When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down just over 10 years ago, it seemed to symbolise what many people had come to realise for some time. That the principles of democracy, open markets and rule of law had won that long twilight struggle against totalitarianism, centrally planned economies and oppression.
This victory appeared to cause more confusion than celebration amongst the holders of these virtuous principles. In one sudden moment the certainties of the Cold War ended. A new paradigm was needed for this unipolar moment. George Bush scrambling for a vision of the future came up with a ‘New World Order’. This new order was always under stress because of its inherent contradictions. On one hand Bush supported managed, not free, trade, on the other hand he called for a greater use of multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the now formed World Trade Organisation.
Clinton picked up on one aspect of Bush’s New World Order – better use of multilateral organisations and the open markets that follow from their use. This theory was already known as Globalisation, but Clinton helped popularise it.
Globalisation presented Clinton with a foreign policy that he could live with. By promoting free trade, Clinton was helping create jobs in America. By weaving the economies of the world together, Clinton was promoting peace. The Japanese could never bomb Pearl Harbour again, some argued, they own too much of it.
This theory of peace through prosperity is not new. Liberals long argued that free trade benefited countries because it reduced the prospect of war. David Ricardo, who did more to promote free trade than any other one person, proved that even if your trading partners are better producers than you at everything, it still benefits you to trade with them.
In Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree the benefits of Globalisation are put in the context of cultural change. Countries that adhere to transparent and open markets, or what Friedman calls the Golden Straight Jacket, benefit from rising incomes. Friedman says that technology is making Globalisation inevitable as represented by the Lexus, but people yearn to have cultural roots like their Olive Trees.
How else do you explain the ‘split screen’ of wars over pieces of desert not larger than a suburb, while conferences convene to determine how to develop better Global Financial Infrastructure? Indeed, why if Globalisation brings so many benefits are so many people opposed?
One explanation lies in public choice theory. This theory says that even though the benefits may be greater than the costs, if the costs are concentrated amongst the few and the benefits amongst the many, opponents will be more motivated than proponents.
One only needs to remember the WTO gathering in Seattle to witness this theory in action. In Seattle, the openness and transparency of the WTO meetings were somewhat hampered by all the tear gas. Protesters against Globalisation seemed to be distinctly lacking in the irony stakes as they riled against free trade using Sony walkmans and Nokia mobile phones, while wearing Indian made clothes designed in Italy and down loading music on that avant-garde instrument of globalisation, the Internet.
The technology that makes it easier to fly around the world is also making it easier to bring the world together. That is why Glocalisation is a better description for what is happening in the world today. It is not just making things bigger, it is also making them a lot smaller. Peace and prosperity are much more likely when we all feel part of the same neighbourhood. Only Glocalisation looks like achieving this. Fearing it, or trying to stop it, is not just a failure to recognise its benefits, but also very damaging to the millions who seek to leave the poverty to which they were born.
The paradox of Glocalisation is that it does not discriminate between its opponents and supporters. They both seem to do pretty well out of it. Nor does it discriminate against black and white, poor and rich, et cetera. But it does discriminate between the skilled and unskilled – in short, it is building a society of merit. It is our society’s obligation to ensure equality of opportunity in this new meritocracy.
So long as they are willing to use the technology, the opponents of Glocalisation have some very powerful tools. From eMail and websites to mobile phones – it is now easier to organise against misery (perceived or real) than ever before. Now what could be more open and transparent than that?