Globalisation and human solidarity
MARK RAPER SJ
Adapted from an address given to the General Assembly of the Asia Partnership for Human Development (APHD), Macau, 2001.
OUR WORLD IS TODAY paradoxically more interconnected and at the same time more painfully divided than ever before. Globalisation provides both stunning new opportunities for those committed to human solidarity and justice as well as immense new challenges. The Bali bombing, the September 11 suicidal attacks on the United States, and the subsequent ‘coalition of the willing’ for a global war on terrorism indicate how fragile is our post-modern world, how elusive is the solidarity we seek, and how radically transformed is the context in which we seek to build partnerships for human development.
Today, people can communicate and travel with ease and rapidity. Our activities can be more effective because of new communications technologies such as e-mail, enabling us to keep better informed, to reach decisions quickly and to transfer funds simply. On the other hand vast populations are increasingly left out of the modern global economy of late capitalism. Poverty and unemployment have increased. Social ills of pandemic proportions result directly from globalization, such as HIV/AIDS; trafficking in drugs, weapons and people; the deterioration in work conditions; the feminization of poverty; the forced displacement of populations both within your countries and as refugees outside them; the ravaging of the natural environment; the sense of alienation felt and violently expressed by ethnic and religious groups.
Some say that globalization is the defining system that has replaced the Cold War. Is the nature of this change totally inevitable? Is there a role for us in humanizing globalization? Can we reach what Pope John Paul II called: ‘globalization in solidarity, globalization without marginalization’?1
Globalization is a process, not a static event, and it involves complex, interdependent networks. In his popular book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Joseph Friedman asserts globalization is producing ‘a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by this new system.’ Those who mounted the September 11 attacks undoubtedly drew on a profound sense of alienation experienced in many parts of the world.
The Economic Dimensions of Globalization
International trade, rapid movement of international capital and the activities of transnational corporations have an impact on the lives of almost everyone alive today. But those who are not members of the economic elite sense that they are losing control of their economic fate. Inequalities increase at a galloping pace. The number of people who have less than $US1 a day to live has risen to around 1.3 billion. Another 2 billion live on no more than $US3 per day. The wealth of the richest 447 individuals is equivalent to the earnings of 50% of all humanity, that is, of over 3 billion people. Never before have there been so many poor and so many disparities. This fact alone constitutes the first basis for revolts and conflicts. For those who get rich, this economic system is regarded as successful. But from an ethical viewpoint, it fails. These statistics on poverty challenge the authorities of the 60s and 70s, who articulately claimed that giving more power to markets would rid the world of poverty.
Critics of globalisation explain that after the 2nd World War, productivity in the industrialised countries was such that income could be distributed to some extent between capital, labour and government. But in order to make capital grow there have been two main strategies: an offensive against labor and diminishment of the role of the state. The offensive against labor involved the lowering of real wages, deregulation, relocating factories, lowering social benefits and loosening the grip of organized labor.
The role of the State as distributor of income and social mediator was shrunk through a number of measures. These include privatizations of public services, as well as of sectors of the economy and austerity programs imposed by the IMF and other international monetary institutions that have limited the freedom of states even to assist their own people.
Privatization of the Economy
The accusation is that these same financial institutions cause the growth of inequality and poverty in the developing world. When directed at the Structural Adjustment Programs of the 1980s and 1990s, these charges are justified. Governments lose their economic authority, even within their own countries. They are less effective in controlling basic conditions, in protecting free competition and in any attempt to redistribute the excessive income of the rich to the poor. The free movement of capital, which the IMF supports, further imbalances the situation, and governments will offer advantages, even ecological concessions, to the larger corporations with international outreach. This is especially cruel on poor countries that see their vital capital going to pay the international debt, leaving the more needy groups without protection. Poor countries, which live in considerable monetary instability, cannot stop poverty from growing nor can they keep their economies from dependency.
