The Quarterly’s 2019 Essay Competition Winner. Written by first year student at the Reims campus Samuel Shih. Prompt answered: Should we put a break on globalisation?
When examining whether globalization should be halted, we ought to examine globalization’s impacts. One of the aspects of capitalist globalization that is most often touted in the media is the growing and prosperous international trade feeding people around the world. However, contrary to this image, only about 20% of the world actually participates in the consumer food economy, and about 90% of the world’s food consumption occurs where it is produced. While the cities depend on the consumer market for almost all of their food consumption, rural areas consume something to the tune of 60% of the food they produce. As such, there is an enormous discrepancy between the image and reality of globalization. It is this precise discrepancy that has and will shape the politics of globalization. The existence of hunger on a global scale is a source of validation for food and biotech companies that promote private solutions to problems of a developing world. Monsanto, a chemicals giant, has argued that ‘low-tech’ agriculture cannot produce enough to feed the world’s quickly increasing population, propounding biotech as an effective and environmentally friendly solution to the problem. Statements by companies like Monsanto assume an inevitability to globalization through a market-based approach, meaning that the assumed hunger of the future can only be addressed through globalized means. This becomes a problem when we examine the state of economic development in the world today. Whereas national governments used to be responsible for managing economic growth and food security, economic development is now defined as a global project in which international institutions and companies are becoming responsible for managing economic growth, including managing food security. With these companies in power, their belief in globalization becomes a problem. While globalization is presented as inevitable within Western market rationality, it reveals its limitations across the world.
Criticism of free market globalization mainly focuses on the inhumane and ecologically damaging impacts that the system has imposed upon societies around the world. Perhaps most concerning is the abandonment of a focus placed on the welfare of people and the embracing of a globalist vision that values the economy over the people. Another focus is the concurrent rising culture of overwhelming consumerism and the social and cultural damages that accompany it as it results in the commodification of all spheres of human life. The unsustainable aspect of a capitalist globalization system lies within its continual economic growth, which it requires to (1) feed the greed of consumerism and (2) maintain the ability for the accumulation of capital, thus resulting in unsustainable demands on the environment. It also spawns social polarization and ecological devastation of such proportions, as to increase resistance to the means by which it seeks to achieve some end product. With these properties, the rise of the ‘anti-globalization’ movement and the concurrent isolation movement is not surprising.
However, in our increasingly connected world, globalization is still needed, simply in an alternative and more just form than the current model of free marrket globalization.
“Alternative globalization” is based on the ideal that the global cooperation and interaction that results from capitalist globalization is net positive for all agents involved, but that the economic and resulting social impacts need to be drastically modified by taking the power from the corporations and redistributing them into the hands of the national government. Thus, when asking the question whether globalization should be halted or allowed to progress, we see that neither choice is correct. Globalization must instead be fundamentally changed as a cooperative movement between national governments, not corporations.
Rising inequality between countries
Advocates for globalization point to how increased capital, trade, and information flows have augmented the welfare of countries around the world. However, the impact of the globalization of trade and finance has not entirely been positive, and has been oft associated with an increase in international income inequality. Indeed, globalization has served the interests of rich countries in the North at the expense of the poorer nations in the South. This globalization has taken place within the context of financial deregulation. In terms of trade patterns, with many less developed countries being dependent on the volatile export incomes from primary commodities, it is not surprising that increasing the volume of these exports has increased inequality between countries.
Globalization, particularly as it is defined by the World Trade Organization, is at risk of threatening the very basis of agrarian economies and, as such, could condemn millions of small and marginalized farmers to poverty while seriously damaging the environment and its biodiversity. The globalist vision has been normalized enough to empower and embolden the corporations playing with the world’s biological resources. The bid for control from the corporations who do so in the name of global food security creates increasing resistance to the forced imposing of a monoculture. Globalization may be represented as inevitable and self-evident, but the reality is rather more ambiguous. The recent development of golden rice is as much an attempt to address global food security as it is globalist propaganda for the companies that produce it. It is being championed as a solution to micronutrient deficiencies, however, micronutrient deficiency was in itself a consequence of the focus of the Green Revolution and the reduction of dietary diversity. Indeed, when viewed through such lenses, golden rice, like other GMO crops, is more of a problem than a solution.
Hurting the fabric of our societies
Besides simply affecting the environment, free-market globalization negatively impacts the fabric of our society. When understanding the populist backlash to globalization, we need to identify what matters to the poor and what they regard as the underlying threats of globalization. Shaken by the possibility of losing “assets” that, ordinarily, are guaranteed to humankind, such as healthcare, community, land, and the environment, these fears compounded to create general unsure sentiment as to an impending and increasingly unpredictable and insecure environment. Where we once consumed to live, we now live to consume, with corporate-driven globalization re-fashioning the individual’s relationship with the state. The post-war Keynesian social welfare state that allowed for state regulation of market forces was largely dismantled by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. Neoconservatism forced the underprivileged in the new era of globalization to look to the market rather than the state to resolve their problems. This absence of a social safety net and prioritisation of the market over the people has created what we now call identity politics. Because of the lack of concern from their government, social groupings are emerging on the basis of common interests and can violently assert their identity, adding to social polarisation. In short, the ironic polarization by free-market globalization has forced the underprivileged into a sort of identity war that stokes conflict and unrest in the world.
Alter-Globalization Poses a Potential Solution
In the present day, securing ecological sustainability and social stability in a world that is increasingly interdependent and stressed by growing human populations remains one of the most pressing tensions, requiring an unprecedented level of intra-governmental collaboration. As limits and controls to deliver sustainability and poverty alleviation are unlikely to be undertaken by large multinational firms, more focused and austere regulation from governments will be necessary. Moreover, international policy coordination should focus on limiting the flow of capital across national borders and the allocation of international capital should be limited by providing more access to foreign direct investment, and by encouraging the development of micro‐finance schemes to support small scale businesses in low-income countries. In this way, we may increase economic growth in a sustainable manner. Encouraging the development of export industries that can deliver more stable income growth could also be achieved by developing micro‐finance schemes and also by providing incentives to develop infrastructure. Still, free-market globalization opposes this interference in the market and so, tensions are likely to rise even more.
Whether this movement towards a more sustainable form of globalization will be successful remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that we have choices and alternatives before us to transform our societies to more socially and ecologically fair versions of the world before us today. To shirk this is to shirk any progress towards a system that strives to be more equal and fair that the one that rests upon the shoulders of capitalist globalism.