I have been thinking about globalisation, its good side and its bad and how it is impacting on the contemporary world. Quite often we think of this international phenomenon as if it applies exclusively to commerce and trade and we have become increasingly accustomed to companies with head offices in one country establishing new operations in another.
This happens so frequently now that it is no longer possible to keep track of the web of international ownership. It seems to me that we enjoy the advantages of the global village as they are presented in the contexts of tourism and electronic communication, and it is clear from their presence on supermarket shelves, for example, that we like to buy imported products. While we may not always have the option when we buy clothing, since so much, even of the branded items, are manufactured elsewhere, it is a conscious choice to buy imported biscuits or chocolate or toothpaste. I wonder if we actually prefer these goods or whether there is still a hangover from the days — a long time ago, I must concede — when imported goods (unless from the Far East) were considered superior in quality.
Globalisation is not new, of course, and it should be remembered that the economic Great Depression of the late 1920s was a global disaster, while at least twice during the last century conflicts between just a few countries escalated into world wars. But it is true to suggest, I think, that the nature of globalisation has changed, or expanded into other spheres at least.
How many diehard British soccer fans, who over time accepted a plethora of foreign players, ever thought that their beloved clubs would fall into the hands of foreign investors? It was surprising enough that some of the more hallowed institutions, such as Harrods, for example, should be owned by foreigners, but a top football club being owned by Africans was surely beyond imagination.
Just at the current time we are more than usually conscious of the effects of globalisation as we wonder about the United States economy, the sub-prime credit crisis and the role of the government in trying to bring it under control. George W. Bush probably has more supporters around the globe at this stage than he has ever had before as people will the American Congress to permit his intervention. In view of the fears of global financial contagion, even those who staunchly oppose government in-terference in private sector affairs may be prepared to compromise this principle when they consider what the alternative consequences might be. Of course, the average American citizen, who pays taxes has little investment capital, and may have been a victim of the crisis, is loath to support the government’s rescue plan. One can understand their feelings. The accumu- lation of profits in good times smacks of exploitation and greed, while these same moguls are unable to withstand the rigours of the bad times without the support of taxpayers’ money.
Globalisation has also put into stark relief certain tensions which are not close to being resolved. One of these, it seems, is the difference between the rights of a citizen and the rights, considered universal, of an individual person. It is this, together with the extremes of bigotry and racism, which gives rise to xenophobia. That we should have been ashamed of the events that occurred earlier this year, is quite proper, but the assessment of whose rights are the more important is a complex issue, especially if the immigrants in question have entered illegally. The aversion of many people to foreign immigrants is a problem in even some of the more liberal countries in the world.
While we may be global in practice, I don’t know that we are global in spirit. As time progresses, I believe that there will be more conflict occasioned by the tensions of national as opposed to international aspirations. It is evident in national trade restrictions which defy the spirit of international co-operation espoused by the World Trade Federation. It is evident, too, in the deliberate manner in which countries become, and remain, aligned to one another.
The U.S., for example, has not been even-handed in its approach to other nations and appears never to have understood the objectives, and maturity, of non-alignment. By contrast, South Africa’s policy of non-alignment prompts its own critics who believe, with some justification, that we do not always stand for what is right. In the final analysis, a debate as to the merits or otherwise of globalisation is quite superfluous. It is the essence of the world in which we live and the best we can do is to manage its negative consequences.