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Smart Library on Globalization > Smart Library on Law and Globalization > The Global Spread of Law > Overview: Aspects of Diffusing Law Globally
Globalization Involves a Battle of Principles
Conflict over different approaches to globalization often takes the form of a battle over principles.
What is the role of principles in the process of globalization?
Scholars John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos discuss the role of principles in the process of globalizing business regulations. They describe principles as agreed upon standards of conduct that grow out of the values and practices of a community of actors.
Principles are more general or abstract than rules (which prescribe a particular course of action). In a sense, principles stand “behind” rules, informing their application and giving rise to new rules. Additionally, while some principles have a legal character, many do not.
So, how do higher level principles affect globalization?
Actors are Armed with Principles
Principles, rather than specific rules, provide different sides of a debate with a common basis for understanding. Individuals may not understand the technical details of specific rules. However, they do understand the general values and practices of the different players. So, principles provide the basis for common understandings.
Because principles allow for actors to understand one another they also provide the arena for opposition and negotiation. Actors oppose principles with other principles. Actors come to the bargaining table armed with principles.
Why are principles crucial when globalizing business regulations?
Principles Reduce Complexity
International business regulation is often extremely complex. For example, the minutia of banking, finance, intellectual property or tax regulation may be accessible to only the most dedicated experts or professionals.
Negotiators, diplomats and government administrators do not always have the technical expertise to understand all the details of their own regulatory regime, much less someone else's. And, even if they did, it would be impossible to negotiate international regulations by trying to coordinate the complex variations in the regulations of different states.
In short, principles reduce complexity and so facilitate globalizing coordination.
Principles Provide Flexibility
Many areas of international business are highly uncertain. For instance, new technologies may open up new possibilities and points of conflict. Changing political situations may render established relationships uncertain.
Countries can use principles to establish general relationships without committing themselves to specific rules that they might come to regret later.
Roles in Communication
Braithwaite and Drahos identify three different ways principles may be used in globalizing business regulations.
Using Principles Rhetorically
The way something is said can be as or more important than the content of what is said. Some ways of saying something are rather bland: Asian countries are copying American intellectual property. Other ways of saying the same thing are geared to arouse emotions: Asian competitors are bootlegging American intellectual property. Basically the same statement, but the second carries the possibility of arousing passions. Rhetoric is the art of making communication persuasive and emotionally powerful.
It is a mistake to underestimate the importance of the rhetorical use of principles. If mass publics cannot understand the details of automobile construction, they can certainly understand the rhetorical force of the title of Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed. And, since an energized public or mass movement can have powerful effects (especially in liberal democracies), the rhetorical power of principles can be considerable.
Using Principles Symbolically
Principles can also be used to create meaning without necessarily changing behavior or the way that resources are allocated. Principles may provide a framework so that actors have a common sense of “what is going on?” or “what does this mean?” without telling actors what they should do next.
Symbolic statements of principles can help clarify an issue and focus attention on the importance of the issue. Environmental regulation has often been symbolic in nature.
What comes of symbolic statements of principles? In some cases, a statement of principles (without any direction for action) may placate audiences. Actors make a symbolic statement and that seems enough. On the other hand, common, directed action requires concerted understandings and values. Symbolic statements of principles may create these shared understandings and values and so ultimately lead to concrete changes of behavior.
Using Principles Instrumentally
Principles express values, and therefore desires. Principles can also be used as the basis for action and institutionalizing action. So, principles can be used to connect the desires of companies, states, individuals, etc. to behavior that realizes those desires. In short, principles can be used instrumentally.
Active and Passive Principles
Do principles change things? Do they change behavior?
They can. When principles are used instrumentally or rhetorically they may be described as active principles. On the other hand, when principles are used symbolically they are not necessarily oriented toward changing behavior and so may be described as passive.
Generally, principles are most effective at changing behavior when they are linked to rules. When they are tied to rules, they may become institutionalized. They serve to define and organize behavior.
Principles may also be co-active. That is, principles are often combined and may reinforce each other. On the other hand, actors who champion a particular principle may find the principle much less attractive when it is bundled with another principle.
Globalization is not merely a matter of coordinating actions. It is at least as much a matter of values and common patterns of behaviors. In short, globalization is in large measure a matter of principles. Statements of principles can be used in several ways and conflict over different approaches to globalization often take the form of a battle of principles.
Data and Methods:
Braithwaite, John, and Peter Drahos. 2000. Global Business Regulation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 21, pp. 507-531.