A Dialogue on Fairer Globalization with Devin Stewart


DS:  Andy, I would like to thank you for linking to our program at the Carnegie Council, our online magazine Policy Innovations, and our blog Fairer Globalization.  I would like to take up your invitation to respond to your skepticism about whether a better, more equitable world can be reached.

SJ:  You know me, Devin, always the skeptic.  So what does it take?

DS:  In short, I would say, we have no other choice because if we fail to build a better, more sustainable globalization, humanity may simply cease to survive much less prosper.  My interpretation of history is that we have a pretty good chance of survival.

SJ:  Well, we survived two world wars in the past century, not to mention a Cold War that nearly obliterated us all (think back to that good ol' Cuban Missile Crisis).  But what about the current "cold war" between the US and China for dominance over the world's remaining hydrocarbon reserves? 

DS:  A couple of points for perspective:  The United States and China are not alone in being big energy consumers.  So are India, Europe, Russia, and Japan, as this study shows.  Meanwhile, GDP and energy consumption per capita in China are much lower.

SJ:  So doesn't that suggest that the world's current power structure is not bipolar but multipolar, and that the opportunities for large-scale conflict, not to mention lack of cooperation over key issues like confronting global warming, are that much greater? If the world were a person, he'd be locked up in the loony bin for multiple personality disorder.

DS:  I would agree with your premise that globalization has the ability to destroy and create, to enrich and to impoverish.  But although the topic has become trendier in political science in the past decade or so, the phenomenon is nothing new.  Economic globalization, which I define as the movement of labor, capital, ideas, and goods and services over borders, has been going on for thousands of years.  Technology advancements, such as the airplane, telephone, and Internet, have only accelerated the process.

SJ:  Absolutely, Devin.  I just finished teaching a course on world history, using the McNeills' book _The Human Web_, an excellent synthesis of world history focusing on the networks of trade and human intercourse that have developed across the globe since ancient times.  McNeill would argue, and most world historians would agree, that the acceleration really began around 1500 with the rise of global oceanic trade networks and European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.  This globalization has been characterized by the eminent China historian William T. De Bary as lacking any moral compass--it was simply a free-for-all where the European states competed to accumulate vast amounts of wealth by exploiting, exterminating, and enslaving large populations of non-Europeans.  Today globalization still proceeds under the basic principles of capital accumulation pioneered by the great colonial enterprises such as the Dutch East India Company and British East India Company.  But is it possible for globalization in the present day to be contained within a system of ethics?

DS:  Several trends suggest to me that we are seeing a convergence of ethical systems, a global ethics community if you will.  First, the globalization of information has made people more aware of what is happening in other societies and the effects of their actions globally—a global awareness.  Second, security is increasingly being understood in a global context, that traditional as well as non-traditional security issues, such as the environment and corruption, can affect a person's security—a movement from national security to global security. Third, the increasing interdependence created by the integration of economies into a global economy has meant both the scrutiny of local practices and the broadening of the stakeholdership. In other words, the more participants are affected positively and negatively by the system, the more they will care about the values underlying such a system.  And this gets to what ethics is: right action in the context of a system.

SJ:  Yes, all well and good--on paper.  But in reality, who sets and who maintains the standards?  And how is fairness assured in a system dominated by a few "great powers"? 

DS:  The United Nations Charter and the international system that the United States helped build after World War II have created the gold standards for ethical conduct.  We are all fortunate that China does not reject the UN Declaration on Human Rights.  Rather China tries to hold the United States accountable to the very standards that the United States has aspired for itself and the international community.

SJ:  But as we all know, China's record of human rights falls far short of the ideals that we all cherish, including a free press and freedom of speech--more journalists are languishing in jails in China than anywhere else, and most artists operate within a "velvet prison".  How can we help the people of China to secure their own freedoms and rights as laid out by international agreements on what it means to be human?

DS:  The more globalized a country becomes, the more it is forced into a global ethics conversation.  The more China relies on international markets and capital, the more it will have to engage in this conversation.  And I look forward to continuing our conversation, Andy.

SJ:  Thanks, Devin.  I wish you the best in your mission to educate the world about how to promote a fairer planet.