Magazine article The Spectator

Global Schmobal

Magazine article The Spectator

Global Schmobal

Article excerpt

YOU hear it on the news, you see it in the press, you hear it in the conversation of clever bankers and Australian backpackers; but to get a real feeling for the ubiquity of the word `globalisation' type it into your favourite Internet search engine. I did, and got 144,000 references. Browsing through the first several dozen, I discovered `web seminars' on `Globalisation -and International Trade Law', university courses in `Globalisation and Development', businessschool conferences on `Globalisation Management Strategies', OECD papers on `Globalisation in a Knowledge-based and Interdependent world'. The word appeared on Islamic sites (`Globalisation and Economic Integration among Arab Countries'), Marxist sites (`the Globalisation of Production'), Central European sites (`Globalisation and Hungarian Identity'), African sites (`Africa Can Harness Globalisation'). Something called www.freespeech.org appears to be against globalisation. Something called www.oneworld.net seems to believe that the military is sponsoring it.

The very act of sitting there, online, staring into the computer screen, reading the references to globalisation websites in Cape Town and Havana and New Delhi, did indeed make me feel that I was part of, well, a globalised world. And I am not the only one who has had this feeling while using the Internet. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has written a book about globalisation which spent many weeks on the American bestseller lists. In the first chapter, he calmly states that: `Today's era of globalisation, which replaced the Cold War, is a similar international system, with its own unique attributes.' Among these unique attributes are the fact that new technologies are allowing even ordinary people to have access to `reach further, faster, cheaper and deeper around the world'. As an example of one such ordinary person, he cites his mother, who lives in Minneapolis and plays bridge on the Internet with three Frenchmen.

Britain also has its globalisation gurus, who have also become convinced that the Internet is bringing us all together. Among them are the admirable John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, whose book, A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation, appeared last month, and whose generally rosy views on the subject were recently printed in this magazine (`The Market Shall Set You Free', 24 June). Denouncing the nay-sayers, from Prince Charles to Clare Short, they, too, lauded the possibilities that globalisation offers of `breaking down barriers', the new freedoms globalisation creates, and the fact that Mission Impossible 2, rather than being a wholly American trash film, is, in fact, an international trash film, with a director from Hong Kong, two British costars and distributors all over the planet.

What Micklethwait and Wooldridge don't do, however, is question the basic premise of the pro-globalisation v. antiglobalisation debate; namely, whether the most controversial aspect of globalisation - the increasing similarity of everyone and everything; that feeling you get online - is in fact real. Neither, for that matter, do Prince Charles or Clare Short, Thomas Friedman or www.oneworld.net ever ask whether what they are denouncing, or advocating, actually exists.

Up to a point, of course, you can see why: some things have actually changed since the `new era' of globalisation began. A few years back, no restaurant in London would have served you Tahitian mahi-mahi doused in Vietnamese chilli sauce, accompanied by out-of-season Kenyan baby aubergines and followed by Israeli pomegranates. Nowadays you might find just such a meal not only in London, but also in any one of a number of major metropolises, all of which, it is perfectly true, are coming in some ways to resemble one another. I happened to run into The Spectator's editor in Moscow a fortnight ago, and he noted correctly how that once bizarre city now seems much like any other European urban area. …

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