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Globalization

July 6, 2011

At the other end of the scale from my last post on miniaturization, I came across this extraordinarily forthright editorial in a Portuguese newspaper, lambasting the international financial ratings agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poor and Fitch Ratings and calling them ‘You Bastards’. I happened to have been just writing about these bodies for my next book and a chapter on ‘Globalization and Surveillance’, in the forthcoming International Handbook of Surveillance Studies. Why I am writing about these organisations? Let me quote from my draft chapter:

“this process most certainly is surveillance as conventionally understood within Surveillance Studies and it is perhaps the single most important form of surveillance operating in the world today at the global level. The reason lies in the outcomes of such profiles and ratings. If individual credit-scoring (re)produces comparative (dis)advantage and embeds poverty and class distinctions, then credit-scoring at the global scale can condemn whole national populations to economic marginality and set an inescapably negative context for individual and collective life chances. This is especially the case for those sections of national populations whose jobs, incomes and livelihoods are still tied into the national economy, as opposed to members of the increasingly footloose transnational ruling class. These ratings systems so affect economic decision-making that even minor changes to the credit scores of governments can effectively undermine national government policy, making states that have any substantial international debt – and that is almost every state in the world – ultimately responsible not to their electorates but to the demands of the rules of competition in finance capitalism.”

The problem is, of course, that people and governments only really notice these organisations, let alone complain about them or fight back against them, when their nation-state is downgraded in the ratings. The surveillance power of these bodies needs to be challenged by those who are not (yet) negatively affected if there is to be any change. And you never know, that might yet happen, as apparently the European Commission is considering how it might control these agencies.

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