GLOBALISATION

What it is: 'Globalisation' refers to economic, political, military and cultural networks extending worldwide. The globalised economy is the expanding of businesses in order to trade goods and services round the world.

What it means: People have depended on trade since the beginning of civilisation and the first exchange of goods. Money was invented over 3,000 years ago, as a practical way of representing and storing trade value,  and people quickly became greedy for it.  Competition (and exploitation) in trade isn't new, nor is trade over long distances, as the great historic trade routes show. By the 19th century European countries were the biggest importers of goods from round the world - and also the biggest exporters of their own produce. In the 20th century America became the richest country in the world. US businesses began taking over other businesses, at home and abroad, and by the 1990s 70% of all international trade was in the hands of these multinational corporations. What helped such rapid growth was modern technology: transport and communications were now cheaper, easier and had a worldwide reach. There was also a growing relaxation of existing controls on trade, such as taxes ('tariffs') and restrictions on amounts bought or sold ('quotas'). Globalisation was supposed to create 'a level playing field' for trade, but the sheer size of the multinationals (and their other advantages, including hidden financial support from the governments of their countries) has meant that poorer countries have suffered: trade deals have not been in their favour, and they have become trapped in debt. In 2003 the gap between the world's rich and poor was wider than it had ever been. Activists have protested against the inequality and injustice caused by globalisation, and some politicians have acknowledged it, but the power of the corporations is strong and governments don't want to interfere with them.  Not only poverty but the huge gap between rich and poor lead to instability and violent conflict which can break out into war.  In 1991, for example, the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic made an election speech urging resistance against wealthy Croats and Slovenes: 'If we don't know how to work well or do business, at least we know how to fight well'.

Think about it: (1) Sadly, more money doesn't mean less poverty. In a number of developing countries, the world's big businesses control local factories making clothing and footwear for richer countries (as you can see on the 'Made in...' labels). The workers are paid low wages. They (and their country) have no share in the substantial profits. They do not earn enough to set up their own businesses. Even if they did, their countries are often too poor to provide back-up. (2) Some people say that globalisation is good for democracy. Yet some of the countries that are the multinationals' customers are among the world's worst tyrannies, and the multinational corporations themselves (because of their link with poverty in the developing countries) have been described as abusers of human rights.  (3) A financier who has watched the rise of modern globalisation says that in our society 'there is a dominant belief in the magic of the marketplace, and that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest. Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles.' Facing these problems has to start with individual people, and start at home. So, if we stand for justice, what (however small) can we do?

See also | International Monetary Fund |World Bank | World Trade Organisation |