“So, is globalization good or bad?” The question came from a thoughtful young colleague. And it is at the forefront of the current political debate on jobs and immigration. As we explored it, my young friend and I came to agree that it is the wrong question. We must first ask “Which globalization?”
The corporatist political establishment strongly favors globalization as it chooses to define the word. Corporatists dismiss as provincial, xenophobic, racist isolationists the populists of both left and right who oppose globalization.
So, how do corporatists define globalization? According to Merriam-Webster globalization is: “the act or process of globalizing: the state of being globalized, especially: the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets.” Merriam-Webster homes in on a fundamentally economic definition and in doing so equates globalization with the processes that facilitate the consolidation of power in the hands of global corporations.
For Google, globalization is simply “the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale.” This definition is even narrower.
This leaves us with a choice between the deeply destructive globalization of corporate rule and the provincialism of isolationists. It was a choice presented to U.S. voters in the presidential contest between the corporatist Hilary Clinton and the faux-populist Donald Trump.
A deeper perspective on globalization is beautifully summarized in this famous quotation from the distinguished economist John Maynard Keynes:
I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel—these are the things that, by their nature, should be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national.
This quotation is from his article “National Self-Sufficiency” published in the June 1933 issue of The Yale Review, well before the dramatic globalization of travel, communication, trade, money, and investment of the past 60 years. Yet Keynes’ nuanced search for a proper balance between localism and globalism remains remarkably relevant to today’s political debate.
Our human transition to a truly interconnected global species is a living memory.
The past 60 years have marked an extraordinary human transition as the barriers to global travel and communication have melted away. We humans now share information, technology and culture in ways that in my childhood were scarcely a gleam in a futurist’s eye. For me and many others of my generation, our human transition to a truly interconnected global species is a living memory.
I was born in 1937. The first transatlantic jet passenger service was initiated in 1958. North American transcontinental service followed in 1959.
In the mid-1960s, my wife, Fran, and I were living in Ethiopia. Our only communication beyond the capital of Addis Ababa was by snail mail and our trusty 4 wheel-drive Land Rover. Dependent on the gas we carried with us, we visited areas of Ethiopia where we traveled for days without seeing another vehicle. In 1967, I fed the research data for my doctoral dissertation into a room-sized computer using punch cards.
Now many of the remote Ethiopian villages we visited have Internet cafes that connect their people seamlessly to all the world’s diverse inhabitants; the phone in my pocket has more computing power than that room-sized computer.
We are only beginning to sort out the choices that these changes pose.
This monumental shift occurred in a blink of history’s eye. Still in transition, we are only beginning to sort out the choices that these changes pose.
The corporate-dominated, self-proclaimed “political center” calls us to press on with globalization. Meanwhile, a growing populist fervor recognizes that something is terribly wrong, that it relates to what corporatists call globalization, and that change is imperative.
The populist right blames government and socialism and sees unfettered capitalism as the solution. The populist left blames corporations and capitalism and calls for a stronger government hand. Both embrace partial truths, miss the bigger picture, and play into the hands of the corporatist middle that maintains its power by keeping us divided against our own interests.
The globalization of production and finance under the control of corporations accountable only to global financial markets threatens our species viability. This is the bad globalization we must put behind us. Material needs are better met locally whenever practicable.
The globalization of ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel, as Keynes suggested, is the good globalization. It raises consciousness of our common humanity, interconnection, and interdependence in ways far from isolationist or xenophobic. And it opens extraordinary creative opportunities to achieve a world of peace, material sufficiency, and spiritual abundance for all. We properly celebrate and facilitate it.
David Korten is co-founder of YES! Media, president of the Living Economies Forum, a member of the Club of Rome, and the author of influential books, including “When Corporations Rule the World” and “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” His work builds on lessons from the 21 years he and his wife, Fran, lived and worked in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on a quest to end global poverty.