This paper engages a number of important and complex questions on the contemporary Globalisation agenda. In the first instance it is concerned with the question of what globalisation actually means. It confronts this issue in both conventional terms (i.e. the current debate over ‘meaning’ which generally pits neo-liberal perspectives against a variety of critical alternatives) and in terms of a broader historical and intellectual frame of reference which, it suggests, is a more appropriate context for the debate. The suggestion, more precisely, is that the globalisation phenomenon of the current era, is best understood in terms of some fundamental organising principles drawn from a modern international political economy (IPE) agenda in which (the major) states and an advanced, expansionist brand of capitalism continue to dominate, albeit as part of a significantly reformulated symbiotic power relationship. The second and primary focus of the paper is concerned to illustrate how this traditional symbiosis actually works at the core of contemporary globalisation, in theory and practice. It does so in concentrating on that period between 1945 and the present when, it is suggested, a series of policy decisions taken by the USA at Bretton-Woods, in order to retain and enhance its post-WW2 systemic advantages, were intrinsic also to the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods system, the development of increasingly deregulated economic sector by the mid-1970s, the ‘casino capitalism’ of the 1980s and the coherent neo-liberal agenda of the 1990s which, in the post-Cold War years has invoked a new era of liberal free-market economics as the keystone of global peace and prosperity in the future. Rejecting the one-sidedness of this perspective the paper maintains that a symbiosis of the political and the economic still characterises the age of neo-liberal dominance. That, indeed, the notion of independent economic forces imposing themselves upon effectively impotent state actors misses the historical, political and ideological point about the nature of systemic agency and structure in the modern IPE. It seeks, in this regard, to illustrate how a major capitalist state, such as the USA, is intrinsically connected to the ‘economic’ success of the neo-liberal globalist agenda, and how its ostensibly independent ‘economic’ agenda is, if anything, increasingly dependent upon a Triad of major states (i.e. centred on the U.S., the E.U and Japan) for support, sustenance and profit. The brief final section of the paper touches on some of the possible implications of this scenario for the global future.
Keywords: International Political Economy, globalisation, modernity, agency and structure, Bretton-Woods, symbiosis, states and markets, Triadism, Introduction: The Question of Meaning