Globalization

May 00

The globalization of the world economy is well underway and has attained an air of inevitability. Nevertheless, the big protests in Seattle and Washington show that it is not accepted by everyone. World bodies like the WTO and the World Bank are both powerful and controversial.

On the face of it, it is hard not to see integration of the global economy as a good thing. We are all on this planet together. Many of our most pressing problems are global in scope; climate change and the management of the oceans are two obvious examples.

The problem is that the existing organs of global power, at least the effective ones, are not interested in or equipped for dealing with these issues. Their focus is trade, and trade to the exclusion of all other concerns. We have had a clear regional example in North America when the Canadian parliament tried to ban the import of the gasoline additive MMP and was forced to back down to avoid a NAFTA challenge from the Ethyl Corporation. Incidents like this are pointed to by the critics of globalization. They point out that national sovereignty is compromised by an unaccountable bureaucratic body which puts strictly economic concerns ahead of broader issues.

The same could be said of human rights. The existing international arrangements do little to protect abused citizens, especially of large economically powerful countries like China.

This is not to oppose world integration in principle. The division of humanity into nation-states is not necessarily a desirable situation. Nations are after all arbitrary creations. They are not real entities but legal fictions. Legal fictions with teeth that can bite when they go to war with one another. World unification is a very old idea. There is a Buddhist myth of a golden age in which the world was united under an enlightened wheel turning monarch who ruled according to the Dharma. It could be said that unity is goal we have been evolving towards with the trend toward larger and larger political entities. The League of Nations and the United Nations have been movements for world government, although not very effective ones.

A Buddhist analysis of action in the world always asks what are the underlying motivations. Are they wholesome ones of wisdom and compassion or unwholesome ones of greed and hatred? It is unfortunately hard to see the present trend in the world economy as anything but one based on making as much money as possible, that is on greed.

If the world is going to come together, it is perhaps better that it be done by greedy bankers than by aggressive militarists. But is this the only option? Somehow we need to find a way to incorporate the wisdom of a truly global perspective into our decision-making. It would be wisdom, for example, to have an effective world body exercising stewardship over the oceans and the atmosphere. A body concerned more with the conservation of the biosphere of the planet than with the corporate bottom line. Compassion is needed too. Compassion towards the poor and exploited in all countries; a compassion based on seeing all beings as essentially the same and equally worthy of dignity and happiness.

It is hard to see how this can come about. Perhaps the answer lies more in the personal spiritual evolution of everyone of us than in any systemic political changes. This may seem rather unrealistic, but there is historical precedent for the sweeping effect of moral evolution. Today there is a strong international consensus against human slavery; two hundred years ago it was business as usual everywhere. Perhaps we can as a species evolve a greater respect for each other and for the other living beings that share this planet. We may not have any other choice.

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