On an article published in the 1 July 2016 issue of The Huffington Post, Vice Minister for Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, He Yafei predicted that Brexit might signal the ‘first wave of anti-globalisation and rising populism that washes over the world, in particular the advanced nations’. ‘Globalisation’ is a term coined in the 1980s to refer to the free movement of resources, ideas and money as the world gravitates towards competitive markets in both the national and international arenas. Although for many globalisation primarily has to do with the development of an integrated economy, it in fact encompasses that broader human and communal enterprise we call culture. Globalisation has evidently brought with it many benefits. For example, based on per capita GDP growth rates, it has made developing countries wealthier, raising the standards of living and quality of life. In addition, globalisation has made possible the pooling of knowledge and the sharing of goods, services and expertise in different fields. Behind globalisation is the assumption that this free movement of ideas, information and nuances in a barrier-free world will benefit everyone and enable many in our world to prosper.
However, despite the fact that international organisations like the IMF, World Bank, OECD and UN-based agencies have actively promoted the free and unfettered market forces that globalisation signifies, others have been decidedly more critical. e International Labour Organisation, UNICEF and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development are notable examples of the latter. Critics have dismissed the sanguine vision of the advocates of globalisation, especially with regard to the reduction of poverty and equality, as triumphalistic and naive. Indeed, many studies have shown that globalisation not only has failed to cure poverty, it has instead precipitated the rise of inequality. To be sure, the relationship between globalisation, poverty and in- equality is extremely complex. A recent book entitled, Globalization and Poverty edited by Ann Harrison, a research associate of e National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the relationship between globalisation and poverty is at best indirect. The poor are generally more likely to benefit from globalisation if they have greater mobility and if other supporting policies and institutions are already in place. Be that as it may, the fact remains that globalisation has produced winners and losers amongst the poor. Critics have also pointed out that globalisation has exacted horrendous costs from the environment.
A 2013 study conducted by OECD showed that globalisation is partly responsible for the increased emission of Greenhouse Gas, especially CO2, brought about by the rapid expansion of transport systems precipitated by international trade. Deforestation is another problem associated with globalisation. As the OECD report starkly puts it: ‘Globalisation is often an ally of the chainsaw.’ Vast swathes of rainforest are converted to farmlands in order to meet the exponential spike in demands for certain products. For example, between 1996 and 2003, Brazilian soy exports to China jumped from 15,000 to 6 million tonnes!
Commentators outside of Europe and America sometimes see ‘globalisation’ as merely the politically correct term for westernisation. It represents a form of cultural encroachment – what Thomas Friedman aptly describes as the ‘Disney-round-the-clock homogenisation’ – that is not always welcomed. Space does not allow us to examine the relationships between globalisation and immigration, human tracking and terrorism, all of which are extremely contentious and problematic.
Christian theologians and ethicists are not all agreed on the impact of globalization on human com- munities and culture. Some see it as a positive development because it can potentially contribute to human flourishing and open doors for Christian mission. Others are decisively more cautious. Be that as it may, to problematise globalisation is not to reject it in toto. Christians must recognise that globalisation, like all human cultural enterprises, is a mixed bag, with its boons and banes. As Pope Benedict XVI has perceptively pointed out, there are ‘new possibilities and new risks’ arising from globalization that the Church and the nations must face squarely. While endorsing its benefits, Christians should never mask or turn a blind eye to the dark side of globalisation – the injustices, inequalities and the violations of human dignity that it exacerbates. As a global community, the Church should take the challenge of globalisation seriously by affirming the good that it brings and also by exposing and ad- dressing the damage it inflicts on us and on our environment.
Credit: Dr Roland Chia for The Trumpet April 2017.