The Benefits of Globalisation: From the Streets of Seattle and London to the 'Alternative Davos' in Porto Alegre Popular Voices against International Capitalism Have Become Increasingly Strident. the Other Side of the Case-Notably the Positive Social and Economic Impact of Globalisation-Deserves to Be Heard

By Lambin, Jean-Jacques | European Business Forum, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Benefits of Globalisation: From the Streets of Seattle and London to the 'Alternative Davos' in Porto Alegre Popular Voices against International Capitalism Have Become Increasingly Strident. the Other Side of the Case-Notably the Positive Social and Economic Impact of Globalisation-Deserves to Be Heard


Lambin, Jean-Jacques, European Business Forum


The recent backlash against globalisation--particularly the 'alternative' World Economic Forum in Porto Alegre--has been hailed by the international press (see Le Monde Diplomatique and The Financial Times, February 23-24) as a significant rebuff to traditional international capitalism. Other media coverage has conjured up the image of an exciting new social movement, led by the people for the people, challenging a corporate establishment motivated merely by the power of money and self interest.

It would be unfortunate if the result of this sometimes uncritical reporting increased the credibility of the main argument of the anti-globalisation movement: that globalisation is mainly responsible for the poverty of the world. This simply is not the case as I will argue in this article.

As noted by Dale (2001), the anti-globalisation movement has brought together supporters from both left and right of the political spectrum, including two symbolic and couldn't-be-more-different personalities in the shape of Patrick Buchanan and Ralph Nader. It comprises protectionists, labour unions, environmentalists, human right activists and economic nationalists. Some want more government, some want less; some want to enforce their goals through international rules, others want to prevent international rules from interfering with domestic policies.

Given this ideological confusion, it is not surprising that little systematic attempt has been made to analyse, in bipartisan terms, the validity of the anti-globalisation platform. Nobody disputes the fact that the globalisation of the world economy is a major disrupting factor that creates and will create economic and social problems, but very few analysts have addressed the question of the expected benefits, if any, of globalisation. In the following sections I will consider eight market developments triggered or amplified by globalisation that have had a positive social impact.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

1 The affirmation of citizen power in the Triadic countries

In the industrialised world, there is a growing cultural convergence among countries as a result of transport, communication, tourism and cultural exchanges. Being better educated, consumers in different nations behave more and more similarly and represent a force of responsible citizens that firms and public authorities can no longer ignore. Three attitudes characterise the new consumer:

* A feeling of power: consumers behave in markets where supply is plentiful and information sources numerous. Moreover, the consumerist movement and vocal non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are well organised and listened to.

* A professional purchasing behaviour: well-educated and experienced, consumers are smart shoppers, able to make trade off between brands, stores, advertising and the recommendations of sales people. They become increasingly discriminating in their demand for customised services and want complete information about their purchases.

* A search for new values: the mass consumption of the Golden Thirties era has lifted the aspirations of consumers from materialistic needs to the search for new values. Moreover, they demand an ethical attitude on the part of suppliers and do not want to feel guilty about their purchases.

This growing power of citizens generates new expectations which directly contribute to improving the functioning and transparency of the market: liberty of choice, better information, pressure on prices, product safety, post-sales responsibility of the manufacturers and ecologically friendly products. New and more responsible relationships between consumers and the industrial world are developing which challenge the stereotype of a manipulated and defenceless consumer.

2 The access of less developed countries to the international market

The citizen power movement is most developed in rich countries although the cause is being taken up rapidly in Eastern Europe and Latin America. …

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