December 30th, 2006

ozarque figure

Discussing globalization; part one...

Since I proposed a Time Out on December 13th I've been spending as much time as possible reading on the "basics" of economics and globalization -- sometimes based on your recommendations for source materials, sometimes not. I've finished all but the last half dozen pages of Friedman's The World Is Flat; I've read a foot-high stack of PDFs and journal articles; I've read an assortment of discussions of globalization [and of the Friedman book, usually in the not very helpful form of ranting and raving about (a) his stupidity, and (b) his revoltingly bad metaphors] on major blogs.

The more I read, the more confused I become -- and the more clearly I understand why people are so tempted to just pick one version of the case either for or against globalization and refuse to read or hear anything else on the subject. It's less confusing that way.

I kept hoping I'd find some one document, preferably current and by a respected scholar, that summed up the entire issue clearly and concisely and would serve as a framework by which we could structure our discussion... I didn't find it. [If you have found it, please share the information.]

Winging it, therefore, it seems to me that we might just try examining the various positions being taken on globalization one at a time and see where that gets us. Starting with what we could call the "survival of the fittest" position. That's the one that says some people on this planet are going to have what they need to live decently, some are going to have what they need to live in luxury, and some are going to lack even the most basic necessities of life -- and that's just the way things are. There's the scientific version of this position, which we're all familiar with; and then there's a religious variation on this position in which things are this way because that's the way Whoever Is In Charge has decided they should be. Both versions, so far as I can see, lead inexorably to the proposition that each of us is obligated to do our best for our own personal selves and perhaps for our own immediate family, and anything more than that is simply wasted effort.

Which, assuming you find that position acceptable and rational, solves the problem of knowing what to do, right?

No, unfortunately. Because even if you are a staunch advocate of survival of the fittest, you are immediately faced with the question of what is best for you and your immediate family.

Take just one reasonably simple example. Survival of the fittest (hereafter SOTF) says it's absurd for you to worry about the health of someone in sub-Saharan Africa; your only obligation is to take care of your own health and the health of your own child. But then you discover that with today's international travel the communicable diseases ravaging sub-Saharan Africa are likely to arrive at your local airport any day of the week and emerge into your own hometown and threaten both you and your child. Which brings up the question of whether an essential part of your personal survival involves spending some of your resources trying to stamp out the communicable diseases ravaging sub-Saharan Africa. Which seems to indicate that altruism somehow morphs into your own most selfish self-interest.

Over to you....
ozarque figure

Discussing globalization, part one; afternote....

rabidsamfan says -- justifiably: "I'd like to see a definition of what you think 'globalization' means, btw..."

I apologize for starting this without defining even my most basic term. There are so many different definitions floating around that I thought I might get away with not making mine explicit for a while. But that's totally stupid, and lazy, not to mention how unlikely it was. So.....

For me, the term "globalization" means the set of mechanisms available to humankind for the purpose of ensuring an equal opportunity for every human being on the planet. Not for ensuring an equal outcome for every human being; that's not possible. Just an equal opportunity.

And while I'm here, I want to mention the Global Policy Forum's "Globalization" website at http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/index.htm , where the first topic is "Defining Globalization."