Debating the pros and cons of globalization
Global integration is not just economic, says renowned social theorist

By Fernando Quintero



Anthony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics, spoke Oct. 25 in a campus talk cosponsored by the School of Social Welfare and the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

31 October 2001 | Before the dawn of the 21st century, the debate over globalization was largely confined to the halls of academia.

That changed in November 1999, when massive protests erupted during a World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. By the end of the session, there had been 600 arrests and an estimated $3 million in property damage.

“The new debate over globalization has brought people out onto the streets,” said Anthony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, who delivered the Zellerbach Distinguished Lecture as a guest of the School of Social Welfare Oct. 25. “It is no longer a debate about whether it exists. It’s more about the consequences of it being here.”

Were the events of September 11 one such consequence?

“Globalization is not an ‘out there’ phenomenon, as if some external forces are at work. September 11 showed that it’s an ‘in here’ phenomenon,” said Giddens. “With interdependence comes vulnerability, a shift in our institutions, our emotions, our anxiety… something that, as a European citizen, I am very familiar with.”

Giddens believes the globalization debate is the most important dialogue taking place in the social sciences today. “It is a debate that shapes what form the century will assume, what society will assume,” he said.

The first major conversation about globalization took place between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, when academics debated whether the world was changing. “It was a debate between the advocates of change and those who were skeptical of it,” said Giddens, a social theorist who has written 35 books published in more than 30 languages.

“We’ve accumulated evidence that shows the skeptics were wrong. In the last three decades, changes have been more profound and comprehensive than ever imagined,” he said.

Today, he said, there is only “a partial understanding of globalization” on either side of the debate — the international institutions like the World Bank, who are promoting globalization, and the people in the streets, who question the enterprise.

“They only think about it as an economic phenomenon,” he said. Granted, economic globalization is accelerating at a rapid rate. More than $2 trillion are turned over every day in world currency markets. We’ve seen an acceleration of economic interdependence. But globalization is also social, political and cultural, driven by the communications revolution.”

Besides expansion of the marketplace and global communications, Giddens said globalization was fueled by the end of the Cold War, an era “when divisions between nations were more clearly established.”

Today, globalization’s opponents argue that corporations have too much power in the world.

“A world run by corporations is not a democracy… when you have expansion of commercialism and dominance of corporate power. There is some validity to that,” Giddens said. “But the idea that corporations are equivalent to nations is false. Nations control territory, laws and military power. They have the power to regulate what corporations do.”
Global inequality is part of the debate as well. The division between the rich and poor grows, and they believe it benefits rich countries at the expense of poor countries.

“But they need to take into consideration not only income inequality,” he said, “but also many other factors such as education, health care and women’s rights.”

Giddens concluded his talk with a warning against isolationism: “If a country lurches toward protectionism and isolation, it’s not a good thing.”


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