Globalism and Globalization

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Without science neither globalism nor globalization would be conceivable; without technology they would not be practical possibilities. The extent to which the internal ethics of science and the codes of behavior of various engineering professions influence globalism and globalization, or the degree to which independent ethical assessments should be brought to bear on all science, technology, and globalist synergies, remains open to critical discussion. What follows is an analysis that aims to provide a background for such considerations.


The terms globalism and globalization came into use during the last half of the twentieth century. The question of when, and by whom, is contentious. But irrespective of origins the two terms are used in distinct ways. Globalization refers to a multidimensional economic and social process beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s and that embraces a variety of interlinked economic, communicational, environmental, and political phenomena. Globalism, although it has older roots as a synonym for internationalism, has come to be used as the name of a broad ideological commitment in favor of the process of globalization—that is, of a view that sees the process of globalization as entirely or predominantly positive in its implications for humankind (Steger 2002).

Globalists are people who wish the process of globalization to continue, and indeed intensify, although they may also wish to have it politically regulated or controlled in various ways. Globalists are often (though not always) also convinced that globalization, whatever its implications for human welfare, is an inevitable process that cannot, and should not, be reversed. They are often contrasted with "localists," who seek to escape or overcome the problems posed by globalization through small-scale forms of economic and cultural development and political organization that minimize involvement in the global economy (Mandle 2003).

In short then, there are theorists and writers on globalization both for and against the process they are analyzing, but those in favor of the process are generally called "globalists" or advocates of "globalism." In the early twenty-first century, enthusiasts for globalization do not call themselves "globalists" (this terminology is used only by globalization's opponents), although there is the potential for this to change as the debate unfolds further.

Globalization: Its Characteristics

There are innumerable definitions of the term globalization in the academic literature, but all, in one way or another, refer to essentially the same phenomena. These are:

  1. The increased depth of economic integration or interdependence in the world economy as a whole. Increased depth here usually refers to the integration of different parts of the world and different working populations in the world in the process of economic production itself (Dicken 2003).
  2. The central role played by electronic means of communication and information transmission in facilitating this new deep integration of the world economy.
  3. The much increased importance of global markets in both money and capital in the world economy as a whole (Thurow 1996).
  4. The historically unprecedented scale of international population migration occurring in the world economy in response (primarily) to new work opportunities created by the development of a genuinely global economy.
  5. Sharply increased economic inequalities both within and between different parts of the globe occurring primarily as a result of the very social and spatial "unevenness" of the globalization process.

In addition, there are conceptions of globalization that embrace, but go beyond, these economic aspects of the process to encompass political and cultural phenomena. These include:

(6) The ineluctable spread of a single, materialistic, consumerist culture driven by the Western-dominated global mass media (including both the Internet and television), which in the early twenty-first century forms dominant images of the desirable or good life everywhere on the globe (Castells 1996).

(7) The more or less rapid weakening of the political power of the nation-state in the global economy, a weakening shown by the reduced ability of such states to control crucial economic variables that determine the welfare and standards of living of their populations (Martin and Schumann 1997).

(8) Enhanced cultural and political conflicts in the world caused both by the increasing intermingling of culturally diverse populations in states receiving ever-larger numbers of global labor migrants, and by the so-called clash of cultures or civilizations in different parts of the world, a clash in part produced by the very information and communications revolution referred to in (2) above. Greatly increased cross-cultural contact also makes different populations aware both of the ever-increasing inequalities among them—see 5 above—and of the different value orientations different cultures may embody. In this conception both global terrorism and the security threats it poses are themselves aspects of globalization (Wade 2001).

Globalization: Its Causes

There is broad unanimity on the origins and causes of globalization. As an economic process globalization dates from the mid- or late 1970s when the postwar "long economic boom" came to an end. The ending of the boom, and the initiation of a much slower growth trajectory for the world economy as a whole, created much more competitive conditions for all firms operating in that economy. The most common firm responses to these heightened competitive conditions were to:

  1. Reduce labor costs by increased automation and "technologization" of production;
  2. Subcontract or "outsource" design, transport, customer service, and even some managerial functions to "independent" consultancy or other firms, thereby reducing "core" labor and payroll costs;
  3. Transfer labor-intensive production activities, that could not be automated to lower wage regions, either in the "home" country or outside the home country altogether.

In addition:

(4) the development and commercial application of computer and information technology from the 1970s onward much facilitated processes (1) to (3) above, and

(5) the ending in roughly the same period (late 1970s and early 1980s) of the postwar Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates facilitated the rapid expansion of global capital and money markets, markets that are themselves deeply dependent on sophisticated information technologies—4 above—for their functioning (Dicken 2003).

