How to Judge Globalism

Globalization is often seen as global
Westernization. On this point, there
is substantial agreement among many proponents and opponents. Those who take an
upbeat view of globalization see it as a marvelous contribution of Western
civilization to the world. There is a nicely stylized history in which the great
developments happened in Europe: First came the Renaissance, then the
Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and these led to a massive increase
in living standards in the West. And now the great achievements of the West are
spreading to the world. In this view, globalization is not only good, it is also
a gift from the West to the world. The champions of this reading of history tend
to feel upset not just because this great benefaction is seen as a curse but also
because it is undervalued and castigated by an ungrateful world.

From the opposite perspective, Western dominance--sometimes seen as a
continuation of Western imperialism--is the devil of the piece. In this view,
contemporary capitalism, driven and led by greedy and grabby Western countries in
Europe and North America, has established rules of trade and business relations
that do not serve the interests of the poorer people in the world. The
celebration of various non-Western identities--defined by religion (as in Islamic
fundamentalism), region (as in the championing of Asian values), or culture (as
in the glorification of Confucian ethics)--can add fuel to the fire of
confrontation with the West.

Is globalization really a new Western curse? It is, in fact, neither new nor
necessarily Western; and it is not a curse. Over thousands of years,
globalization has contributed to the progress of the world through travel, trade,
migration, spread of cultural influences, and dissemination of knowledge and
understanding (including that of science and technology). These global
interrelations have often been very productive in the advancement of different
countries. They have not necessarily taken the form of increased Western
influence. Indeed, the active agents of globalization have often been located far
from the West.

To illustrate, consider the world at the beginning of the last millennium
rather than at its end. Around 1000 A.D., global reach of science, technology,
and mathematics was changing the nature of the old world, but the dissemination
then was, to a great extent, in the opposite direction of what we see today. The
high technology in the world of 1000 A.D. included paper, the printing press, the
crossbow, gunpowder, the iron-chain suspension bridge, the kite, the magnetic
compass, the wheelbarrow, and the rotary fan. A millennium ago, these items were
used extensively in China--and were practically unknown elsewhere. Globalization
spread them across the world, including Europe.

A similar movement occurred in the Eastern influence on Western mathematics.
The decimal system emerged and became well developed in India between the second
and sixth centuries; it was used by Arab mathematicians soon thereafter. These
mathematical innovations reached Europe mainly in the last quarter of the tenth
century and began having an impact in the early years of the last millennium,
playing an important part in the scientific revolution that helped to transform
Europe. The agents of globalization are neither European nor exclusively Western,
nor are they necessarily linked to Western dominance. Indeed, Europe would have
been a lot poorer--economically, culturally, and scientifically--had it resisted
the globalization of mathematics, science, and technology at that time. And
today, the same principle applies, though in the reverse direction (from West to
East). To reject the globalization of science and technology because it
represents Western influence and imperialism would not only amount to overlooking
global contributions--drawn from many different parts of the world--that lie
solidly behind so-called Western science and technology, but would also be quite
a daft practical decision, given the extent to which the whole world can benefit
from the process.

A Global Heritage

In resisting the diagnosis of globalization as a phenomenon
of quintessentially Western origin, we have to be suspicious not only of the
anti-Western rhetoric but also of the pro-Western chauvinism in many contemporary
writings. Certainly, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial
Revolution were great achievements--and they occurred mainly in Europe and,
later, in America. Yet many of these developments drew on the experience of the
rest of the world, rather than being confined within the boundaries of a discrete
Western civilization.

Our global civilization is a world heritage--not just a collection of
disparate local cultures. When a modern mathematician in Boston invokes an
algorithm to solve a difficult computational problem, she may not be aware that
she is helping to commemorate the Arab mathematician Mohammad Ibn
Musa-al-Khwarizmi, who flourished in the first half of the ninth century. (The
word algorithm is derived from the name al-Khwarizmi.) There is a chain of
intellectual relations that link Western mathematics and science to a collection
of distinctly non-Western practitioners, of whom al-Khwarizmi was one. (The term
algebra is derived from the title of his famous book Al-Jabr
wa-al-Muqabilah.
) Indeed, al-Khwarizmi is one of many non-Western
contributors whose works influenced the European Renaissance and, later, the
Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The West must get full credit for
the remarkable achievements that occurred in Europe and Europeanized America, but
the idea of an immaculate Western conception is an imaginative fantasy.

