Globalization and the New World Order:
Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the environment
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #48
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 10–13, 2003
(see list of papers from #48)
Much of the debate on the policy and institutional requirements of successful social and economic development in recent years is taking place against the background of the forces of globalization. Few issues in recent years have come to capture the public imagination as much as the debate on the ends and the means of globalization. From the riots in the streets of Prague during the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the autumn of 2000, when thousands of anti-globalization activists did their best to disrupt the proceedings, to the editorial pages of the world's major newspapers, where politicians, academics and entrepreneurs tell us about its multiple challenges, no issue has polarized more visibly public opinion and awakened a more volatile combination of hope and anxiety, expectation and despair. Increasingly, people see the process of globalization itself as shaping (and sometimes limiting) in fundamental ways the nature of the responses to the challenges posed by development. Globalization--to use a helpful definition proposed by Friedman--seems largely to involve "the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed beforein a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is also producing a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by this new system." To the extent that it is leading to the elimination of barriers among peoples, facilitating communication and interaction in ways that would not have seemed possible at the outset of the last century, it is a benign process which, as noted by Nobel-laureate Joseph Stiglitz, can be a force for good with the potential "to improve the lives of everyone in the world, particularly the poor." The rapid appearance of an anti-globalization movement, however, increasingly seen in full force on the streets at the annual meetings of the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF, G8 summits, and similar gatherings has highlighted the anxieties of the masses of people who feel a growing sense of disaffection with the emergence of a "system" that shapes their lives in ways that are beyond their control. This, in turn, has led thinkers like James Wolfensohn and George Soros to say that the challenge faced by development practitioners is "to make globalization an instrument of opportunity and inclusion, not fear and insecurity." The interactions between the processes of globalization and economic development are multidimensional and will be only hinted at in this short paper. However, we will comment on three central and interrelated aspects: the management of the globalization process; the absence of supporting institutions to better guide it; and the need for a new conception of human solidarity, to provide it with spiritual underpinnings.
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