.

The book reads like sophisticated historical Cliff Notes for ignorant Americans who don’t want to feel as if we’re being ignorant – it’s an easy read without being a dumb read. I’m learning stuff and he’s a very good writer to boot.

Finally, the book is mistitled. The book is much more about how geopolitics explains the popularity of soccer and how vociferous many of its clubs’ fans are. It should be called How International Politics Explain Soccer. At least so far. I am only one third in.

So institutional globalization vs. De facto globalization. De facto globalization is my own little conception – it’s just that aspect of the human condition in which societies are mixing, trading, and colliding. Certain trends and ideas ebb, others recede. It is inevitable for political geography and economic geography to heave and groan as we shift ourselves around forever and ever. People both prosper and founder under it, but there is nothing inherent in de facto globalization that undermines the human enterprise.

Institutional globalization, on the other hand, is problematic, because with NAFTA and FTAA and their global equivalents there’s a pretty insidious assumption that markets and the right to create and reap profit trump democratic institutions and their rules. And that’s important. Markets and democracy need at the very least to be balanced, and if I had my way, the democratic enterprise would always be given the edge over economic enterprise. The problem with institutional globalization is that the profit motive is given institutionalized favor over self-determination. That’s bad.

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