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The Nexus between Globalization and Justice: A Re-visiting The Nexus between Globalization and Justice: A Re-visiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-01-02 10:47:58
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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
                                                                        
- Opening paragraph from “A Tale of Two Cities”

Recently, we have had in Ovi Magazine, in Modern Diplomacy Journal, and elsewhere in the publishing world, a veritable spate of articles, books and comments praizing the achievements and glories of Capitalism, the Market Economy, Entrepreneurship, unregulated globalization and exploitation of natural resources, never mind ecology, you name it. Some scholars would add the adjective “predatory” or perhaps “savage” next to those terms, but of course those who write those kind of articles, usually of a pragmatic, positivist, reductionist mind-set (the predominant view since Galileo and Bacon), will defend their point of view with a vengeance, claiming that, after all, in an “enlightened” democratic society respectful of free speech, all points of view need to be duly ventilated and discussed and debated. Conscentious editors will of course concur. They will point out that we ought to give readers the facts, only the facts with no opinions and comments attached to them, and then let the readers make up their mind on the various issues presented.

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Of course, the issue of free speech becomes thorny within a magazine of opinion, committed to print all points of view. Where does one draw the line? When does philosophical critique become trolling and ad hominem attack? When does suppression of comments become censorship? In the rather anti-intellectual anti-philosophical positivist times in which we presently live, wherein truth has become personal, purely what is convenient to the individual at the time, this admittedly is not always easy to discern and to act upon.

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An yet there is a book which came out In 1973, by E.F. Schumacher, which could serve as a guide of sort for perplexed editors and critics afraid to venture into the realm of twitter, face-book and judgment of what is true and what is false. The book’s title is Small Is Beautiful.

The book was well reviewed when it first came out and was read by many people concerned with the ominous global ecological disaster on the horizon, but perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time. That was after all the time of agribusiness and the widely held idea that “big is always better.” That in turn is integral part of a positivist approach which believes that progress is inevitable, that it is always scientific, having little if anything to do with humanities and liberal arts, that the poetical is superfluous, a waste of time and energy, and that what comes at the end of a process (be it evolutionary, revolutionary or progressive) is always the most modern and therefore the best of all possible worlds. It is practically an article of faith with the mind-set and when one reminds them of that fact (as a Kuhn did in the 80s to his regret) they counterpunch with the idea that it is religion that continues to spread ignorance and intolerance around the world. Science is only concerned with light and “enlightenment” and has all the anwers.

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Nowadays, having begun to gather the fruits of globalization, inevitable progress, positivism, and found them harbingers of bad news for the future of the planet, we are more likely to be persuaded by those who insist, as Schumacher did, that a more localized decentralized approach to economics may be the more sensible and humane approach. The question naturally arises: why is that? Quite simply because economic globalization has taken center stage while global warming is often derided and ignored, more often than not by those who are supposed to be the experts and our guides in the matter.

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Some say that globalization actually began with the era of Western colonialism and imperialism and it is unstoppable like the idea of progress. Closer to us, in modern times, while welcomed and seen as a panacea at its inception in the last quarter of the 20thcentury, it has by now transmuted into a great debate on whether globalization is capitalism at its most pernicious or a promising way to reduce poverty world-wide. The sad truth is that while wealth has in fact increased, it has mostly gone to the one per cent on top of the economic pyramid, while the poor and middle class have seen no economic betterment, if anything they have gone backward.

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Laissez-faire  liberal capitalists of various stripes and assorted optimistic entrepreneurs searching for world-wide market opportunities a la Trump naturally enthusiastically support globalization and argue that becoming part of the world economy is the only chance for developing countries and those living in abject poverty, at grasping an economic handle and lift themselves out of poverty. They see absolutely nothing wrong with globalization per se; at best they suggest some reforms in its capitalistic methods and its side effects on regional cultures may be needed especially in the area of ethics, especially when unethical predatory tactics tarnish the reputation (or the brand, as the saying goes) of a corporation; but the system in itself is and remains the best imaginable and possible in this world. One has to be a realist and not an idealistic Don Quixote! After all, we live in the 21st century.  

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These skeptics may sometime pay lip service to regional cultures and even religious heritages and tradition while at the same time deriding them as retrograde and medieval, necessary superstitions to keep the people docile and exploitable (hence Marx critique of religion as “the opium of the people”),  but essentially they have reduced human beings to mere producers and consumers, a cog within the economic machinery dubbed the global market place.

