Globalisation Now and Then

By Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina | Contemporary Review, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Globalisation Now and Then


Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina, Contemporary Review


THE trouble with globalisation', remarked a social observer, 'is that it has created a "soundbite culture" characterised by its demand for all that is quick and instantaneous'. Indeed, it is an irony that in a knowledge-orientated age we are losing sight of history and turning our backs on reason and science, as evidenced by our consenting silence to the antics of the anti-animal experimentation, anti-hunting, anti-genetically improved crops and anti-global lobbies. However, the craze for fast food, so vehemently attacked by anti-globalisers such as the French farmer Jose Bove is not nearly as harmful as the craze for fast ideas like the quick judgement of the numerous hate lobbies that coerce public opinion and pressure government to pass illiberal legislation.

Globalisation is the phenomenon of the increasing interdependency between markets, while markets are the places to barter, sell and buy commodities. In this sense, globalisation can be understood as markets opening themselves to other markets, the objects of trade being capital and goods, including culture. Anti-global writers compare globalisation to a football game where all players are treated equally but the players are terribly unequal. Only the trading game has been around for ages without the presumption of equal treatment for all players, a task now undertaken by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

There are many misconceptions about globalisation. Many people regard globalisation as a new mask of American imperialism, a viewpoint that is apparent in expressions like 'Coca-Colonisation' or 'McDonaldisation'. This misconception relates to the common association between globalisation and the economic hegemony of the United States, as reflected in the famous brand names and other symbols of American culture. Pointing out that the United States has become highly internationalised in terms of global markets and foreign culture, and that many non-American transnationals have also managed to disseminate into faraway markets, cuts no ice with the dogmatists who simply push their association of globalisation one step further, to 'Anglo-Saxonisation' or 'Westernisation'.

Many people also regard globalisation as something that came about with the age of computers and the Internet. Just because the word 'globalisation' sprung up in the 1990s does not mean that globalisation is of the same age. Similarly, globalisation was not put back by the burst of the dot-corn bubble, all the latter signified was a course correction.

Capitalism is the favourite target of anti-global 'activists' and a very clever one too, considering that it is one of the most misunderstood terms of liberal democracy. One of the reasons anti-global propagandists hate capitalism is because they believe it to be against the welfare state. The welfare state acts as a safety net for those who for whatever reason are not protected by the economic system, its existence depending only on the will of society. Capitalism, in turn, has its own system of providing security. Through opportunities of entrepreneurism and by offering alternative employment from that of the state, it provides absolute security to a few and relative security to many. Another great argument against globalisation is that it has caused poverty in developing countries. However, the association of inequality in developing countries with property-generated wealth is largely exaggerated. Many developing countries have undergone reforms to close the legal gaps of planned privileges and are now str uggling with insufficient resources to enforce law and order. To get out of the stagnation they need more and not less globalisation, in the form of economic growth and more exports.

A glimpse into humanity's past shows that the story of globalisation is intricately associated with the story of trade. In his highly influential book, The Open Society and its Enemies, first published in 1944, the Austrian-born philosopher Karl Popper demonstrated how trade was absolutely crucial in the development of human society. …

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