The Goods and Bads of Globalization

Thomas P.M. Barnett comments on Ethnic cleansing the old-fashioned way in Sudan. Rape is being used as a means of ethnic cleansing there, now, meaning black women are raped in the hopes that they’ll have brown babies, in effect destroying the black population. Sick, sick stuff.

Barnett comments:

When I get emails from people trying to shame me on my belief that globalization is a good thing because it creates connectivity that engenders binding rules sets and ultimately peace, instead offering the view that globalization is nothing more than economic slavery, I always try to keep places like Sudan in mind when I curb my tongue and let the mindless criticism pass. Until you get connectivity, you don’t even begin the conversation on what fair rule sets are. Instead, you get isolated societies like Sudan and medieval warfare like the sort we’re witnessing today within its borders. Would I trade some environmental degradation and exploitation of workers so I could Sudan to the point of being able to protest WTO trade regulations or IMF interest policies? You bet. Because it would sure beat the hell out of what we’re watching in Sudan right now—a disconnected economy, society, and state feeding on itself in an amazing display of humanity’s endless capacity for cruelty (oh, and indifference—meaning ours).

While I share some degree of the hope that Barnett expresses that globalization can serve to make things like this less possible, but then I look at Iraq and I wonder. I think the problem with Barnett’s formula is that power is always held in elites in every area, and all kinds of rights can be suppressed. That, and the fact that economic globalization doesn’t really change the local culture in the way we might think. I’d say Koreans generally still haven’t learned to shriek in defense of their rights. I mean, in the light of the recent Internet bans, most Korean bloggers seem to support the ban, without questioning the extent to which it’s blocking pages that have nothing to do with the one video clip that it’s supposed to be blocking. (The extent far outreaches that goal, banning literally millions of pages.) They may be viewing the video, and plenty of Koreans still are, but they’re not protesting the censorship. Similarly, there’s not a culture of dissent here, and it’s very strictly not allowed to flourish when it shows signs of starting to exist at all: the government banned anti-impeachment rallies in Seoul and sought to arrest the leaders of the rallies, and the word is out that the MIC has declared anything like online petitions about the Internet ban illegal. (I’d like to link to sources but it’s hard to do so since I have to view everything through an anonymous ridirector and that makes the link-copying a little messier.)

The question, I guess, is how we can develop a model of globalization that empowers local people who are not in the elite; whether it’s possible or not. It’s great that globalization brings the Net, clean water, and all kinds of rules to countries that might not otherwise have them, but it can simultaneously do this and do great harm to a population. After all, when the Japanese colonized Korea, they brought with them improved, “modern” techniques of agriculture. Rice production increased to a stunning extent.

And it was all exported to Japan, and the people in the countryside were even worse off than before the “improved techniques” were introduced and “increased production” were achieved.

Globalization isn’t in itself good or bad… but in the hands of elites alone, it stands a good chance of introducing more bad than good into the lives of everyone except the elites, and in the Sudan I see no exception. The rape and murder may stop, but I could hardly call generation on generation living in destitute poverty, working in hellish conditions, and so on much better. And I have no doubt that’s exactly what the rich elite in Sudan would institute for its “industry” if it got the chance, if Sudan was “globalized”.

So I am curious about how Barnett thinks globalization can be engineered to be more equitable, given a stronger inherent tendency to actually improving the lives of the greater public? Maybe he’s written about it, I shall have to look about his blog a little more when I have time, but for now I am busy thinking about this myself.

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