Globalisation has had a bad press. Everyone seems to be against it. And yet, do we know what it is that we are against? And are there aspects of it that aren’t all so negative?
What is globalisation?
It is interesting that generally speaking, globalisation is seen as an economic thing. Searching for a definition of globalisation, the first ‘hit’ on Google is:
But of course, that’s only part of the story.
A broader definition would probably put it like Wikipedia does: the process of international integration arising from the interchange of worldviews, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.
For me, globalisation meant, first and foremost, that the world was becoming more accessible than it had seemed when I grew up in a small, conservative, parochial town in southern Germany. Globalisation (although at the time I didn’t use or even know that term) meant: getting away from the constraints of place.
How did that even appear on my horizon? We didn’t travel far when I was young. We lived close enough to international borders so that we had experience of crossing them, of hearing other languages spoken, of showing passports and of using foreign money. But it was still on a very small scale and there wasn’t an expectation that we would spend anything other than holidays ‘abroad’.
When I grew up, in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century, we had only just come out of the second of two devastating wars. Neighbouring countries were still viewed with some trepidation and fear, if not outright hostility.
So when in part because of our connection to Quakers and in part due to marginally reducing travel costs, the prospect of travelling to the US and spending a year there came into view, it seemed the most amazing and liberating thing that had ever happened or would ever happen.
And of course, once you step on that train, you can’t get off. Having experience of other cultures, making friends in other places, inevitably and irrevocably changes you – for the better. However scary the experience is.
Who is us?
Limited Experience of Interconnectedness
One of the things that is important to remember is this: very few people, comparatively, have the experience of being in a different place. I’m not talking about 2 weeks’ holiday or a shopping spree to New York. I’m talking about living in another place, with other people, having to learn to adapt to another way of doing things. And language is only one – and not even the most difficult – aspects of this.
So the positive experience of broadening horizons, of seeing things from a different vantage point, of breathing more freely in terms of the way one thinks, is not a universally shared experience.
Even with 60 years of the European Union and many years of the Erasmus student exchange programme, it is still only a small percentage of all students who participate. According to EU statistics, there were 19.6 million students in higher education in 2013 , for example and there were 268 000 participants in the Erasmus programme . That makes about 1.3 %.
So if very few people actually gain this experience, it is not altogether surprising if only a very few people actually feel strongly about the interconnectedness with others that this experience brings.
On 20 March 2017, Dr. Giles Fraser spoke on the BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ about this. He was commenting on a book, ‘On the Road to Somewhere’ by David Goodhart, published on 17 March 2017 by C. Hurst and Co.
Essentially, Dr. Fraser was reflecting on the notion that there are people who are ‘Somewheres’ who have a loyalty to place, to home and to their own people and there are ‘Anywheres’ who operate as nomadic individualists who don’t. He suggests that there is a somewhere that can transcend place (I think what he was driving at was seeing religion (in his case) or possibly more broadly ideology as a ‘somewhere’. In that sense he was asking ‘who is us?’
The bigger problem
But then it struck me that as one of the nomadic individualists of this analysis I’m not a great fan of what is more commonly understood by economic globalisation either. And this, in my view, is the rub: globalisation isn’t one thing and therefore it is not possible and not sensible to have one view about it.
Economic globalisation has enabled large players in the many markets to do
some or all of the following:
• Move work from one economy to another, chasing lower wages and poorer employment rights
• Move goods from one economy to another, chasing higher prices and higher returns
• Move their headquarters from one economy to another, chasing lower or no taxes
All this is classic business economics of course: you try to produce at the lowest possible cost; you try to sell at the highest possible profit; and you try to spend as little as possible on non-productive costs (such as taxes). Makes sense, doesn’t it? Or does it?
What are the consequences for real people?
• Unacceptable working conditions: including slave wages, zero hour contracts, no benefits, no job security, no unionisation rights. All the power in the hands of the employer, none in the hands of the workers
• Unacceptable strain on the planet: too much stuff is produced; too much stuff is consumed (much at incredibly low prices) and a kind of artificial demand is stoked with advertising that leads people to spend, spend, spend (on credit of course). So we go and buy cheap clothes and shoes, not worrying too much about who paid the price for this. But at the same time we don’t like the fact that our wages don’t go up because there’s always someone else somewhere who will do the work for less and with less security.
• Unacceptable strain on the community: if taxes are low, governments have less to spend. If people are technically self-employed, there is less by way of employers’ contributions to pensions and social security. If governments don’t have money, then people working in the public sector don’t get decent wages; services aren’t delivered, and society grinds to a halt.
All these are consequences of globalisation; much of what is happening to make the world economy into one single economy, would not be possible without the extensive global transport and communication networks that already exist. Of course, those, too, have a major impact on the planet. If we ship carpets halfway across the world because wool is cheaper in New Zealand and labour is cheaper in India but the carpets are needed in Europe, then we need fuel to do this.
But all these are also consequences of immeasurable greed – the greed of shareholders and of bankers who cannot understand that if the wages of the workers can’t go up and if their contribution to the common good isn’t made, then their returns should also be curbed.
When did it become commonplace to think that capital should have no controls on its returns but labour should be squeezed to the lowest level of pay?
So, yes, globalisation plays a part but it is driven by greed. And, ironically, for those of us who are nomadic individualists, this is not forced to be our normal modus operandi, not least because we have seen how other people live and that there is more to life than profit.
The solidarity that comes from a global outlook, from an understanding that our place is Earth and that we share it will all other people here now and here in the future and many other living things, is an understanding that could curb the greed that drives the downside of globalisation.
Theresa May said in her conference speech in October 2016: ‘But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means. ’ She couldn’t have been more wrong. We need to understand that the somewhere we belong to is the world and that our people are all people. That will be the starting point for learning how we can live together peacefully and with justice. We need to understand that so long as people flee the place of their birth for want of food, for want of clean water, for want of a roof over their head, for want of basic security and safety there will be no peace anywhere. We need to understand that so long as there is the level of global inequality we see now, there will be no justice anywhere.
We need a new movement: a popular movement of the ‘Somewheres’ and the ‘Anywheres’ together for peace and justice. When that has been achieved, the question of how enmeshed we want to be with place or with ideology will become irrelevant and simply a matter of personal preference. It will be a time when we will have friends across the globe (made possible through the Internet) and where the main issue for all of us will be to have a good life – a life that can only be good if life is good for others, too.
Image of visas in passport: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4029/4505185416_25054bc9cb_b.jpg
Erasmus logo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/9/90/Erasmus_logo.svg/858px-Erasmus_logo.svg.png
Negative impact of globalisation: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/06/55/31/065531d5b884a26d985d99e56d4d91ad.jpg
The world in our hands: http://www.changethethought.com/wp-content/