Book Club

The Chair read for you Demain la Planète by Xavier Ricard Lanata

Published on 27 October 2021

If our planet were a human body, the veins and nerves would be the manifestation of globalization. This process is so powerfully embedded in our ways of producing, exchanging and consuming goods, services and information that it would become elusive. As soon as the production apparatus collapses, as during the Covid-19 crisis, it is all the organs that are affected and that struggle to heal. Yet this vision is misleading, because it suggests that this liberal globalization, which began more than five centuries ago, has become irreplaceable. Worse, any hindrance to international trade could directly affect the vitality of the entire body by blocking its arteries.

Xavier Ricard Lanata offers an alternative philosophical and economic reading of globalization. Through a detailed analysis of the different determinants of the global economy, the author guides us with his work “Demain la planète” (Tomorrow the Planet) [1] towards another organization of our relationships to the world. This “alterglobalization” does not claim to end global trade – deglobalisation – but rather to give it a new meaning and a political dimension. The global economy cannot be reduced to a set of ineluctable laws, but rather to mechanisms that obey our will and through which we exert an influence on others. Therefore, the book first attempts to describe the battlefield that the global economy has become, which involves opposite visions and interests. In the second part, the author delivers a prospective analysis by drawing the possible outlines of four scenarios, four forms that tomorrow’s planet could take.

Xavier Ricard Lanata’s clinical examination of the world is worrying. This abrupt observation evokes four wounds of the contemporary era. First, deglobalization, which is already at work today. Its manifestation is a significant decline in the contribution of international trade to global growth. In economic terms, this phenomenon can be explained by the rapid rise of a middle class in “emerging countries”, which for the first time has access to mass consumption and credit through national markets. Conversely, for Western countries, purchasing power, dealt with single-handedly thanks to consumption of imported products, stagnates, relegating these same countries to a more secondary position in the growth of the world economy. The “South”, and China in particular, is reproducing the symmetry of a historical experience, by fully becoming a colonial power. The new Silk Road and the multiplication of international free trade agreements are evidence of a reversing domination. Western countries are forced to competing with each other to attract goods and investments, in the shadow of their former hegemony.

Deglobalization thus directly echoes tropicalization, which is the logical continuation of global polarization between the metropolises and the colonies, who no longer feel indebted to the support and influence they received. This triumph of global capitalism consequently triggers a feeling of protectionism by the actors who have the most interest in defending it. These include the working classes in the Western countries, who are marginalized by international competition and hit by increasing inequalities, those nostalgic for the omnipotence of state administrations, and companies in previously protected sectors that are now exposed to international competition. A power game is emerging between the United States, Europe and China, which have agreed to globalization have for a long time in the belief that they would benefit from it, but which are now coming back to unilateral strategies, subordinated to domestic priorities, and sometimes more conflictual.

The third symptom identified by Xavier Ricard is hypermediatization, in other words, the advent of the reign of technical objects and virtual systems, operating as an intermediary between the subjects and the universe. As these digital platforms become unavoidable in our daily lives, they erase the possibility of a common and full experience of the world at the same time. Universal gives way to a standardized experience, fostering breadth over depth of experience. Eventually, our relationship to the world and to others is evaporating and impoverished, even encouraging intolerance and radicalism. The body disintegrates, disarticulates, because it is no longer held by an encompassing consciousness, deprived of its own senses, and subject to contradictory signals.

Finally, the last clinical sign, perhaps the most obvious and threatening one, is ecological collapse. For the first time, this force is no longer the simple result of human actions, but has evolved into a cascade of uncontrolled reactions of the biosphere and the climate system. These profound changes will impact populations differently, whether they are from the “North” or the “South” and whether they are benefitting from tropical capitalism or not.

Based on this meticulous and quantified analysis of the global economy, its actors and their systems of representation, Xavier Ricard Lanata adds two indeterminate modalities to build his prospective scenarios. The scenarios differentiate depending whether cooperation or hostility will prevail in the game of actors on the one hand, and whether we will move towards continued growth and productivism or towards sustainability on the other hand.

The author’s favorite scenario is To live on Earth, where democratic global governance and degrowth prevail. It is based on a resettlement of production according to the principle of subsidiarity and on the use of incentives and regulations to reduce environmental and social costs. In particular, the author mentions the capping of investment return rates, the establishment of a minimum period of capital immobilization in order to avoid speculative movements, and the multiplication of local currencies on a scale where social solidarity remains meaningful.

Three other scenarios – more secondary in this book – complete the prospective work. The scenario Resilient to the teeth depicts a picture of a world where hostility and individualism prevail to the detriment of coordinated collective action. However, it is similar to the first scenario in the wat that it assumes that the collapse of energy and material consumption will not be a choice of our societies because it is unsustainable. The third scenario, the War of the worlds, is probably the most nightmarish, because it combines a nationalist segregation approach with the aim of dominating neighbors in the arena of economic and strategic competition, similarly to a clash of civilizations. Finally, the scenario of Eternal transition mixes growth and cooperation, without questioning the expansive dynamics of capitalism and its appetite for physical resources.

Overall, the four scenarios depict radically opposed situations, with distinct logics and power relationships sometimes reduced to their most emaciated shape, sometimes excessively exacerbated. They provide an interesting reading grid to confront one’s convictions with the urgent need for a profound change of our way of life. The original contribution of Xavier Ricard Lanata is not to presuppose a single form of change, such as a single optimal trajectory, but to demonstrate the existence of a space of possibilities, delimited by four extreme cases.

“Demain la planète, quatre scénarios de déglobalisation” (Tomorrow the planet, four scenarios of deglobalization) is a singular work, both in its approach and in its writing. Xavier Ricard Lanata has relied on his experience in ethnology, philosophy and political economy to translate his thinking on the viability of societies and ecosystems, demonstrating a full mastery of words and arguments. At the beginning of the book, the philosophical and ethical concepts are well presented, to give way during the exposition of the scenarios to concrete and coherent proposals, which contribute to the success of the prospective exercise, reputed to be particularly delicate.

Xavier Ricard Lanata unfortunately passed away in September 2021 following an incurable disease. With this contribution, we wanted to pay him a last tribute. He will leave in the memory of everyone who knew him, the image of a cultured and committed man, with a sharp mind, capable of observing, capturing and transcribing the world in such a singular way. For so many years he carried, with admirable humanism and optimism, the vision of a world to be protected, whatever the cost. If he did not have that chance, he will remain forever convinced that our sick planet, at least, can be cured.

Milien Dhorne, Research fellow Ex-ante evaluation of a reform of public policies to support the energy transition.

[1] Xavier Ricard Lanata, « Demain la planète, quatre scénarios de déglobalisation », PUF, 2021.