Changes in the World of Work
Most young people entering the workforce in the industrialized world today must expect to change careers several times in their working life. Increasing unemployment brings many social and cultural problems: loss of self-esteem, lack of security, inability to make community plans, and delinquency.
Workers are categorized under different dual choices, and these are set at odds with one another: temporary – permanent; full time – part time; men – women; native - immigrant; legal – undocumented. These divisions weaken their capacity to claim salaries, and rights. Similarly, breaking up timetables lessens the contact among workers, weakens the organization of unions and other representative bodies, and facilitates pressure on individuals from the part of employers. Diminishment of workers’ income benefits the income of people in directorship positions. The same corporate managers who are reducing the number of jobs increase their average salaries by millions.
There is growth without employment. The labour pool grows faster than job creation, everywhere except perhaps in some corners of Southeast Asia. In summary, globalization appears to bring greater insecurity for labor, making unemployment and underemployment chronic social ills, and leading to greater inequality in income levels.
The South has its North: the rich who are part of the world’s top 20% income bracket. And the North has its South: immigrants and workers marginalised by unemployment and temporary jobs without the right to unionise or to receive benefits.
Changes in the Political Economy
While the socialist systems have collapsed in a definitive way, their demise has not led to the adoption of the western economic models in most former communist countries. Nor, in many countries in the process of development, have institutions been developed which protect the people from the ravages of free market capitalism. No other country has accepted the pretension that the USA is a model for the future. The visible costs of the American system are too negative in terms of social and racial fragmentation, criminality and massive incarceration, ethnic conflicts and the collapse of family and community. While the United States does not have enough power to impose the global market, it does have enough power to thwart the really needed reforms of the world economy.
Changes in the Environment and Public Health
The best-known negative impact of globalization is environmental degradation: now a serious local, regional and transnational threat. The environmental well-being of any country is linked with that of all other countries. The transmission across state borders of infectious diseases such as AIDS has increased as economic integration has grown. Its spread can be directly correlated with trading and tourist routes.
Judgement about these realities becomes a responsibility that takes our concern beyond the confines of our own national boundaries. There is a globalisation of the task of ethical enquiry and of social responsibility. These environmental and health related concerns challenge the adequacy of a state-centred model of the international order. They widen our definition of community. They give us a new ethical task and relevance. United in order to promote ‘global public goods’ and to address such ‘global public ills’, collaborative networks can have a relevance greater than that commonly associated with the globalisation produced by the policies of IMF or the World Trade Organisation.
Changes in Information and Communications Technology
It took 38 years from the inception of radio to reach the number of 50 million users. Whereas it took only 4 years before there were 50 million World Wide Web users. Many of us cannot imagine living without internet and email, and even cell phones.
There is no more ‘First, Second and Third Worlds’. There is only the ‘Fast World’ and the ‘Slow World’.
The world is facing a revolutionary change of similar proportions to the invention of printing technology in 16th century Europe. We are moving to the merging of multi-media through the internet and through digital technology. Traditional authorities are once again challenged. Normally those with information can dominate those without it. But now that all can have access to information, social patterns, authority roles and organisational arrangements all change radically. Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines enjoyed the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. When asked how she managed to organise over 1000 NGOs and human rights organizations across six continents, despite the opposition of most governments, Jody replied: ‘Email’.
The introduction of alternative media brings a profound challenge to authority, but also great potential for empowering individuals and for solidarity action. As Lawrence Grossman of NBC News said: ‘Printing made us all readers, but Xeroxing made us all publishers. Television made us all viewers, but digitization made us all broadcasters.’ Technologies open powerful possibilities.
Impact on Culture
Perhaps the greatest challenge of globalization to humanity lies in the cultural sphere. First there is the corruption of local cultures to create one global culture of consumerism. The new messages generally have a financial purpose and come mostly from the television and the internet. They come from far away countries or from a supposedly ‘global culture’. They influence profoundly how (especially) children and young people see, feel and live. The images of these media divide humanity into good guys and bad guys. They resolve problems through brute force or will power.
