global are we? A Christian's view of globalisation
by Stephen Harris, Wellington,
scale of global challenges often seems daunting and
disempowering. We feel like tiny specks on a huge
screen. "Lord, your sea is so wide and my boat is
so small". What can we possibly do that will be more
than a drop in that ocean?
the globalising world the instantly recognisable logo has
become a symbol of exploitation - even oppression - in the
minds of many. It has marched in at the shoulder of armies,
which have brutally repressed the rights of local interests
to maintain traditional lifestyles. Big money in cahoots
with corrupt and often-violent despots. It has, in short,
this your view of the cross? Nike or Shell maybe. But remember
that Christianity was the first true globalising force.
Unlike the Romans or the empires that went before them,
the crusaders and many "civilisers" of at least the past
nine hundred years have wielded the cross no less than the
sword. Columbus's ship, Santa Maria, bore a red cross on
started with the example I did just to illustrate that what
we all might regard as one positive globalising force -
Christianity - isn't seen that way by everyone.
What do we mean? When Bill Clinton was President, he ordered
that no-one in his Administration was to use the word because
it was not specific. All around us, maybe, but not specific.
We, too, need to be careful in our thinking about what we
mean by "globalisation." It's a term riddled with contradictions.
One I like is the way anti-globalisers rally support over
the internet. We also need to be clear about the results
of globalisation. And we need to get behind the motives
of the globalisers to get any sort of meaningful grasp on
whether certain aspects of globalisation should encourage
us or concern us.
faces of globalisation
Before we make sweeping judgments about whether globalisation
is a "good" or a "bad" phenomenon, we have to try to get
a handle on what we're actually referring to. It seems to
me the debate is about three broad themes, often interlinked:
The first is economic - is the world becoming one
great big marketplace where borders cease to matter? Secondly,
is cultural diversity being rubbed out, mostly by
the global mass media? Thirdly, what rules are being
put in place to regulate this process, and are they working?
I'll conclude by suggesting an approach I have found useful
in making sense of all this from a Christian perspective.
want to dispatch the concerns about globalisation at the
cultural level first up. The French have recently become
so concerned about the inroads of American messages they
banned English from advertising billboards. A little extreme,
perhaps, but if the French are worried, how must many smaller
As a journalist by training yes, I am concerned by the amalgamation
of media mega-networks by moguls like Rupert Murdoch. But
there's so much choice now - not so little - that I can
choose to watch something else. That's globalisation. In
the political sphere, nations are not losing their identity
as the world increasingly develops along regional lines.
East Timor, the new parliament in Scotland, the Baltic states,
the former Yugoslavia….New nations are being formed and
peoples are finding their distinctive voices, not becoming
global androids. People are tribal. Parochialism is in good
shape. Much as Christians talk about the universal church,
we all know that even Christians are a very motley lot.
Looming larger for most people when we think of globalisation
is its economic dimension. Here the phenomenon has a much
more mixed pedigree.
am a strong believer in the potential for trade to spur
economic development. There is a huge body of evidence supporting
that. For example, the average South Korean or Taiwanese
is nine times richer today than in 1970. Trade made that
possible. North Korea is the counter example, if you still
need convincing. And economic development is usually a seedbed
for social and political development - a two-edged sword
China is clearly grappling with.
why the concern? Is the target of anti-globalisers the power
of multi-national corporations to corner large chunks of
the world market in their goods and services?
Or to use their economic muscle and political connections
to influence the rules to suit themselves? If so, that's
hardly a new phenomenon. Look at the British East India
Company or United Fruit in Central America.
is it concern at the wages these multinationals pay their
workers? - certainly pitiful by western stands, but for
many a ticket out of abject rural poverty.
it the ever-present nature of global brands - Coca Cola,
Nike, IBM, McDonalds to name a few? They're successful only
because we want to buy them. Look at the Swatch phenomenon,
which brought the Swiss watch industry - and all the jobs
in it - back from oblivion.
polarisation of views
The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, believes trade can
do more to alleviate poverty than any other single measure.
Yet there is clearly a polarisation of views about what
we conveniently label "globalisation." Some of the reasons
can be read in the statistics:
the world lives on less than two US dollars a day each
quarter of all the people in developing countries can't
capita exports by developing countries amount to a twelfth
those of the wealthy countries of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development
globalisation has not cured poverty. But I note that while
developing countries make up 40 percent of the world's population
they account for only three percent of global trade. That
tells me that one answer is not less trade but more of it
- so that these poorer nations can lift themselves out of
poverty, just as South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian "tigers"
institutions and global challenges
So if trade is not the rogue gene of globalisation, what
is? For me, an important starting point for how globalisation
can be made to slice up the resources pie more evenly is
to look at global institutions. The disruption is happening
on a global scale, so why not call in a global policeman?