Not only is the progress of global science and technology not an exclusively
West-led phenomenon, but there were major global developments in which the West
was not even involved. The printing of the world's first book was a marvelously
globalized event. The technology of printing was, of course, entirely an
achievement of the Chinese. But the content came from elsewhere. The first
printed book was an Indian Sanskrit treatise, translated into Chinese by a
half-Turk. The book, Vajracchedika Prajnaparamitasutra (sometimes referred
to as "The Diamond Sutra"), is an old treatise on Buddhism; it was translated
into Chinese from Sanskrit in the fifth century by Kumarajiva, a half-Indian and
half-Turkish scholar who lived in a part of eastern Turkistan called Kucha but
later migrated to China. It was printed four centuries later, in 868 a.d. All
this involving China, Turkey, and India is globalization, all right, but the West
is not even in sight.

Global Interdependences and Movements

The misdiagnosis that globalization of ideas and practices
has to be resisted because it entails dreaded Westernization has played quite a
regressive part in the colonial and postcolonial world. This assumption incites
parochial tendencies and undermines the possibility of objectivity in science and
knowledge. It is not only counterproductive in itself; given the global
interactions throughout history, it can also cause non-Western societies to shoot
themselves in the foot--even in their precious cultural foot.

Consider the resistance in India to the use of Western ideas and concepts
in science and mathematics. In the nineteenth century, this debate fitted into a
broader controversy about Western education versus indigenous Indian education.
The "Westernizers," such as the redoubtable Thomas Babington Macaulay, saw no
merit whatsoever in Indian tradition. "I have never found one among them
[advocates of Indian tradition] who could deny that a single shelf of a good
European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia," he
declared. Partly in retaliation, the advocates of native education resisted
Western imports altogether. Both sides, however, accepted too readily the
foundational dichotomy between two disparate civilizations.

European mathematics, with its use of such concepts as sine, was viewed as a
purely "Western" import into India. In fact, the fifth-century Indian
mathematician Aryabhata had discussed the concept of sine in his classic work on
astronomy and mathematics in 499 a.d., calling it by its Sanskrit name,
jya-ardha (literally, "half-chord"). This word, first shortened to
jya in Sanskrit, eventually became the Arabic jiba and, later,
jaib, which means "a cove or a bay." In his history of mathematics, Howard
Eves explains that around 1150 a.d., Gherardo of Cremona, in his translations
from the Arabic, rendered jaib as the Latin sinus, the
corresponding word for a cove or a bay. And this is the source of the modern word
sine. The concept had traveled full circle--from India, and then back.

To see globalization as merely Western imperialism of ideas and beliefs (as
the rhetoric often suggests) would be a serious and costly error, in the same way
that any European resistance to Eastern influence would have been at the
beginning of the last millennium. Of course, there are issues related to
globalization that do connect with imperialism (the history of conquests,
colonialism, and alien rule remains relevant today in many ways), and a
postcolonial understanding of the world has its merits. But it would be a great
mistake to see globalization primarily as a feature of imperialism. It is much
bigger--much greater--than that.

The issue of the distribution of economic gains and losses from
globalization remains an entirely separate question, and it must be addressed as
a further--and extremely relevant--issue. There is extensive evidence that the
global economy has brought prosperity to many different areas of the globe.
Pervasive poverty dominated the world a few centuries ago; there were only a few
rare pockets of affluence. In overcoming that penury, extensive economic
interrelations and modern technology have been and remain influential. What has
happened in Europe, America, Japan, and East Asia has important messages for all
other regions, and we cannot go very far into understanding the nature of
globalization today without first acknowledging the positive fruits of global
economic contacts.

Indeed, we cannot reverse the economic predicament of the poor across the
world 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 an open society. Rather, the main
issue is how to make good use of the remarkable benefits of economic intercourse
and technological progress in a way that pays adequate attention to the interests
of the deprived and the underdog. That is, I would argue, the constructive
question that emerges from the so-called antiglobalization movements.

Are the Poor Getting Poorer?

The principal challenge relates to inequality--international
as well as intranational. The troubling inequalities include disparities in
affluence and also gross asymmetries in political, social, and economic
opportunities and power.

A crucial question concerns the sharing of the potential gains from
globalization--between rich and poor countries and among different groups within
a country. It is not sufficient to understand that the poor of the world need
globalization as much as the rich do; it is also important to make sure that they
actually get what they need. This may require extensive institutional reform,
even as globalization is defended.

There is also a need for more clarity in formulating the distributional
questions. For example, it is often argued that the rich are getting richer and
the poor poorer. But this is by no means uniformly so, even though there are
cases in which this has happened. Much depends on the region or the group chosen
and what indicators of economic prosperity are used. But the attempt to base the
castigation of economic globalization on this rather thin ice produces a
peculiarly fragile critique.

On the other side, the apologists of globalization point to their belief that
the poor who participate in trade and exchange are mostly getting richer.
Ergo--the argument runs--globalization is not unfair to the poor: they too
benefit. If the central relevance of this question is accepted, then the whole
debate turns on determining which side is correct in this empirical dispute. But
is this the right battleground in the first place? I would argue that it is not.