A second impact of globalization is the feeling of alienation and confusion it produces in some sectors because of the breakdown of the local cultural fabric. At its most extreme, this reaction to globalization feeds fundamentalism. Religion, as also ethnic identity, are lightning rods for fundamentalism. Fundamentalism becomes the last point of reference for those who feel excluded, threatened, bewildered or anxious about their future or their place in the world. Fundamentalism advocates a return to certainty. Fear of losing identity can foster sectarianism, exclusivity and violence.
At its less extreme, the frustration and sense of alienation that globalization fosters is producing ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Someone has to be blamed for the rising unemployment, for the closure of the local branch of the bank or of the post office. In reality the fault is with the microchip and the desire for greater profit. But the migrants, asylum seekers and other ‘outsiders’ are generally the ones who are blamed.
New Social Movements
There is as well another globalization at work and indeed a positive one. I refer to the impressive solidarity in transnational social movements that work for human rights, justice for women, protection of the environment, the protection of refugees, the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal, or to combat AIDS or the proliferation of antipersonnel mines.
These movements have their roots in the idea that every person has an equal stake in humankind as a whole, an idea enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared 54 years ago in a rare moment of collective global soul searching following the 2nd World War.
The challenge in fact is to know how to turn from feeling alienation to the search for new alliances.
Ethical and Political Dimensions to Globalization and the Role of the United Nations
The reason that the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations was clearly stated by the Nobel Committee’s chairman: ‘Through this first Peace prize to the UN as such, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes in its centenary year to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and co-operation goes by way of the United Nations’.2
Indeed, Kofi Annan has recently argued for a new assessment of state sovereignty in light of new forms of interdependence across borders:
State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined—not least by the forces of globalisation and international co-operation. States are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of their peoples, and not vice versa…When we read the [UN] charter today, we are more than ever conscious that its aim is to protect individual human beings, not to protect those who abuse them.3
In this way of thinking, human persons are first of all members of the worldwide community, with rights that derive from their humanity, and second, they are members of the communities of existing nation states. This is effectively an argument for the globalisation of citizenship.
There is simply no sign at all that at last, economic equity and social equanimity are about to supplant the aggressive pursuits of wealth that benefit a narrow sector of our world. Hardly a whisper is heard about uniting our world so that its abundant skills and resources may be directed towards the challenges of the real problems of humankind.
But since September 11, 2001, or let us say October 7, 2001, when the bombing began in Afghanistan, our world has been united for another goal. President Bush offers us one sole promise, that he will lead the world to a war which has no end in sight, a war against whom and to achieve what we cannot understand but must trust in our leaders to choose wisely and execute efficiently, when we generally do not trust them to do much simpler things almost every day. Again with the pursuit of Saddam Hussein, we live with that same sense of dread of an irreversible drift towards something that will not work out well. During the Cold War, the UN was useful for the West. During the period of globalization, the US was busy to denigrate and to bankrupt this global body. Now in the ‘global war on terrorism’ the UN has again been re-discovered, but it is put on notice that its usefulness has limits.
Yet agreements reached within the framework of the United Nations are still being repudiated. For example, despite a 50-year-old Refugee Convention, guaranteeing them protection, barriers are erected to refugees and asylum seekers everywhere. The Australian government spent over $10 million each week to keep principally Afghans and Iranians seeking asylum within our territorial frontiers. Over a year the amount spent for Australia’s ‘border protection’ against a potential few thousand souls seeking safety from the same tyrants our government seeks to bomb, will amount to more than the total annual budget of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to care for refugees world wide. If the government had, or would even now contribute a tenth of that amount towards a multilateral effort to find a solution to long-standing problems such as the 24-year-old dilemma of the Afghan people, we might not even be facing the horror of a world at war that grips us today. Why is it that despite all the pressures towards globalization, our national leaders cannot consider solutions that clearly demand international cooperation?
