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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Globalisation: For and against

BBC News Online asked Michael Elliot, former editor-in-chief of ecountries.com and Newsweek International - a passionate believer in the benefits of globalisation - to debate the issue with Colin Hines, author of Localization - A Global Manifesto:

Dear Colin,

Although trade between nations and peoples is as old as civilization itself, in the last two decades world-shrinking technologies have enabled economies to be bound ever tighter together. We all know the examples: the software developers of Bangalore coding text for banks in the United States, the textile and toy plants of China supplying stores in London and Paris; the fresh flowers that wing their way from Africa to the tables of Europe.

I believe that globalisation is a powerful force for the good, for three reasons:

  • First, by giving millions of people new choices both as to life-chances and the goods and services they consume, it enhances human liberty.

  • Second, because globalisation is based on trade - and trade, by allowing economies to concentrate on what they do best, raises incomes everywhere.

  • Third - and by far the most important - globalisation allows us the chance to build One World. By that I don't mean a world where everyone thinks, dresses, prays and plays in the same way, but a world in which we better understand our neighbours' hopes and dreams.

Michael


Dear Michael,

Your illustrations of positive aspects of globalisation are good for the companies and more affluent consumers who benefit from cheaper bank workers in Bangalore and cheaper toys, textiles and African flowers.

However the downsides of your examples are job losses in US banks, lost textile and toy manufacturers jobs in Britain and France and land that should be used for growing staples for Kenyans' tables being diverted to prettify our tables.

Your three forces for good are equally questionable. Of course people like increased choice from imports, but increasingly not when they realise they are likely to be at the expense of domestic industry and jobs. Even the World Bank now distances itself from the nonsense that trade raises income everywhere. Their latest Development Report documents that the average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average in the poorest 20 - a gap that has doubled in the past 40 years.

Colin


Dear Colin,

On a moral level, I'm no happier than you at growing gaps of wealth and income. But the extraordinary wealth gains of some in the rich world should not obscure the real and significant improvement of life chances among the poor - a process that can't exist without economic growth. The Chinese family whose home now has a fan to mitigate the summer heat; the Ecuadorean farmer who now has a moped; the African who can check crop prices on a mobile phone - all of these have had their lives made better by relative increases in prosperity.

Michael


Dear Michael,

To be against globalisation is not to be against the provision of fans in China and the like. Far from it, we feel that it is the ruthless competition inherent in today's world that narrows the base of economic activity to one emphasising exports. This reduces the diversity of domestic economies and hence their ability to provide such goods themselves. Local production would ensure more jobs hence more disposable income. We at Prague want the economy to be organised to meet peoples needs sustainably through Localization, with its emphasis of 'protect the local, globally'. This alternative to globalisation is truly internationalist in its desire to improve living standards for the vast majority, not of an ever smaller number of incredibly wealthy individuals. After all Michael can you really begin to justify Bill Gates being wealthier than the 100 million poorest Americans combined?

Colin


Dear Colin,

The heart of globalisation, for me, is distance learning on the internet, enhancing the skills of villagers in India; 'distant surgery' using robots to perform medical procedures thousands of miles from a doctor; and (why not?) the new understanding of at least the surface of new cultures that is a consequence of mass tourism.

If I really thought that globalisation was likely to lead to a bland, homogeneous world, turning our planet into one great Omaha, I'd be on the barricades in Prague. But technology gives us the chance to do something new and rather wonderful - to come closer to each other while maintaining what it is that best defines us.

That's why globalisation is good for you.

Michael


Dear Michael,

The alternative that is beginning to emerge post-Seattle is 'Localization'. This is a process towards the position whereby everything that could be produced within a nation or region should be. Long-distance trade is then reduced to supplying what could not come from within one country or geographical grouping of countries.

This would allow an increase in local control of the economy and the potential for it being shared out more fairly, locally. Technology and information, like your examples of distance learning and cultural exchange, would be encouraged to flow, when and where it can strengthen local economies. Under these circumstances, beggar-your-neighbour globalisation gives way to the potentially more cooperative better-your-neighbour localization.

To paraphrase you- that's why localization is good for you.

Colin

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