Economic Justice for Most

By Mandle, Jay R. | Commonweal, July 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

Economic Justice for Most


Mandle, Jay R., Commonweal


Seeking Social Justice through Globalization Escaping a Nationalist Perspective Gavin Kitching

Pennsylvania State University Press, $45, 339 pp.

In this book, Gavin Kitching, a British citizen who teaches in Australia, has taken on the responsibility of addressing and attempting to reverse the humanitarian left's opposition to globalization. Kitching's thesis turns on its head the conventional wisdom that prevails among many liberals and activists. Rather than being a process that should be approached with caution and constrained if possible, Kitching believes that "globalization can be of enormous benefit to the poorest and most oppressed people of the world, but only if the process is carried much further than it has been to date." If, as I suspect, many readers of this magazine are in fact globalization skeptics, then the Commonweal readership represents a segment of his intended audience.

What drives Kitching's analysis is the increasing economic integration of the world economy resulting from the relocation of economic activities away from Europe and North America in the last thirty years. Advances in communications and transportation have allowed manufacturing production processes to be located practically anywhere that the appropriate infrastructure (and welcoming policies) is in place. In the past, poor nations were confined to being suppliers of raw materials and agricultural goods. Since the 1960s, though, manufacturing in such countries has increased very rapidly, bringing with it as well financial and service activities. Where this has occurred, living standards have risen.

For Kitching, the increase in human interdependence that has accompanied the dispersion of production is the essence of globalization. It follows, therefore, that nationalism and nationalist thinking are increasingly anachronistic. In particular, policies to alleviate poverty and suffering can no longer be adequately crafted at the national level. To try to limit policy making in this way, Kitching writes, "actually and actively prevents us" from seeing what we need to see "if we are to act aright." He believes that the unit of policy making has to be raised from the nation-state to the global level in order to implement policies that successfully alleviate suffering.

In this, of course, there is an issue of morality at work as well. Only if we transcend a nationalist perspective will we be able to get beyond the belief that an advance in domestic well-being is more important than economic growth elsewhere. As Kitching puts it, "if the same capital movement which leads to the loss of 200 jobs in Australia leads to the creation of 450 jobs in China there has been a net human gain in welfare."

Kitching concedes that he is less clear about what will replace the nation as the unit of decision making than he is about the need for such a change. Policy has to be adopted and enforced in what he calls "some transnational way" but, he continues, "as yet (and for very good reasons) nobody has any clear idea what such arrangements might be or how indeed they might practically be put in place or enforced."

Even as globalization holds out hope for reducing poverty in poor countries, it also causes serious pain, not least in the already developed nations. …

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