We are witnessing 'a tide in the affairs of men' where by 2025, a quarter of mankind and 60% of global economy will congregate in 600 cities, where 235 million households in the developing world will have income above $20,000 per annum. (McKinsey Global Institute, Urban World: Mapping the Economic Power of Cities, March 2011 at http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/publications/urban_world/pdfs/MGI_urban_world_full_report.pdf)
This is the phenomenon depicted in Three Billion New Capitalists (Clyde Prestowitz, Basic Books, New York 2005), where, unlike previous Industrial Revolutions, huge masses of humanity in large populous countries from China, India, Brazil to Nigeria are industrializing and urbanizing all at once in search of their own versions of the so-called American Dream.
Globalization has enabled these rising economies to achieve remarkable rates of growth and lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. At the same time, however, it has left large multitudes in a poverty trap created by inequalities, ecological degradation, lack of bargaining power with mighty multinationals, aid addiction, and a dearth of education and infrastructural safeguards. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate, has highlighted these ills in his Globalization and Its Discontents (2002) and later outlined how they could be overcome in Making Globalization Work (2006). Today, many of the ills still remain, especially amongst the poorest countries, but on the whole, it is evident that globalization has done more good than harm. That’s why in recent years, anti-globalization protests have become less robust or conspicuous compared with say, the previous decade.
However, in the wake of the financial crisis, cries of joblessness and depressed wages are rising up again, this time in advanced countries, and with the help of politicians, globalization has been hoisted as a convenient scapegoat for jobs being exported and wages having to compete with ‘unfair’ trade in the developing world. Moreover, the rapacity of Wall Street has been laid bare as has been the fallacy of fundamentalist capitalism, where capitalism is assumed to be better left largely unchecked. Ironically, it took China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to point out to the West that of Adam Smith, only the Wealth of Nations is worshipped, but his earlier admonition in The Theory of Moral Sentiments has been cast to the winds.
Experience in the developing world has shown that capitalism and globalization are by no means dead, but they need the visible hand of proper regulation of a responsible state. But like Sarbanes-Oxley, time will tell whether the Dodd-Frank legislation may prove to lurch towards the other extreme, throwing out the baby with the bath water in some cases.
What Chris Hedges in TruthDig has outlined as problems of ‘globalism’ and excessive capitalism have a ring of truth.Click here But he is disingenuous in attributing them only to the Democratic Party. What seems to be forgotten is that deregulation has been at least equally if not more associated with the GOP, including Reaganomics.
On the environmental front, never before has the world’s ecology been under so much stress as every emerging economy is now scrambling for energy and resources, the lifeblood of what promises a better life. Total energy consumption per capita in low-income countries is less than one-eleventh of that in high-income countries (OECD/IEA 2007 data). Yet, it is obvious that if China and the other large populous nations should double their per capita energy consumption, which would still remain a small fraction of Western levels, one mother earth may not be enough. This would be so notwithstanding that world population growth is expected to peak by 2040 (7.5 billion) or 2075 (9 billion), according to UN's 'optimistic' or 'medium' projections.
Naturally, it is grossly unfair that countries in the earlier industrialized world have exploited the earth to attain their current levels of comfortable living before late comers could do the same with equal immunity. But life is often less about fairness than facing the reality. The reality is that 21st century global industrialization and urbanization are coming up against increasing ecological constraints. There is a great deal of waste and inefficiency that can be minimized with fiscal, pricing, and other policies. But a new lifestyle is called-for, that of sustainability and minimalism where green is chic and less is more, and ‘ecological civilization’ is regarded as more rewarding than ‘industrial civilization’. See http://www.andrewleunginternationalconsultants.com/chinawatch/2011/03/from-earthlings-to-an-ecological-civilization.html
Many countries, China included, are going green out of necessity. Now, in the wake of Japan’s nuclear catastrophe and rising turmoil in the Middle East, the green agenda is set to gain further momentum. Albeit early days yet, the introduction of hydrogen fuel-cell cars and cars that run on water Click here may spell the beginning of the end of the Age of Oil, just as Sheik Yamani predicted, that ‘the Stone Age ended not for lack of stones’.
Perhaps the cataclysmic tragedies in the first decade of the 21st century serve to remind us that however desirable, whether capitalism, globalization or good wine, must not be taken with abandon or to the extreme. Indeed, both Western and Chinese philosophies uphold the virtue of moderation – Aristotle’s ‘Golden Mean’ and Confucius’ ‘Doctrine of the Mean’. In Chinese philosophy, this interfaces with the virtues of ‘harmony’ and ‘proportion’, which again echo the Greeks’ concept of the three ingredients of beauty – symmetry, proportion and harmony.
Is this evidence that the world is one and one is all? I leave this to the learned discourse of our Socratic colleagues.