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As William James used to quip: do not pay so much attention to what people say, pay more attention to what they do and you will know what they really believe in. People willing to ruin reputations and impugn the professional integrity and career of their critics for profits or, more idealistically but just as reprehensible, for an ideology, reveal with their ad hominem attacks better than with their scholarly treatises the extreme measure to which they are willing to resort to in defense of their pet unexamined ideology. The ideology, of course, just like the very concept of truth, is most often personally convenient to the pragmatic entrepreneur holding it.

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And that may indeed be the reason why, on the other hand, the protesters of this sad of affairs believe that globalization is merely an excuse for big business to run roughshod over the developing world. Is it? Well, for them "free trade," so called, simply enables multinationals to dominate developing markets and push out local enterprise. They call for alternative ways of reducing poverty that prioritize environmental and human rights. They argue that by reducing ancient heritages and cultures to their lowest common denominator one dissolves most conflicts and distinctions among them, never mind that they also trivialize them. And, of course, the intentions are honorable; it is always for the good of the people, the common good, so called.

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This line of thinking goes at times by the name of populism; recently it has managed to exit Britain out of the EU and it has elected a predatory capitalist like Donald Trump to the presidency of the US. It will eventually elect a Le Pen to the presidency of the France. It is interesting that politically it usually allies itself with far right, fascist movements, out to subvert democracy and freedom as we know it.

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The protesters, who have been at it for the last thirty years or so, since the era of Raegan and Thatcher,  are convinced that Global capitalization is not about the common good and general prosperity, but rather it’s about getting the rich to be even richer. They cite the following statistics: ten years ago a US company director got 40 times the wages of an average blue collar worker - their wages are now over 400 times as much. Just 400 families have more than half the world's theoretical wealth. Yet calling this insanity is sneered at. Capitalism requires expansion, there has to be year on year growth, and that's simple math: if we must expand our economy by an average of 3% a year, in a hundred years we logically need to consume in a day what we currently consume in a year; only a madman could surmise that such a trend is sustainable.

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In the world of culture a dichotomy seems to exist between the world of science and that of the liberal arts and the humanities, something I have written at length in previous articles. Indeed, a novel by a great novelist such as Dostoyevsky or Joyce, or a poem by Dante or Shakespeare  represents a world rooted in numerous particularities where people from different backgrounds encounter one another and are trying to connect and influence each other; a world complicated by memories and ambitions and multiple connections and displacements. It’s a world wherein their unique rounded characters and their complex humanity simply refuse facile simplifications.

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On the other hand, what Globalization with its reductionist tendencies seems to produce is the disembowelment of the complexity of world cultures, forcing their differences into the blender of consumerism and accumulation of wealth, to then regurgitate shallow formulaic platitudes, reducing the narrative of those cultures and their heritage of millenarian religious traditions, to a singular outcome; that of universal consumerism and happiness, spelled as Disney or McDonald  or soccer games, where business need not be responsive to the people or to truly democratic institutions but to the happiness of its shareholders. This is achieved by moving factories and businesses to the cheapest labor markets and keeping pays low. “A win-win situation,” it is argued. Without the so called “job creators” those people on minimum-wage or lower would have nothing to eat.

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As per this critical view, history has taught us that globalization means only one thing: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Corporate globalization and financial globalization without a buttressing ethical value system which sees the unity of humanity and its nexus to the earth, inevitably becomes dominated by greed and the profit motive.  The critics also point out that those societies with the highest standard of living are those which allow some degree of capitalism, but combine it with a strong sense of social justice as exemplified by their social programs designed to help the less privileged and the least fortunate.

The richest country in the world may not necessarily be the country with the highest standard of living. It appears that the element of distributive justice, whether it is taken seriously or it is simply ignored and considered unimportant, makes all the difference. There are papal encyclical arguing this point; they have been around for more than a century, but nobody reads them, least of all the economists and the bankers of our brave new world.

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Obviously there are two contrasting ways of looking at Globalization and the question arises: are the two views irreconcilable or is a synthesis imaginable? While the developing world needs help from the developed world, does such help have to come at the price of pollution and unsustainable technologies under the title globalization?  Does globalization have to imply that transporting goods and foodstuffs thousands of miles using valuable fossil fuels and creating massive pollution is a good thing?

It appears that Globalization as envisaged by the visionless current political guides who are into everything but leadership, or by the economic pundits measuring wealth and ignoring justice. is likely to damage the developing world more than to help it. In other words, the economic experts and pundits have become part of the problem and were never part of the solution as they pretend to be, as Schumacher forcibly argues in the above mentioned book.