Globalization is an attempt to describe new features of the interaction of people and institutions in our postmodern world. The microchip may be new, but we are still human. We still have values, cultures and social life to root and ground us. Indeed in a time of transition, culture becomes all the more important. The Church is now far more sensitive to and respectful of cultural differences. In whatever way we envisage solidarity, it must contain this principle of encouraging diversity.
One could argue that the communications revolution helped to break down the Cold War. In reaction to Sputnik, a football-sized satellite launched in 1957, the US went crazy with the challenge to have more and cheaper satellites. Because of the new technology developed by this competitive era, means of communication were invented that actually helped to break down the isolation created by the Iron and Bamboo Curtains. Can we hope that similarly President Bush’s attempts to control international financial transfers, in the hunt for funds that underwrite terrorism, will introduce regulatory measures in a field that is until now totally wild?
The Alternatives: Vision
Albert Einstein once said: ‘We cannot expect to solve today’s problems with the same thinking that created them’. May I suggest three levels of alternatives to globalization? The first step is to build an alternative vision, at the second level we identify medium term alternatives that are achievable, but that take time to build because of all the obstacles. The third level involves sets of short-term goals or projects around which to mobilize forces.
The search for solutions to the global problems needs to be local, regional and global. Asia, comprising over half the population of the world, is a rich, diverse, cultural mosaic. Its peoples have many identities and are at many stages of economic development. The human development and human rights challenges facing the Church in Asia are equally diverse, complex and massive. Yet Asia has rich human resources and traditions of wisdom. There is the ideal of living in harmony with nature and the solidarity and complementarity experienced in multi-religious and multi-ethnic contexts. The Church has long experience and maturity in living the option for the poor, in dialogue and inculturation.
Understanding our world better helps us to search for alternatives, for other ways to imagine human development. Understanding ourselves better helps us to know which alternatives we can fruitfully work for. At the level of vision we ask, what kind of society do we want, what work, what education, what agriculture, what communications, what ethics. The vision will draw on ideas from all over, but ours will surely include the core values of peace, mercy, truth and justice, the essential ingredients of reconciliation.
Remember the story of Jody Williams and the Landmines Campaign? In that campaign survivors have a prominent role. Tun Channareth, a double amputee who lives in Siem Reap, Cambodia, makes and distributes wheelchairs to poor villagers. He too received that prize. Sareth and other survivors campaigned and still do. The Landmines Campaign also mobilized the religions. It mobilized churches, religious leaders and basic communities. It mobilized not just sentiment, but also mature reflection based on centuries of tradition. All of these elements are within our reach.
Let me conclude by quoting this same Tun Channareth:
I have never seen peace, and I might not have criteria to understand what justice and peace mean. But we all have pools of ignorance. If we want to understand refugees, we have to believe them and leave all prejudice aside. We need to prepare our hearts when we reach out to a person in need. When we reach such a person, we realise the complex reality we face. Our senses cannot be limited to our eyes or our intelligence: we have to enter totally, with all our being into the relationship. We should be able to laugh and cry with that person, to understand the reasons for his suffering, to be able to face difficulties together with him.4
1 John Paul II, ‘From the Justice of Each Comes the Peace of All’, World Day of Peace Message, January 1, 1998, no. 3.
2 Gunnar Berge, quoted in Financial Times, UK, 13 October 2001.
3 Kofi A. Annan, ‘Two Concepts of Sovereignty’, The Economist, 18 September 1999.
4 Tun Channareth, addressing a seminar at the University of Comillas, Madrid, April 2000.
Mark Raper is the Provincial of the Australian and New Zealand Province of the Jesuits. Previously, he was International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), based in Rome, and, in the 1980s, Regional Director of JRS for Asia and the Pacific. He is a member of the Board of the Refugee Council of Australia.