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What ever happened to globalisation?

Article by Keith Didcock

September 15, 2006

“Everything about our world is changing – its economy, its technology, its culture, its way of living”, the Prime Minister told his Sedgefield constituents on the fifth of March. In a speech which was principally a detailed defence of his decision to take military action in Iraq – with just a casual reference to sweeping away the Westphalian system of statehood in place since 1648 – Tony Blair warned of the “mortal danger of mistaking the nature of the world in which we live”. In doing so, he also highlighted one of the major global issues to have suffered from post-9/11 neglect: the direction of globalisation.

Globalisation can be a force for tremendous economic, social and even cultural good, a case made by writers such as Jagdish Bhagwati, author of In Defence of Globalization, and bodies such as the International Labour Organisation with its report A Fair Globalization: Creating opportunities for all. Even Joseph Stiglitz, proponent of globalisation’s discontents, has written of the pressing need to manage globalisation in a way that benefits everyone. So the question is how this can be achieved when no one institution or country – not even the US – can control or shape the direction of globalisation on its own.

First, there needs to be a comprehensive reassessment of what globalisation is. This will require looking at it in its entirety and no longer seeing it primarily as a trade issue. Virtually every consumer item, industrial product, theory or idea produced in one part of the globe is now readily capable of being reproduced or transmitted to any other part. This is as true for Coca-Cola as it is for Pakistani nuclear know-how. So a new inclusive assessment of globalisation needs to encompass everything from the free movement of people, goods, jobs and capital around the world to the internationalisation of markets for common goods, such as education and health care. It needs to look at terrorism, tax and tourism, as well as international law, military technology and even democracy itself. Moving beyond a pure trade agenda will demonstrate that governments, NGOs and consumers are now as influential in driving globalisation forward as corporations have been in the past.

Second, it follows from this that the traditional antagonism between the Ayes and the Nays on globalisation is a bar to any progress. New coalitions and partnerships and new ways of thinking will be required to address this. All parties need to recognise their dependence on the others. In this world turned upside down, the challenge will be to marry peoples, businesses, governments and NGOs in new forms of civil, political and commercial partnerships which can harness the globalisation’s wild energies. Much of this is already occurring piecemeal with positive change springing from unexpected places. In France, the fast food giant MacDonalds pioneered the introduction of salads and fresh fruit to its menus. Distinctions between profit-making and non-profit-making enterprises and between public and private ownership are being challenged. Café Direct, the Fairtrade Company and one of the foremost social enterprises in the UK, and communist China’s largest computer chip manufacturer, SMIC, are preparing to list their shares in London and New York respectively. Anglo American is collaborating with the London School of Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins University in the US on the provision of HIV/Aids healthcare to its African workforce, of whom 30,000 are estimated to be HIV positive. These transformations should be welcomed and not greeted with cynicism about the corrupting power of the profit motive. A concert of globalisation’s major participants should not try to put the genie back in the bottle but should be better placed to enlist her in the cause of the common good.

Finally, a broad coalition of interested parties needs to re-establish the case for all that economic, technological and cultural change. The global audience, which is at turns sceptical of the benefits and fearful of the implications of globalisation, needs to be engaged. The advocates of the wider definition of globalisation must demonstrate that, through new coalitions of the eager, they can deliver together opportunities for better education, health care and security as well as greater wealth. That is the way to overcome the negative sentiment which dogs efforts to create a fairer and a more prosperous world.

Keith Didcock is Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Centre and coordinator of the Keeping the World

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