Globalization describes the ongoing global trend toward the freer flow of trade and investment across borders and the resulting integration of the international economy. Because it expands economic freedom and spurs competition, globalization raises the productivity and living standards of people in countries that open themselves to the global marketplace.
For less developed countries, globalization offers access to foreign capital, global export markets, and advanced technology while breaking the monopoly of inefficient and protected domestic producers. Faster growth, in turn, promotes poverty reduction, democratization, and higher labor and environmental standards.
While globalization may confront government officials with more difficult choices, the result for their citizens is greater individual freedom. In this sense, globalization acts as a check on governmental power that makes it more difficult for governments to abuse the freedom and property of their citizens.
Globalization has become a major public issue over the past decade. Most of the recent controversy has centered on the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO was established in 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT), has authority to oversee international trade, administer free trade agreements, and settle trade disputes among member nations. However with the WTO, authority was greatly expanded to cover trade in services as well as merchandise – including protection of intellectual property rights associated with such things as artistic recordings, computer programs, and patented genetic materials. Also, the WTO has far greater authority over trade in agricultural commodities than had existed under the GATT. The implicit, if not explicit, objective in forming the WTO was to reduce, and eventually remove, all obstacles to trade, in order to achieve a “global free market.”
Globalization, in concept, is far broader in meaning than is “global free market.” To “globalize,” according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to make worldwide in scope or application.” The objective of the WTO is “to make the economy worldwide in scope.” However, we cannot globalize the economy without simultaneously affecting global ecology and global society. This is the crux of the current the WTO controversy. What are the real benefits and costs of economic globalization, not just for the world economy, but also for the world community and for the world itself?
We live in a global ecosystem, the biosphere, regardless of whether we like it or not. We have no choice; such is the nature of “nature.” The atmosphere is global. Whatever we put in the air in one place eventually may find its way to any other place on the globe. Weather is global. The warming or cooling of the oceans in one part of the world affects the weather in another, which in turn affects the temperature of oceans elsewhere on the globe. Thus, the oceans also are not just international, but global. All the elements of the biosphere are interrelated and interconnected, including its human elements. We are all members of the global community of nature. We have no choice in this matter.
Increasingly, we are all living in a global “social” community. Global communications – print media, radio, television, and the Internet – have erased national communications boundaries, resulting in the spread of common cultural values around the globe. Global travel has become faster, easier, and less expensive, resulting in greater person-to-person sharing of social and cultural values among nations. Consequently, the distinctiveness of national cultures has diminished. We seem to be moving toward universal membership in a common global culture.
However, in matters of culture we have the right and the responsibility to choose. We have the right to maintain whatever aspects of our unique local or national cultures that we choose. And we have the responsibility to protect this right against the economic or political forces pushing us toward a single global culture.
We also seem to be moving toward a single global economy. International trade has increased dramatically over the past few decades, first under the various GATT agreements and now under the WTO. All of the national economies of the world are interconnected now through their dependence upon each other for trade. Problems anywhere in the world economic community, with Japan and Argentina being recent examples, create economic problems for nations all around the globe. The implicit purpose of the WTO is to remove all barriers to trade and to create a single global economy.
In this matter, we also have a right and a responsibility to choose. Every nation has the right to maintain those aspects of its local and national economies that are necessary to protect its resources and its people from exploitation. In a truly global economy, the social and political boundaries that now constrain such economic exploitation would no longer exist. Every nation has a responsibility to maintain such boundaries as may be necessary to protect its people and its resources from economic exploitation. Again, to the crux of the WTO controversy, what are the benefits and costs of removing the economic boundaries among nations, thus creating a single global economy?
Perhaps the best way to begin addressing this question is to ask what current boundaries to globalization currently exist and why those boundaries are there in the first place? The boundaries that exist in nature, the ecological boundaries, were put there by natural processes. Such physical features as oceans, mountains, and even rivers and ridges, separate one physical bioregion from another. Why are these boundaries in nature? Perhaps because nature is inherently diverse, the boundaries are nature’s way of defining its diversity. Boundaries define the form or structure of those things that support life: sunlight, air, water, and soil. Boundaries define the structure of living things: bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and humans. We know also that diversity is necessary for resistance, resilience, and regeneration. Without diversity, without boundaries, nature could not support life, including human life.
Cultural and political boundaries are those that define “communities” of people – including cities, states, and nations. We established such boundaries to facilitate relationships among people within those boundaries and to differentiate relationships among people within a given “community” from their relationships with people in other “communities.” Within boundaries, relationships were nurtured to enhance social connectedness and personal security. The purpose for boundaries “between” communities was to maintain some sense of identify, and thus, diversity among different groups or communities of people. Historically, people have valued such diversity as a means of maintaining choices and opportunity – deemed necessary for health, growth, resilience, and long run security of human society.
In earlier times, cultural and political boundaries tended to coincide with natural boundaries – oceans, mountains, rivers, and ridges. However during the industrial era, there was a growing tendency to ignore the guidance of nature, allowing economic and political considerations to take priority over nature in defining the bounds of our personal relationships. Wars have drawn the boundaries of countries along lines that have little relationship to either topography or culture. Towns and cities have expanded their boundaries with little regard for the best long run use of the land they have covered with buildings and concrete. And with the trend toward a “global community,” the remaining social and cultural boundaries that once defining groups with diverse social, ethical, and moral values are being largely ignored.