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Global Control

Information Technology and Globalization since 1845

Peter McMahon

Global Control aims to achieve a clearer understanding of the long process of globalization by focusing on the crucial role of information and control technologies. Information systems and control technologies are key to globalization and, while generally facilitating the overall trend to spatial reorganization, they also effect change through the pervasive influence of ‘internal systems logic’. Thus, the author argues, the dominant institutions of states, firms and markets transform global development and are themselves transformed by key information technologies. More specifically the book identifies the key phases of modern globalization and analyses the crucial role played by different information technologies at each point in time.
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Chapter 2: Telecommunications and the Nineteenth-Century Liberal-International World Order

Information Technology and Globalization since 1845

Peter McMahon


The roots of the current cyber-financial global control system lie in the origins of the modern age itself. To understand current developments, therefore, we must briefly review the character of the modern age as a basic form of worldwide social organization. Thus we must consider the global control system in terms of the fundamental developments in political economy and technological change. The modern age is often differentiated from what preceded it by the apparently pivotal role of recently developed technologies like the steam engine, steel, electricity, plastics and electronics. There was certainly a long process of technological innovation which led to industrialization and all the social change associated with it, but before the revolution of industrial production (that is, in how things were made) proper there occurred a slower transformation in distribution technology (that is, in how things were transported) which set the scene for later developments. This transformation in transport and communications underpinned the creation of the first true global political economy, the geographical and organizational centre of which was Western Europe. The most important institutional structure in this process was the militarized nation state, or, in certain specific circumstances, the militarized trading firm, but as time progressed the essential component increasingly became transnational finance capital. Thus, after 1815 there came into existence a liberal-internationalist political economy based on British hegemony, the international balance of power system and the gold standard, within which private control of assets and bureaucratic position within key public agencies were the primary forms of...

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