Ask the Experts: James Buchanan
James Buchanan, director for the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, discusses globalization—what it means to our current economic situation and what it might mean to our future.
Q. Globalization has become a buzzword, but what does it really mean?
A. There is a great deal of debate about what globalization means. Probably the most general use of the term refers to economic globalization and new institutions such as the World Trade Organization. But to understand globalization fully requires that we take into account technological interconnection, political interaction and cultural interpenetration. All of these have grown exponentially in magnitude and speed and have radically transformed the scale of human action.
Q. What are some common misconceptions about globalization and our relationship to it?
A. Perhaps the greatest misconception is that globalization is somehow “out there,” that it has little to do with our day to day lives. But the truth is that every time we turn on a light or the heat or start our car or any of the thousand seemingly simple acts we do daily, we activate a global economic, technological, and political system. Maybe the real key to understanding globalization is the shift in both consciousness and responsibility. We are the first generations that are being confronted with the fact that all aspects of our lives are impacted by things that are happening globally and that likewise, the lives of people on the other side of the planet are impacted by even the simplest of our decisions about how we live. The questions of how we deal with the demands of global responsibility are the most pressing and most confusing ones that confront us today.
Q. Why is it important to our current economic situation?
A. Too much of what we hear and read about our current economic crisis both from those determining policy as well as all but a few economists, creates the impression that this is a only a national crisis and will have national solutions. But the truth is that it is a global crisis and can and will only have global solutions. It is not just that we are intimately tied to China, who holds so much of our debt, but that there are complex global webs of economic connection in everything from production-consumption chains to the ownership of what is being called “toxic assets.” The billionaire philanthropist George Soros recently said the whole global economic system is “defective” and that only by reexamining the whole global system, both in its underlying principles and in its practice, will we find long-term sustainable solutions that also address questions of economic justice.
Q. What are the possible upsides of a globalized world?
A. I think the upside, potentially, far outweighs the downside. We have to realize that globalization itself is not something we can choose to embrace or opt out of. Globalization is a fact of our lives now. The only questions of any importance, concern the form globalization will take and the values which will provide the guiding principles going forward. Global institutions, such as the WTO or transnational corporations, need the checks and balances of global civil society and of global interfaith alliances that are able to constructively offer alternatives to those practices which are not allowing for globalization to genuinely become “the tide that raises all ships.” The next great leap in human evolution may well be the development of a truly global consciousness and sense of responsibility. It will, no doubt, be a rocky road but our better angels all dwell along that path.