Part I – A Rapidly Changing World: Trends of Globalisation

In May, 2011 CPJ was pleased to welcome Prof. Bob Goudzwaard to our AGM to give a talk about ‘Living Faithfully in a Rapidly Changing World.’ The following is the first in a three-part series of edited excerpts from Prof. Goudzwaard’s speech. Stay tuned for more as the summer progresses!

Globalisation is not at all a static phenomenon. It is in perpetual motion, constantly on the move. This confronts us with the puzzling question of globalisation's current direction. Is it a direction which we can applaud from a Christian world view?

If we restrict ourselves to developments since the turn of the millennium, it is possible to describe the most relevant changes in terms of five characteristics:

1) Emerging Powers

This process of emerging and declining powers looks a little bit like the story of changing empires in the book of Daniel. Our whole concept of a so-called third world is now shattered by this new pattern of emergence and decline. You can no longer put China and Zimbabwe in the same category. The "third world", if we still want to use the term, ought to refer more to the dimension of deepening poverty which you can now find in almost every state in the world, even the richest ones.

Globalisation has many features. But one feature- that of a more equitable distribution of income and wealth- is still entirely missing.

2) Bilateralism and Growing Scarcities

Of course, all of us have heard about the growing deficits of resources, the shrinking usable part of the environment and shortages in the energy sector. On the one hand this is caused by a rapid growth in world demand because of the world’s population growth and the rise of per capita consumption. But on the other hand the needed supplies are not growing at the same pace. Peak oil is of course a prominent example of this. But there is also a rapidly growing divergence between demand and supply in the food sector. A growing number of countries have become aware of this and are trying to secure their future supply of food. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in New York recently gave some interesting examples of this trend:

  • The Philippines, a large rice importer, has negotiated a three-year deal with Vietnam;
  • A delegation from Yemen travelled to Australia for a long-term wheat contract;
  • Egypt has recently reached a long-term agreement with Russia for the import of more than three million tonnes of wheat each year.

What does all this mean? Two things. Firstly, we can say that there is now a growing awareness of the future limited availability of food and fossil energy with not always peaceful consequences. Scarcity-conflicts and deals between nations are now substantially growing, with the poorest countries almost surely the big losers in the future.

Secondly, we learn that national self-interest has found a new way of pushing itself to the fore. The underlying message is this: in no way will we ever accept any constraint of our vital interests, especially not of the interest to secure for ourselves a high degree of economic growth, for that goal is sacrosanct.

3) The revolts in Arab Countries

Perhaps you think, hearing this: hey, Bob, all those revolts in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, they are no doubt important, but are they also a part of changes in globalisation? Yes, to some extent they surely are! Without the global dispersion of modern western technology, all these protests would not have grown as widespread as they now do.

But what will all these young people choose? Will they choose democracy? Will they also adopt an anti-globalistic and anti-Western attitude? Three wars have already been fought in the Muslim world by Western powers to safeguard their future energy-supply: the Gulf War, the Iraq war and now the Libyan war. Will the young Arab generation continue its support for the West, or now follow another, more critical line? And what will then be the consequence for energy supplies and prices in the West?

4) Growing Indebtedness

This is especially the case for and also within the richest nations. Since 1980, an enormous rise in consumption took place, for instance, in the USA. But that enormous rise was not achieved by a corresponding rise in wages. No, it was facilitated by an explosion in credit.

Household debt rose from $680 billion in 1974 to $14 trillion in 2008 - the same amount as the enormous public debt of the US government. How long can this endure? Christian Hedges, in his book The Empire of Illusion, draws the only possible conclusion:

America seeks to perpetuate prosperity by borrowing trillions of dollars, which it (however) can never repay.

This cannot continue indefinitely. And not unrelated to this, poverty in the US is also growing rapidly. There are now more than 36 million Americans who have to cope daily with hunger, a rise of 3 million since 2000.

5) The Lordship of Money

A critical analysis of the global economy over the last five years leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is now money in the form of huge financial markets which sits on the throne of the global empire, and implements its lordship over the real economy. Joseph Stiglitz explains in his most recent book Free Fall how in recent years the big banks took the lead in injecting an enormous amount of speculative money into the economy, and so caused the present financial and economic crisis. It was their greed which, to a significant extent, brought on the crisis. But remarkably these large banks were also the first to be saved by the government! And now, they have been brought back to their throne, and try to regain their dominion over the real economy.

The five changes which I outlined are remarkably all about the ups and downs of dynamic economic growth. These changes might seem to be distinct, but of course have a lot to do with each other.

Jenny Prosser is CPJ’s former policy intern.

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