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Understanding Globalization

The "globalization debate." Some see it as a battle between optimism and pessimism. Others see it not as a debate at all, but as an ongoing quest to find the best uses of increased interconnectedness in today's global society. Part of the reason for such varied viewpoints is linked to the fact that the term "globalization" means so many different things depending on who you ask.

The World Bank, viewed as one of the major players in globalization, comments:

Amazingly for so widely used a term, there does not appear to be any precise, widely-agreed definition. Indeed the breadth of meanings attached to it seems to be increasing rather than narrowing over time, taking on cultural, political and other connotations in addition to the economic.
In an economic sense, globalization generally refers to the increasing international trade and foreign investment in today's world. More broadly, the term is even used at times as another name for capitalism or the market economy. But to limit our understanding of globalization to this definition is to ignore many of its other implications.

In THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, Peter A. Hall and Sidney Tarrow suggest that

Every era has concepts that capture the public imagination, and "globalization" has recently emerged as one for our time. The term conveys a sense that international forces are driving more and more developments in the world, and thus crystallizes both the hopes of some people that we will finally achieve a global society and the fears of many others that their lives and jobs are threatened by forces beyond their control.
In addition to the political, economic, and cultural implications of globalization, supporters and critics alike also speak of the environmental, linguistic, and technological effects of globalization. If there is truly no sphere into which this trend does not reach, then it may be important to understand the many different things that are being said about globalization. NOW has compiled a starting guide on the debate and some resources to help you go deeper.

Note that although we have divided the following into pro- and anti-globalization viewpoints, very few of the writers stand firmly on one side of the issue. Instead, many of these quotations are fraught with mixed feelings on the potential advantages and dangers of globalization. Additionally, some critics complain that the very term "globalization" is too loaded with multiple meanings to hold any significance whatsoever. Discuss your thoughts on the topic.

"Globalisation is generating great wealth. This could be used to massively reduce poverty worldwide and to reduce global inequality.... We must try to manage this new era, in a way which...helps to lift millions of people out of poverty."

- Clare Short, UK Secretary of State for International Development

"The increasing globalization of U.S. corporations gives them the leverage to hold down wages and resist unionization. Average real wages (corrected for inflation) have been falling since the early 1970s. By 1992, average weekly earnings in the private, non-agricultural part of the U.S. economy were 19 percent below their peak in the early 1970s. Nearly one-fourth of the U.S. workforce now earns less in real terms than the 1968 minimum wage!"

- Kevin Danaher, "Globalization and the Downsizing of the American Dream"

"Globalisation, then, is growth-promoting. Growth, in turn, reduces poverty.... the liberalisation of international transactions is good for freedom and prosperity. The anti-liberal critique is wrong: marginalisation is in large part caused by not enough rather than too much globalisation."

- Razeen Sally, London School of Economics

"U.S.-style globalism not only attempts to suppress labor, but also seeks to suppress social welfare systems and support for public expenditures that do not directly benefit the expansion of capital. The social welfare system and other public services, such as schools, social services in the North and food subsidies in the South, are supported through taxes, and taxes reduce short-term benefits to capital."

- John A. Powell and S.P. Udayakumar, University of Minnesota Law School in "Poverty & Race"

Agreements like NAFTA and the WTO force nations to respect contracts, which encourages responsible investment and, hence, economic growth. And, you see, economic growth creates a middle class, and a middle class, eventually, demands democracy. That is the story of the 20th century and, God willing, it will be the story of the 21st."

- Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online

"While globalisation has led to benefits for some, it has not led to benefits for all. The benefits appear to have gone to those who already have the most, while many of the poorest have failed to benefit fully and some have even been made poorer."

- Duncan Green & Claire Melamed, A Human Development Approach to Globalisation

More on Globalization

Read a detailed definition of globalization from the Oxford Companion to Politics, entitled "What is Globalization?"

The 2003 Human Development Report
The latest global report from the United Nations Development Programme, available as a PDF on this site, states, "The range of human development in the world is vast and uneven, with astounding progress in some areas amidst stagnation and dismal decline in others. Balance and stability in the world will require the commitment of all nations, rich and poor, and a global development compact to extend the wealth of possibilities to all people."
A free Web site of resources for teachers and students that strives to present a balanced view of globalization and its underlying values by including voices from the U.S. and other countries, perspectives of officials of international organizations and national governments, and opinions of activists at non-governmental organizations around the world.

Global Policy Forum
"What drives globalization today? Who are its winners and losers? How can it be controlled? The answers to these questions can deeply influence our political options." This page from the Global Policy Forum, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, with consultative status at the United Nations, offers a brief introduction to the topic of globalization, with a selection of a few favorite articles and Web resources for those who have not done previous work or research on the subject.

Global Trade Watch
Global Trade Watch (GTW), a division of Public Citizen, the national consumer and environmental group founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader, promotes democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." GTW works on an array of globalization issues, including health and safety, environmental protection, economic justice, and democratic, accountable governance.

The WorldBank Group
The World Bank is one of the world's largest sources of development assistance. Its primary focus is on helping the poorest people and the poorest countries. This site provides an overview of how the Bank uses its financial resources, its staff, and its extensive knowledge to help developing countries onto paths of stable, sustainable, and equitable growth.

World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.

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