Sunday, December 30, 2007

Is Globalization Working?

John Ralston Saul, a novelist from Canada, wrote an aggressive takedown of globalization in Harper's magazine several years ago that I've just gotten around to reading.

I've always been firmly behind globalization, but his article has caused me to rethink some of my most valued suppositions about it. Here is an interesting paragraph in his article:

This determinist approach toward agriculture as an industry rather than as a food source--toward the implications of everything from fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides to genetics, hormones, antibiotics, labeling, and sourcing--became the flash point for a far broader concern among citizens. This was the context in which a growing percentage of people judged the handling of key issues as different as mad cow disease, the availability of pharmaceuticals in the developing world, and global warming. They were beginning to feel that what was presented as an argument of Globalism versus protectionism was often just a confused opposition of personal choice and abstract corporate interests. So Globalization, put forward as a metaphor for choice, was organizing itself around not consumers but corporate structures, structures that sought profits by limiting personal choice.
I've always known firsthand that corporations are more efficient than government departments.  As a computer consultant, I've seen the belly of both, and, while neither is pretty, corporations have the ability to get things done by at least a factor of twenty-to-one compared to government departments.

However, if a corporation takes over a function that a government department was once responsible for, and the corporation has a different (and wrong) goal, will it still be more efficient?  This is a point that Ralston Saul brings up that I stupidly hadn't considered before.

Ralston Saul says that in our efforts to globalize, we've paid attention (and measured) only the commercial aspects of things, ignoring the human and social aspects. This has caused us to be quite helpless when events that are economically insignificant but socially important occur, like the genocide in Rwanda.

Good God!  Will I turn into just another liberal big-government stooge?  I hope not.  This stuff is always more complex that I want to admit. But thanks anyway, John Ralston Saul, for making me think about my positions once again.

You can read much more from Ralston Saul, as well as see his collection of fiction and non-fiction writings, at his Website. I was first drawn to his work after hearing his lecture on the excellent podcast from TV Ontario called Big Ideas.

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