Ten Theses on Globalization
Amartya Sen, master of Trinity College, Cambridge,
was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1998.
Cambridge - Doubts about the global economic order,
which extend far beyond organized protests, have to be viewed in the light
of the dual presence of abject misery and unprecedented prosperity in
the world in which we live. Even though the world is incomparably richer
than ever before, ours is also a world of extraordinary deprivation and
of staggering inequality.
We have to bear in mind this elemental contrast to interpret widespread
skepticism about the global order, and even the patience of the general
public with the so-called "anti-globalization" protests, despite
the fact that they are often frantic and frenzied and sometimes violent.
Debates about globalization demand a better understanding of the underlying
issues, which tend to get submerged in the rhetoric of confrontation,
on one side, and hasty rebuttals, on the other. Some general points would
seem to need particular attention.
1 " Anti-globalization protests are not about globalization:
The so-called "anti-globalization" protesters can hardly be,
in general, anti-globalization, since these protests are among the most
globalized events in the contemporary world. The protesters in Seattle,
Melbourne, Prague, Quebec, Genoa and elsewhere are not just local kids,
but men and women from across the world pouring into the location of the
respective events to pursue global complaints.
2 " Globalization is not new, nor is it just Westernization:
Over thousands of years, globalization has progressed through travel,
trade, migration, spread of cultural influences and dissemination of knowledge
and understanding (including of science and technology).
The influences have gone in different directions. For example, toward
the close of the millennium just ended, the direction of movement has
been largely from the West to elsewhere, but at the beginning of the same
millennium (around 1000 ad), Europe was absorbing Chinese science and
technology and Indian and Arabic mathematics. There is a world heritage
of interaction, and the contemporary trends fit into that history.
3 " Globalization is not in itself a folly: It has enriched
the world scientifically and culturally and benefited many people economically
as well. Pervasive poverty and "nasty, brutish and short" lives
dominated the world not many centuries ago, with only a few pockets of
rare affluence. In overcoming that penury, modern technology as well as
economic interrelations have been influential. The predicament of the
poor across the world cannot be reversed by withholding from them the
great advantages of contemporary technology, the well-established efficiency
of international trade and exchange, and the social as well as economic
merits of living in open, rather than closed, societies.
What is needed is a fairer distribution of the fruits of globalization.
4 " The central issue, directly or indirectly, is inequality:
The principal challenge relates in one way or another to inequality-between
as well as within nations. The relevant inequalities include disparities
in affluence, but also gross asymmetries in political, social and economic
power. A crucial question concerns the sharing of the potential gains
from globalization, between rich and poor countries, and between different
groups within countries.
5 " The primary concern is the level of inequality, not its marginal
change: By claiming that the rich are getting richer and the poorer getting
poorer, the critics of globalization have, often enough, chosen the wrong
battleground. Even though many sections of the poor in the world economy
have done badly (for a variety of reasons, involving domestic as well
as international arrangements), it is hard to establish an overall and
clear-cut trend. Much depends on the indicators chosen and the variables
in terms of which inequality and poverty are judged.
But this debate does not have to be settled as a precondition for getting
on with the central issue. The basic concerns relate to the massive levels
of inequality and poverty-not whether they are also increasing at the
margin. Even if the patrons of the contemporary economic order were right
in claiming that the poor in general had moved a little ahead (this is,
in fact, by no means uniformly so), the compelling need to pay immediate
and overwhelming attention to appalling poverty and staggering inequalities
in the world would not disappear.
6 " The question is not just whether there exists some gain
for all parties, but whether the distribution of gains is fair: When there
are gains from cooperation, there can be many alternative arrangements
that benefit each party compared with no cooperation. It is necessary,
therefore, to ask whether the distribution of gains is fair or acceptable,
and not just whether there exists some gain for all parties (which can
be the case for a great many alternative arrangements).
As J.F. Nash, the mathematician and game theorist, discussed more than
half a century ago (in a paper called "The Bargaining Problem"
published in Econometrica in 1950, cited by the Royal Swedish Academy
in awarding him the Nobel prize in economics), in the presence of gains
from cooperation, the central issue is not whether a particular joint
outcome is better for all than no cooperation (there are many such alternatives),
but whether it yields a fair division of the benefits. To consider an
analogy, to argue that a particularly unequal and sexist family arrangement
is unfair, it does not have to be shown that women would have done comparatively
better had there been no families at all, but only that the sharing of
the benefits of the family system is seriously unequal and unfair as things
are currently organized.
7 " The use of the market economy is consistent with many
different institutional conditions, and they can produce different outcomes:
The central question cannot be whether or not to make use of the market
economy. It is not possible to have a prosperous economy without its extensive
use. But that recognition does not end the discussion, only begins it.
The market economy can generate many different results, depending on how
physical resources are distributed, how human resources are developed,
what "rules of game" prevail and so on, and in all these spheres,
the state and the society have roles, within a country and in the world.
The market is one institution among many. Aside from the need for pro-poor
public policies within an economy (related to basic education and health
care, employment generation, land reforms, credit facilities, legal protections,
women's empowerment and more), the distribution of the benefits of international
interactions depends also on a variety of global arrangements (including
trade agreements, patent laws, medical initiatives, educational exchanges,
facilities for technological dissemination, ecological and environmental
policies and so on).
8 " The world has changed since the Bretton Woods agreement:
The international, economic, financial and political architecture of the
world, which we have inherited from the past (including the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund and other institutions), was largely set
up in the 1940s, following the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. The bulk
of Asia and Africa was still under imperialist dominance then; tolerance
of insecurity and poverty was much greater; the idea of human rights was
still very weak; the power of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) had
not emerged yet; the environment was not seen as particularly important;
and democracy was definitely not seen as a global entitlement.
9 " Both policy and institutional changes are needed: The
existing international institutions have, to varying extents, tried to
respond to the changed situation. For example, the World Bank, under James
Wolfensohn's guidance, has revised its priorities. The United Nations,
particularly under Kofi Annan's leadership, has tried to play a bigger
role, despite financial stringency.
But more changes are needed. Indeed, the power structure underlying the
institutional architecture itself needs to be reexamined in the light
of the new political reality, of which the growth of globalized protest
is only a loosely connected expression.
The balance of power that reflected the status quo in the 1940s also has
to be reexamined. Consider the problem of management of conflicts, local
wars and the spending on armament. The governments of Third World countries
bear much responsibility for the outrageous continuation of violence and
waste, but also the arms trade is encouraged by world powers that are
often the main sources of armament export. Indeed, as the Human Development
Report of the 1994 UN Development Program pointed out, not only were the
top five arms-exporting countries precisely the five permanent members
of the UN Security Council, but also they were, together, responsible
for 86 percent of all the conventional weapons exported during the period
studied. It is not hard to explain the inability of the world establishment
to deal more effectively with these merchants of death.
The recent difficulties even in getting support for a joint crackdown
on illicit arms (as proposed by Kofi Annan) is a small illustration of
a big obstacle related to the global power balance.
10 " Global construction is the needed response to global
doubts: The anti-globalization protests are themselves part of the general
process of globalization, from which there is no escape and no great reason
to seek escape. But while we have reason enough to support globalization
in the best sense of that idea, there are also critically important institutional
and policy issues that need to be addressed at the same time. It is not
easy to disperse the doubts without seriously addressing the underlying
concerns that motivate those doubts. That, at any rate, should not come
as a surprise.
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