In short then, globalization as an economic process dates back no earlier than the mid-1970s, and its political, cultural, and security aspects have also all developed since that time.

Globalization: Its Originality

Although the causality and chronology of contemporary globalization is not disputed, its originality or uniqueness is. Globalization skeptics argue that the nineteenth-century global economy saw flows of investment capital and of international labor migrants that were proportionately larger in relation to global economic output or to the then existing world population than contemporary flows are. The nineteenth century also saw very rapid average annual increases in world trade, at periods on occasion larger than contemporary increases. Globalization skeptics even doubt whether modern communications technologies (such as satellite television or the Internet) are any more "revolutionary" in contemporary conditions than was the nineteenth century introduction of the electric telegraph to a world that had previously moved international mail by horse or sail and steamship (Hirst and Thompson 1999).

Although such skeptical arguments have some merit, they understate both the multidimensionality and variety of contemporary communications technologies and the absolute size of current trade, capital, and labor flows. Both the absolute size of the global economy and of the world population are much greater than they were in the nineteenth century. Most importantly of all, such globalization skeptics appear to confuse the "shallow" integration of nineteenth-century economies with the "deep" integration of the contemporary global economy. That is, contemporary international trade is structured (through the massive movement of raw materials and of semifinished goods) so that national economies are tied together within the production process itself. The production of everything from cars and other motor vehicles, to electronics, to clothing, footwear, and fashion accessories involves dovetailing inputs from factories located in several different countries through the global trade in goods and services. In this process of deep global economic integration, trade and production become increasingly difficult to distinguish (Dicken 2003). This is a very different situation from that of the nineteenth century, and it makes all countries involved much more vulnerable than ever before to a breakdown, or even to any significant disruption, of the global trade/production system.

Globalization: Its Merits and Demerits

The most discussed and disputed aspect of globalization focuses on the human welfare and economic distributional aspects of the process.

There is broad unanimity that the globalization period in recent history has also been a period of rapidly increasingly income and wealth inequalities both within individual national economies and societies and within the global population as a whole. Agreement ends at this point, however, and there are fierce debates about:

  1. Whether this growing inequality is a product of globalization itself or of the political form globalization has taken—most notably the generally neoliberal political and policy framework—that tends to discourage significant political control or guidance of the process.
  2. Whether this growing inequality matters in any case, if globalization has a tendency to significantly reduce world poverty.
  3. Whether globalization is even achieving poverty reduction, however, is itself a matter of debate, specifically over such matters as how poverty is measured and how increases or reductions in its magnitude are to be assessed (Kitching 2001, Collier and Dollar 2002, Wade 2001).
  4. Whether economic globalization is environmentally sustainable. Here connections are made between economic globalization, especially the spread of industrialization in Asia, Central America, and elsewhere—and such phenomena as global warming.
  5. The strong regional disparities in the spread of globalization and its benefits (and especially the disparity between East and Southeast Asia, on the one hand, and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, on the other).
  6. The very poor labor and environmental conditions existing even in those countries and regions of the world, such as China and East Asia, that are supposedly benefiting from the process. Here it is suggested that regional benefits may not convert into human benefits at all.
  7. Finally, whether there is any connection between the globalization process, and its admitted inequalities, and the upsurge of political terrorism in the world. It is widely admitted, however, that if there is such a connection it is not directly economic. For although contemporary Islamist terrorism is centered in a part of the world (the Middle East) that has fared comparatively poorly in globalization, its militants and activists do not appear to be particularly poor. Moreover there is no terrorist threat emanating from sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world that is universally admitted to have fared worst in globalization. If there is a connection between globalization and terrorism it is much more likely to be of an indirect cultural and political sort, not of a direct economic sort.

Conclusion: Globalization, Regulation, and Ethics

Conflicting assessments of the merits and demerits of globalization are often tied to different assessments of alternatives to it. The most obvious "total" alternative to globalization is withdrawal of local or regional communities from the world trade/production system into some form of local self-sufficiency or autarky (so-called localism). But this response seems feasible, even in principle, only if populations opting for it are prepared to accept very large reductions in their material standards of living. And whatever may be the situation in the rich parts of the globe, such a policy is unlikely to be attractive to the already poor majority of the world population (Mandle 2003).