Global Justice and the Bargaining Problem

Even if the poor were to get just a little richer, this
would not necessarily imply that the poor were getting a fair share of the
potentially vast benefits of global economic interrelations. It is not adequate
to ask whether international inequality is getting marginally larger or smaller.
In order to rebel against the appalling poverty and the staggering inequalities
that characterize the contemporary world--or to protest against the unfair
sharing of benefits of global cooperation--it is not necessary to show that the
massive inequality or distributional unfairness is also getting marginally
larger. This is a separate issue altogether.

When there are gains from cooperation, there can be many possible
arrangements. As the game theorist and mathematician John Nash discussed more
than half a century ago (in "The Bargaining Problem," published in
Econometrica in 1950, which was cited, among other writings, by the Royal
Swedish Academy of Sciences when Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics),
the central issue in general is not whether a particular arrangement is better
for everyone than no cooperation at all would be, but whether that is a fair
division of the benefits. One cannot rebut the criticism that a distributional
arrangement is unfair simply by noting that all the parties are better off than
they would be in the absence of cooperation; the real exercise is the choice
between these alternatives.

An Analogy with the Family

By analogy, to argue that a particularly unequal and sexist
family arrangement is unfair, one does not have to show that women would have
done comparatively better had there been no families at all, but only that the
sharing of the benefits is seriously unequal in that particular arrangement.
Before the issue of gender justice became an explicitly recognized concern (as it
has in recent decades), there were attempts to dismiss the issue of unfair
arrangements within the family by suggesting that women did not need to live in
families if they found the arrangements so unjust. It was also argued that since
women as well as men benefit from living in families, the existing arrangements
could not be unfair. But even when it is accepted that both men and women may
typically gain from living in a family, the question of distributional fairness
remains. Many different family arrangements--when compared with the absence of
any family system--would satisfy the condition of being beneficial to both men
and women. The real issue concerns how fairly benefits associated with these
respective arrangements are distributed.

Likewise, one cannot rebut the charge that the global system is unfair by
showing that even the poor gain something from global contacts and are not
necessarily made poorer. That answer may or may not be wrong, but the question
certainly is. The critical issue is not whether the poor are getting marginally
poorer or richer. Nor is it whether they are better off than they would be had
they excluded themselves from globalized interactions.

Again, the real issue is the distribution of globalization's benefits. Indeed,
this is why many of the antiglobalization protesters, who seek a better deal for
the underdogs of the world economy, are not--contrary to their own rhetoric and
to the views attributed to them by others--really "antiglobalization." It is also
why there is no real contradiction in the fact that the so-called
antiglobalization protests have become among the most globalized events in the
contemporary world.

Altering Global Arrangements

However, can those less-well-off groups get a better deal
from globalized economic and social relations without dispensing with the market
economy itself? They certainly can. The use of the market economy is consistent
with many different ownership patterns, resource availabilities, social
opportunities, and rules of operation (such as patent laws and antitrust
regulations). And depending on these conditions, the market economy would
generate different prices, terms of trade, income distribution, and, more
generally, diverse overall outcomes. The arrangements for social security and
other public interventions can make further modifications to the outcomes of the
market processes, and together they can yield varying levels of inequality and
poverty.

The central question is not whether to use the market economy. That shallow
question is easy to answer, because it is hard to achieve economic prosperity
without making extensive use of the opportunities of exchange and specialization
that market relations offer. Even though the operation of a given market economy
can be significantly defective, there is no way of dispensing with the
institution of markets in general as a powerful engine of economic progress.

But this recognition does not end the discussion about globalized market
relations. The market economy does not work by itself in global
relations--indeed, it cannot operate alone even within a given country. It is not
only the case that a marketinclusive system can generate very distinct results
depending on various enabling conditions (such as how physical resources are
distributed, how human resources are developed, what rules of business relations
prevail, what social-security arrangements are in place, and so on). These
enabling conditions themselves depend critically on economic, social, and
political institutions that operate nationally and globally.

The crucial role of the markets does not make the other institutions
insignificant, even in terms of the results that the market economy can produce.
As has been amply established in empirical studies, market outcomes are massively
influenced by public policies in education, epidemiology, land reform,
microcredit facilities, appropriate legal protections, et cetera; and in each of
these fields, there is work to be done through public action that can radically
alter the outcome of local and global economic relations.

Institutions and Inequality

Globalization has much to offer; but even as we defend it,
we must also, without any contradiction, see the legitimacy of many questions
that the antiglobalization protesters ask. There may be a misdiagnosis about
where the main problems lie (they do not lie in globalization, as such), but the
ethical and human concerns that yield these questions call for serious
reassessments of the adequacy of the national and global institutional
arrangements that characterize the contemporary world and shape globalized
economic and social relations.

