The paradox of globalisation

I was born in the right place at the right time. The golden age of globalisation was there for the taking. Cheap travel took me to every corner of the globe, my passage smoothed by the universal use of English.

Youngsters today can of course do the same but they are troubled with questions about the social and environmental impacts of their adventures. Many carry the albatross of student debts.

My father, uncle and grandfather all made their first trips abroad in the cause of war. For my grandfather that was quite enough of foreign fields for the rest of his life. My father did enjoy an exotic mission to deliver a warplane to the Dutch colonial government in Indonesia in 1946. He had to stop every few hundred miles to refuel and the journey took a fortnight.

Years later I flew non-stop to Jakarta. Seeing so much of the world with time to think performed a belated but invaluable correction to much of my education. It also led me eventually to a mildly eccentric organisation called OneWorld and to the unlikely task of editing OneWorld Guides.

Without globalisation, I would now probably be an affluent but redundant outcast of the financial services industry, the home of what Lord Turner has so memorably described as “socially useless jobs”.

So I have been more than a little troubled in writing disparagingly of globalisation in our new Guide published this week. Describing it as a “curse for the poor”, the Guide suggests that lopsided governance of economic globalisation has reinforced rather than softened the shortcomings of our prevailing market ideology.

It may be a cliche but the poor have become poorer, even in good years of global “growth”. And when the globalised economy implodes in collapsing banks, recession and climate change, the rich find ways of saving themselves, whilst the poor are hit disproportionately.

The Guide concludes that recent events have “greatly strengthened the hand of the anti-globalisation movement.” But I hope that this terminology will lose its traction; the idea of supporting or opposing globalisation is nonsensical. The technology that drives the process has the potential to deliver good globalisation in the right hands.

Globalisation is a powerful, rapid and irreversible process which we abuse at our peril.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK