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The many faces of globalisation

  • Published at 06:07 pm August 1st, 2017
The many faces of globalisation

We use the term “globalisation” in different contexts, referring to the worldwide movement of goods, capital, information, technology, services, cultures, and ideas.

Technological advances such as the recent development and spread of mobile phones and internet generate greater interdependence of economic, social, and cultural activities. Globalisation is not an unmixed blessing.

It has to be faced with adequate expertise and resources, but it is here and will remain.       

It has been good for Bangladesh: Surplus labour sends remittances from richer countries; foreign capital and technology feed a thriving RMG industry exporting to distant markets and help diversification into pharmaceuticals, leather industries, and in other areas.

Access to global science and innovative technology has helped to raise agricultural productivity and fight disease. The Bangladeshi diaspora assists in widening contacts, markets, and ideas.

Similarly, many other developed and developing economies have benefitted from globalisation, leading to huge expansions in trade, higher productivity, reduced levels of poverty, and in some cases, to spectacular increases in wealth.

China has been the most striking example, its exports financing recovery from decades of exploitation and war to regain its ancient “middle kingdom” prosperity and power.

Yet in much of the “developed world,” especially in the US and Europe, globalisation, in its many aspects and in the wake of the 2007-8 financial crisis, the country has been increasingly attacked. Some see it as unfair foreign low wage competition and as challenging jobs and cultural norms through increased immigration.

Financial experts point to dangers from the enormous expansion of money supply by central banks and the nearly instantaneous transfers of trillions of capital around the globe. Not only might this bring another even worse financial crisis, it can hinder social stability by combining an elite plutocracy with stagnation or decline in majority living standards.

The rise of the populists

Populist resentments have led to the Brexit referendum in the UK and to Donald Trump, becoming theUS president.

Competitive nationalism and protectionism, particularly as promoted by Trump, pose new threats to free trade. Institutions for international cooperation, such as the UN, World Bank, IMF, and WTO have lost US leadership. Are negative aspects of globalisation taking over from its positive aspects?

Nor has globalisation been universally welcomed in the developing economies. Whether from freer trade, faster diffusion of information and technology, or from capital flows, globalisation promotes rapid economic and social change.

In all countries, whether rich or poor, this is disturbing; especially for conservative societies. It threatens all governments and economies slow to adapt to changes or ill-equipped to exercise a measure of control over it.

For example, for countries possessing commodities in demand, such as oil or minerals, globalisation in transport and trade initially brought a massive financial boost.

We must essentially meet these challenges from our own resources. But we must also continue to utilise the benefits of globalisation

Yet, the new flood of wealth often led to massive corruption by ruling elites, with the mass of the population kept quiescent by heavy subsidies for energy, imported foodstuffs, and consumer items.

When world demand and prices collapsed, their over-dependence on a single revenue source meant catastrophe; either immediate, as in Venezuela, or threatened by fast depleting reserves, as in Algeria.

Even the poorest developing economies, held back by exploitation, by subsistence agriculture, by minimal health and education services, or even by civil war, have still experienced aspects of globalisation, particularly the information revolution.

The spread of mobile phones, followed by internet access, has been almost universal, opening a new world of information access, and new potential and opportunities for economic growth. Yet, in the short term, it can dangerously raise aspirations and demands before new jobs can match population growth.

Such new demands, especially in conditions of weak governance or poor quality leadership, lead to desperate and often tragic attempts to migrate or even to civil conflict which makes conditions worse.

Yet, whether welcoming or blaming globalisation, it must be remembered that this is a very general term needing astute handling. Policy analysis and action must focus on specific elements to be effective.

Besides capital flows or the information and transport revolutions, there are many other factors with global impact.

These include still rapid population growth, as in Sub-Saharan Africa, or aging and declining populations, as in Europe or Japan, technological and scientific development is dissolving traditional jobs but creating others, making constant training and re-skilling imperative. Then there is climate change, or problems such as diseases spread by mass travel.

A connected world

We live in a world pulled together and interconnected in so many different ways.

Yet we are still marked and divided by history and by rival power combinations. We still treasure national, religious, linguistic, and cultural differences which give us identity.

We also live in a world of information, transportation, and migration revolutions which can cause a fear of change, or break down barriers and stereotyped prejudices.

These are challenges, but are also opportunities, which we can face as individuals, families, communities, and countries, as world citizens.

International organisations and collaborative work in all areas, such as regulation of capital flows, trade, science, and medicine will be more vital than ever. Travel and social media contacts can help us reach across traditional barriers to help us appreciate our common humanity.

This article opened with the assertion that globalisation had, in different ways, been good to Bangladesh. Much progress has been made.

There are hopes and plans to achieve middle income status. Yet, we are aware of the daunting scale of the challenges we still face daily.

Even in Dhaka and Chittagong, our main centres of wealth creation, rising vehicle ownership paralyses traffic, population increases still swamp housing provision, basic utilities are still inadequate, and every heavy monsoon can become a nightmare liable to spread disease.

We must essentially meet these challenges from our own resources. But we must also continue to utilise the benefits of globalisation: Accessing foreign investment, technology and markets, cooperating in regional development.

We need to combat corruption and inefficiency, maintain and strengthen a democratic system under the rule of law. Most of all, we desperately need to improve our education, and training systems at all levels. It can be done.

Selina Mohsin is a former ambassador.