Global capitalism is much more concerned with expanding the domain of
market relations than with, say, establishing democracy, expanding elementary
education, or enhancing the social opportunities of society's underdogs. Since
globalization of markets is, on its own, a very inadequate approach to world
prosperity, there is a need to go beyond the priorities that find expression in
the chosen focus of global capitalism. As George Soros has pointed out,
international business concerns often have a strong preference for working in
orderly and highly organized autocracies rather than in activist and
less-regimented democracies, and this can be a regressive influence on equitable
development. Further, multinational firms can exert their influence on the
priorities of public expenditure in less secure third-world countries by giving
preference to the safety and convenience of the managerial classes and of
privileged workers over the removal of widespread illiteracy, medical
deprivation, and other adversities of the poor. These possibilities do not, of
course, impose any insurmountable barrier to development, but it is important to
make sure that the surmountable barriers are actually surmounted.

Omissions and Commissions

The injustices that characterize the world are closely
related to various omissions that need to be addressed, particularly in
institutional arrangements. I have tried to identify some of the main problems in
my book Development as Freedom (Knopf, 1999). Global policies have a role
here in helping the development of national institutions (for example, through
defending democracy and supporting schooling and health facilities), but there is
also a need to re-examine the adequacy of global institutional arrangements
themselves. The distribution of the benefits in the global economy depends, among
other things, on a variety of global institutional arrangements, including those
for fair trade, medical initiatives, educational exchanges, facilities for
technological dissemination, ecological and environmental restraints, and fair
treatment of accumulated debts that were often incurred by irresponsible military
rulers of the past.

In addition to the momentous omissions that need to be rectified, there are
also serious problems of commission that must be addressed for even elementary
global ethics. These include not only inefficient and inequitable trade
restrictions that repress exports from poor countries, but also patent laws that
inhibit the use of lifesaving drugs--for diseases like AIDS--and that give
inadequate incentive for medical research aimed at developing nonrepeating
medicines (such as vaccines). These issues have been much discussed on their own,
but we must also note how they fit into a general pattern of unhelpful
arrangements that undermine what globalization could offer.

Another--somewhat less discussed--global "commission" that causes intense
misery as well as lasting deprivation relates to the involvement of the world
powers in globalized arms trade. This is a field in which a new global initiative
is urgently required, going beyond the need--the very important need--to curb
terrorism, on which the focus is so heavily concentrated right now. Local wars
and military conflicts, which have very destructive consequences (not least on
the economic prospects of poor countries), draw not only on regional tensions but
also on global trade in arms and weapons. The world establishment is firmly
entrenched in this business: the Permanent Members of the Security Council of the
United Nations were together responsible for 81 percent of world arms exports
from 1996 through 2000. Indeed, the world leaders who express deep frustration at
the "irresponsibility" of antiglobalization protesters lead the countries that
make the most money in this terrible trade. The G-8 countries sold 87 percent of
the total supply of arms exported in the entire world. The U.S. share alone has
just gone up to almost 50 percent of the total sales in the world. Furthermore,
as much as 68 percent of the American arms exports went to developing countries.

The arms are used with bloody results--and with devastating effects on the
economy, the polity, and the society. In some ways, this is a continuation of the
unhelpful role of world powers in the genesis and flowering of political
militarism in Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s, when the Cold War was fought
over Africa. During these decades, when military overlords--Mobuto Sese Seko or
Jonas Savimbi or whoever--busted social and political arrangements (and,
ultimately, economic order as well) in Africa, they could rely on support either
from the United States and its allies or from the Soviet Union, depending on
their military alliances. The world powers bear an awesome responsibility for
helping in the subversion of democracy in Africa and for all the far-reaching
negative consequences of that subversion. The pursuit of arms "pushing" gives
them a continuing role in the escalation of military conflicts today--in Africa
and elsewhere. The U.S. refusal to agree to a joint crackdown even on illicit
sales of small arms (as proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan) illustrates
the difficulties involved.

Fair Sharing of Global Opportunities

To conclude, the confounding of globalization with
Westernization is not only ahistorical, it also distracts attention from the many
potential benefits of global integration. Globalization is a historical process
that has offered an abundance of opportunities and rewards in the past and
continues to do so today. The very existence of potentially large benefits makes
the question of fairness in sharing the benefits of globalization so critically
important.

The central issue of contention is not globalization itself, nor is it the
use of the market as an institution, but the inequity in the overall balance of
institutional arrangements--which produces very unequal sharing of the benefits
of globalization. The question is not just whether the poor, too, gain something
from globalization, but whether they get a fair share and a fair opportunity.
There is an urgent need for reforming institutional arrangements--in addition to
national ones--in order to overcome both the errors of omission and those of
commission that tend to give the poor across the world such limited
opportunities. Globalization deserves a reasoned defense, but it also needs
reform.

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