There are two problems with this. Firstly, global responses
to global challenges cut against our notions of democracy,
which is rooted in local communities. People say our sovereignty
is undermined. But an environmental crisis, such as an oil
spill, or a poison gas cloud or an epidemic won't stop at
the border, so neither should the countermeasures.
second problem is that some global institutions seem to
make some problems worse. Look at the plight of coffee growers.
Forced by the IMF or the World Bank to replace food crops
with a cash crop for export, many can't even cover the cost
of production. This is policy failure - a dumb idea in other
words - and should be condemned as such. Globalisation may
be the scene of the crime, but it is not the criminal.
My other big concern is that the globalisation race is increasingly
being won by those with the most expensive skates. Advances
in technology are so rapid that poorer countries simply
can't afford the hardware - let alone possess the skills
- to keep up. A few years ago I worked for German shortwave
radio, broadcasting to many parts of the Third World. We
lost a big chunk of our budget to the director-general's
new sugar-baby, satellite television. It made him look good.
Deutsche Welle TV. Maybe you watch it. The problem was,
most of our audience in Africa and South Asia were dependent
on scarce short wave radios; they certainly had no hope
of tuning in to satellite TV.
- particularly communications technology - is crucial to
helping that 40 percent of the world who live in developing
countries to share the benefits globalisation.
this is one area where the debate about "fair" trade versus
"free" trade should be weighed up. But in doing so, we need
to keep our eye on motives. After rioting shut down the
World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle three years ago,
it was alleged that some of the rioters were funded by an
American textiles conglomerate. This firm wanted to protect
its home market from increased imports, by scuttling efforts
to open the US market to cheaper imports from the developing
world. The unions wanting to protect jobs found common cause
with big business wanting to protect profits. Yet that same
conglomerate wanted to be able to keep exporting - in some
cases to developing countries. This shows why I think "fair"
is a very subjective term.
play depends on rules
It's true, the system is still skewed in favour of the big
players. New Zealand faces raised drawbridges all around
the world and earns lower profits as a result - along with
most of the developing world.
rules of some sort are hugely important. They can be the
great leveler of opportunity for small, trade-dependent
countries like New Zealand. We have been among the strongest
supporters of the so-called "development agenda" of the
current negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, or
WTO. This is not just about equipping poorer members - who
make up two-thirds of the WTO's 144 members - to make better
use of the opportunities created. It is also about such
survival basics as getting drugs at more affordable prices
to the 30 million AIDS sufferers in the developing world.
rules are no less a feature of globalisation than brands,
multinationals or, for that matter, international crime
like money-laundering and the drugs trade. Those rules contribute
to international stability by disciplining global trade,
just as the United Nations helps to police benchmarks of
international conduct in the political and security sphere.
This is global governance.
this global governance represent a new order that should
make us feel more comfortable that "globalisation" is not
running amok? And where have we, as Christians, heard that
phrase - "a new world order" - before? I'm not referring
to President George W. Bush post-September 11, nor his dad
after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
phrase comes from one of the very first modern globalisers
- Saint Paul. In his second letter to the church at Corinth,
Paul speaks of a "new order…for anyone united to Christ."
He goes on to describe this new order as just as much a
point of departure as a point of arrival. "God has enlisted
us in this ministry of reconciliation….we are therefore
Christ's ambassadors." (2 Corinthians 5:18 & 20)
might Christians respond?
Yet the scale of global challenges often seems daunting
and disempowering. We feel like tiny specks on a huge screen.
"Lord, your sea is so wide and my boat is so small". What
can we possibly do that will be more than a drop in that
ambassadors. For me, this provides a pretty powerful contrast
to the de-personalised nature of so much we call "globalisation."
Globalisation is no different from other big themes confronting
us as Christians. It challenges us personally. It also gives
us authority to act according to a universal vision that
is inclusive, not diminishing nor dehumanising.
probably all heard Marshall McLuhan's phrase "the global
village" and may even wonder where Paul's reference to "God's
household" fits into that.
open house in the village
It creates an obligation to people both in that household
and an obligation to help others wanting to come in. And
in the global village not much goes unnoticed by the neighbours
- both within the household's thin walls and as we come
and go. As with any family or community, there is a causal
chain between neglect and dysfunction - even violence. Globalisation
means that chain is becoming shorter all the time. It would
be stating the obvious to itemise the examples of that as
the effects of epidemics, debt crises and international
terrorism reverberate with scant regard to national - or
wealth - boundaries.
have probably all heard the phrase "think globally, act
locally." A few years ago, New Zealand won a fiercely contested
seat on the United Nations Security Council. Part of that
success was due to winning the collective support of African
nations. Some of their delegates said they voted for New
Zealand because of experiences with kiwi backpackers who
had stopped during their overland trips through Africa,
and had helped to build wells or other village projects.
They were behaving very much like Christ's ambassadors -
whether they realised it or not.
we do can make a difference if our motives are sound. Whether
the new international order that politicians like George
Bush talk about bears any resemblance to the one that inspired
Paul may depend on the President's motives - and on our
collective efforts to reconcile a divided world. God's household
sits squarely on the busiest corner of the global village.