In practice therefore, debates and disputes over globalization are most often focused, not on entirely "undoing" its economics, but on the possibility and desirability of politically regulating it so as to reduce its economic volatilities, inequalities, and negative environmental impacts. The central issue at the heart of such debates (aside from whether such regulation is desirable or possible at all) is whether nation-states can continue to be the prime political regulators of the global economy or whether globalization has passed beyond the regulatory capacity of states, so that the task must be turned over to supranational economic and political bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), and International Labour Organization (ILO). But if the latter are to do so, many believe that their responsibilities and powers will have to be enhanced. Advocates of the supranational regulation of globalization are often (though not always) also advocates of a more or less radical restructuring of such bodies in order to make them more genuinely responsive to global public opinion and not simply to the views and preferences of the richest and most powerful states in the world (Stiglitz 2002).

The latter notion recalls the original post-World War II understanding of globalism as a promotion of internationalism in response to the threat of nuclear warfare. Proposals for the international control of nuclear weapons were, for instance, often promoted and stigmatized as one-worldism. To what extent, one may ask, were mid-twentieth century efforts such as the creation of the United Nations and the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the foundations for subsequent economic globalization or institutions and ideals that may help guide it.

From this perspective one may also consider a host of issues related to science, technology, and ethics. Certainly globalization as a phenomenon would not be possible with both science and technology. But does globalization imply or require the universalization of ethics and ethical standards in the same way that it implies and promotes the universalization of technical standards? Can research protocols that are appropriate for HIV/AIDS drugs in Europe and North America be transferred to Africa and Asia? Do professional ethics codes for scientists and engineers function in the same way countries with strong and weak civil society institutions? It is such questions that suggest the importance of both globalism and globalization to the ethical promotion and assessment of science and technology.


SEE ALSO Development Ethics;International Relations;Modernism;Political Risk Assessment;Poverty;Television;Work.


Bhagwati, Jagdish. (2004). In Defense of Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press. An eloquent defense of globalization from orthodox economic premises.

Castells, Manuel. (1996). The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Vol. 1: The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Probably the best known single work dealing with the information technology dimension of globalization and its possible social and cultural implications.

Collier, Paul, and David Dollar. (2002). Globalization, Growth, and Poverty: Building an Inclusive World Economy. Washington, DC: World Bank; New York: Oxford University Press. The standardly optimistic "World Bank" view of globalization.

Dicken, Peter. (2003). Global Shift: Reshaping the Global Economic Map in the Twenty-First Century, 4th edition. New York: Guilford Press. An extremely comprehensive and empirically thorough standard textbook on globalization. An excellent non-dogmatic starting point for any beginning student of the subject.

Friedman, Thomas L. (1999). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. The source of the "Golden Arches" theory of international relations: Countries that are sufficiently capitalistic and consumerist as to have at least one McDonalds franchise do not go to war with each other.

Hirst, Paul, and Grahame Thompson. (1999). Globalization in Question: The International Economy and the Possibilities of Governance, 2nd edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Perhaps the best singe statement of the skeptical view of globalization as any kind of genuinely new or original phenomenon.

Kitching, Gavin. (2001). Seeking Social Justice through Globalization: Escaping a Nationalist Perspective. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Orthodox economic analysis combined with some rather unorthodox political prescriptions and implications.

Mandle, Jay R. (2003). Globalization and the Poor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Takes a rather similar view to Kitching but with a much tighter and deeper focus on the issue of poverty and its alleviation.

Martin, Hans-Peter, and Harald Schumann. (1997). The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Prosperity and Democracy, trans. Patrick Camiller. London: Zed Books. One of the first and one of the best radical critiques of globalization.

Norberg, Johan. (2003). In Defense of Global Capitalism. Washington, DC: Cato Institute. Rather similar to Bhagwati in its analysis, but rather more polemical in tone.

Steger, Manfred B. (2002). Globalism: The New Market Ideology. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. A text that provides a very useful contrast to Bhagwati and Norberg as an illustration of the levels of ideological polarization among scholars produced by globalization.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2002). Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton. A very interesting "insiders" view of the financial dimensions of globalization. Deals with some technical economic issues but in a very accessible way.

Thurow, Lester C. (1996). The Future of Capitalism: How Today's Economic Forces Shape Tomorrow's World. New York: Morrow. Early text on the globalization phenomenon and still one of the most sophisticated and prescient.

Wade, Robert Hunter. (2001). "The Rising Inequality of World Income Distribution." Finance and Development 38(4): 37–39. Very useful statistical compendium on the inequality issue.

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