A Yardstick for the World; Globalization's Effects Elude Easy Measurement, Experts say.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: GLOBAL ISSUES)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Yardstick for the World; Globalization's Effects Elude Easy Measurement, Experts say.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: GLOBAL ISSUES)


Byline: Luciana Lopez, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

At the heart of continuing anti-globalization protests is the belief that globalization, rather than fulfilling its promise of equalizing gaps between developing and developed nations, has actually hurt less industrialized countries.

But supporters of globalization claim the opposite, that gaps in economic and human-development indices are actually shrinking worldwide.

Who's right? It can be hard to tell. There is more than one way to measure globalization and its impact.

Although globalization is often evaluated in financial terms like gross domestic product (GDP) and income inequality, framing the debate in financial terms misses the point, according to scholar Indur Goklany.

Rather than income inequality, the central issue is whether globalization advances human well-being, Mr. Goklany wrote in a recent policy analysis for the Washington-based Cato Institute.

Measures like infant mortality, literacy rates, life expectancy and access to safe water say more about a country's condition than GDP, Mr. Goklany says. Although increased financial resources often lead to improvements in those indicators, "human well-being is not synonymous with wealth," he wrote. Wealth's main significance stems from its potential to improve human welfare.

The technological and economic gains of the past half-century mean that "the average person today lives longer and is less hungry, healthier, more educated, and more likely to have children in a schoolroom than in the workplace," says Mr. Goklany.

Despite continued gaps in wealth levels, "the poor are better off because they benefit from the technologies developed by the rich." Globalization, according to Mr. Goklany, helps developing nations capture the benefits of contact with wealthier, more developed nations.

But much of how deciding how to measure globalization depends on how one defines it.

In an economic sense, globalization is mainly "an increase in economic transactions across borders," said Matthew Slaughter, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Under that definition, GDP is a useful indicator after all. "The GDP tells you what's the value of all goods and services that a country makes in a given year," said Mr. Slaughter. GDP, and particularly GDP per capita, can help show how successful a country's economy is, he said.

"How much or how little a country produces has a lot to do with global forces," Mr. Slaughter said. By that measure, globalization helps countries close the income gap between developed and developing nations.

Mr. Slaughter acknowledges some of the truth in Mr. Goklany's thesis. "A lot of times economists will say that if you can get an economy to grow more, you'll have the resources to address human development problems," he said.

But the relationship remains undefined.

"It's not perfectly in lock step," Mr. Slaughter said. The United States, for example, has the world's highest GDP, but not the world's longest life expectancy. That belongs to Japan, according to World Health Organization data from 2000. The United States is No. 24 on the list.

And while GDP isn't always a reliable indicator of globalization, other financial indicators can still be helpful, said Robin Broad, professor of international relations at American University and editor of a new book titled "Global Backlash."

"To me, GDP in itself tells you nothing about that country's economic globalization. Rather it's related to [another] question: What is the impact of globalization on economic and development indicators?"

"The key debate is: What has been the impact of accelerating integration in the global economy - economically, socially and environmentally?" she said.

While human-welfare indicators can be and are affected by economic factors, there are more issues at play, broadening the definition of globalization.

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