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What the developing and the developed world need are initiatives that allow countries to be self-supporting and less dependent on the vagaries of world exchange rates, transport costs and international sanctions. However those promoting world trade and entrepreneurial capitalism do not want this, they want the developing world dependent on to their technologies and trade tie-ins.

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The problem is not free trade as such, but the unfair way with which it is implemented. It is apparent to any dispassionate observer that far from upholding the principles of democracy, the exigencies of commerce has served often to thwart them. All one has to do is recall that Britain's colonial adventures in India, China and the East Indies were perpetuated by what was felt to be an inalienable right to force nations half way across the world to trade with them on their own terms.

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Some have suggest that the antidote of socialism is the solution, but socialism is often seen historically tied to the ideology of communism, adhered to by China’s ruling party, and this despite the fact that in its democratic form it is practiced in in countries in Scandinavia as well as in most industrialized democratic countries of the world which have social services that can only be characterized as socialistic, including the US, which has social programs such as Social Security, Welfare benefits, Unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid etc.

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The Chinese are out to prove, in fact, that democracy is not necessary for material prosperity; that the two can be decoupled; democracy and freedom is mere frosting on the cake, never mind Marx’s injunction that power ought to always proceed democratically from the people, that is to say, from the bottom up and not from the top down. Hence ideological cultural battles invariably and regularly ensue and as it can be expected they become not part of the solutions but part of the social problems of our global village.

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In point of fact, the battle between capitalism and anti-globalization, socialism, communism and all the other -ism's one can think of is quite pointless - none of these ideologies stand up in extremis. A harmonious balance between regulation and freedom in the markets seems to be the only way forward to benefit all with at least a minimum of egalitarianism and distributive justice while preserving and enhancing freedom and democracy. Nobody ever said that it was easy; but then, which are the alternatives?

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There is one glaring example that can be brought to bear to better illustrate the unfair business practices of the developed world toward the developing one. Both Britain and the US make strenuous efforts to sell cigarettes to poor countries. They give no health warnings against smoking as they do by law in their own countries. One can easily imagine how the precarious health services of these developing countries are going to cope in 20 year time with all the smoking related diseases we in the West are imposing upon them. I suppose that at that point in time the rapacious entrepreneurs of our brave new world will get busy selling them expensive medicines manufactured and developed in the West.

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The major issue with globalization seems to be that corporate chairmen have power without representation. One of them is all set to become the next US Secretary of State under the leadership of his corporate buddy fellow-billionaire who has also used globalization to his benefit all his business life and has now transformed himself into the champion of the poor and middle class and is set to become the next president of the US.

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If we were to think of consumerism as a new political idea, corporate chairmen are the politicians, advertisements are the party broadcasts or propaganda, and the products are the manifesto. The result as advertised is happiness, fulfillment and wealth for everyone concerned. Donald Trump has promised as much to the ignorant and gullible who voted for him and are now waiting for the check in the mail. Good luck!

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This analysis points to the fact that we live in a semblance of democracy but in reality we live in a deterministic universe wherein we have been reduced to consuming automatons and our personhood and our very humanity has been robbed. It is now impossible to vote a corporation out of power. There is something fundamentally wrong in this situation. Branding globalization protesters as "anarchists" playing at revolution, as the media tends to do, will not lead to any solution either. Schumacher made similar points in the above mentioned book.

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In this article I have simply outlined the problematic of Globalization as presented by those on opposite sides of its analysis. Those readers who may wish to further deepen their knowledge and even attempt a solution to this thorny conundrum would be well advised to peruse a seminal and influential article by Steven Weber, Naazneer Barma, Mathew Kroenig and Ely Ratner titled “How Globalization Went Bad” which appeared in Foreign Policy of Jan/Feb 2007. Forget about the pundits singing the praises of venture capitalism. They do not seem to have the foggiest idea of that they are talking about.

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In conclusion let me say this on the present  perplexing and ambiguous age of globalization, the era of the so called interrelated  “global village” with its Facebook and Twitter and the Internet: it is both the best of times and the worst of times. The outcome, I suppose, will depend on how well we can live with ambiguity and hold together in our mind those two contrasting notions, wrapping them around our minds as a paradox.

I sincerely continue to doubt that logical positivists and assorted entrepreneurs, those who have been writing and publishing the above mentioned articles on the glories of capitalism lately, will be of much help here, but I would suggest that the novels of a Dickens or a Dostoyevsky, not to speak of sages and philosophers throughout the ages, may provide some hints on how best to bridge the ominous chasm that has suddenly opened before us. We need bridges to connect the abyss and we need them soon. Let those who have ears, let them hear before exclaiming that they have found the solution. Theirs is a pseudo-solution.

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Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!
 
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