Teaching Ethics and Economic Globalization

By John Sniegocki, Assistant Professor
Department of Theology

The film Life and Debt, recently shown as part of Academic Day, raised many important questions concerning the impacts of debt and economic globalization on the country of Jamaica. The film explores this topic through interviews with farmers, workers, owners of small businesses, and political leaders, as well as through Jamaican reggae music and through scenes contrasting the experiences of tourists with the local realities that the tourists generally do not see. The impacts that are highlighted are mostly negative, including increased levels of poverty, decreased governmental spending on health and education, the undermining of small farmers, and exploitative working conditions in the free trade zones.

In a course that I regularly teach entitled Contemporary Ethical Issues, an exploration of the ethics of globalization occupies a central place. I have found that films like Life and Debt can play an important role in exploring these topics, enabling the sometimes rather abstract debates concerning economic theory and policy to come alive for the students. In my experience students are generally very aware that the changes taking place in the global economy are transforming our world in fundamental ways, but at the same time they often feel unsure of how to evaluate these changes. They may know that free trade is a controversial topic, or that the Third World debt crisis exists, and may see protests on television when meetings are held of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, or World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, however, they generally acknowledge being confused by these debates, unable to articulate what the key points of contention are, unable to explain exactly why people are protesting, what alternatives they propose, or how proponents of current forms of economic globalization would respond to these critiques. Often the issues seem too complex and overwhelming. In this article I'd like to briefly highlight a number of resources  videos, books, and websites that I have found useful in teaching about these issues. These resources it is hoped may be helpful to persons teaching about globalization in a variety of disciplines.

Since my course is offered in the theology department of a Jesuit university, one of the issues we explore is what contributions Catholic Church leaders are making to the globalization debate. When examining this topic, one is quickly struck by the fact that church leaders have expressed many concerns about existing forms of economic globalization. This can be seen, for example, in a recent statement of the Jesuit Provincials of Latin America, entitled For Life and Against Neoliberalism. This statement presents many criticisms of the impact of neoliberal capitalism (i.e. free trade, structural adjustment policies, privatization, deregulation, etc.) in Latin American countries. Among the harmful impacts highlighted by the Jesuit leaders, based on their communities experiences, are: the immense imbalances and perturbations neoliberalism causes through the concentration of income, wealth and land ownership; the multiplication of the unemployed urban masses or those surviving in unstable and unproductive jobs; the bankruptcy of thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses; the destruction and forced displacement of indigenous and peasant populations; the expansion of drug trafficking based in rural sectors whose traditional products can no longer compete; the disappearance of food security; an increase in criminality often triggered by hunger; the destabilization of national economies by the free flow of international speculation; and maladjustments in local communities by multinational companies that do not take the residents into account.

In a recent address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Pope John Paul II reinforced this critical view of current forms of globalization:

Special interests and the demands of the market frequently predominate over concern for the common good. This tends to leave the weaker members of society without adequate protection and can subject entire peoples and cultures to a formidable struggle for survival. Moreover, it is disturbing to witness a globalization that exacerbates the conditions of the needy, that does not sufficiently contribute to resolving situations of hunger, poverty, and social inequality, that fails to safeguard the natural environment. These aspects of globalization can give rise to extreme reactions, leading to excessive nationalism, religious fanaticism and even acts of terrorism.

What reasons do these church leaders (and others who develop similar critiques) give for presenting such strong criticism of current economic policies? What alternatives do they suggest? How would proponents of current policies respond? What kinds of actions can each of us take in our own lives to have a positive impact on these complex realities of poverty and hunger? These are the kinds of issues that we explore in the globalization component of the Contemporary Ethical Issues course. As mentioned above, one pedagogical technique that I have found to be invaluable in exploring the impacts of globalization and stimulating student interest is the use of audiovisual resources. Carefully selected videos (or video excerpts, given time limitations) can bring these issues to life in a powerful way, enabling the students to see the human realities that lie beneath the debates over economic policy. In addition to the Life and Debt film that was shown at Academic Day, some additional audiovisual resources that could be useful include:

Cancel the Debt Now! The Jubilee 2000 Campaign explores the causes and impacts of the Third World debt crisis and the church-based Jubilee campaign for debt relief. (25 min.)

The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy a recent series aired on PBS that is very favorable towards current forms of economic globalization. Excerpts from this series can provide an important contrasting perspective to the more critical perspective of many of the videos listed below. (360 min.)

Peace,What Peace Confronting Central America's New Economic War  - explores the impacts of structural adjustment policies and the establishment of free trade zones in the Central American countries of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. There is a segment of approximately 10 minutes on each country. The Nicaragua segment includes footage of one of the sites (a community kitchen) where Xavier students participating in the Nicaragua service-learning semester regularly volunteer. The El Salvador segment includes a powerful look at sweatshop working conditions in the free trade zones. (29 min.)

The Business of Hunger an older, classic video (produced by the Maryknoll missionary society) that examines the forces that contributed to massive displacement of small farmers from their land throughout the Third World in the 1970s and 1980s. Provides very valuable historical background for a discussion of current realities and for understanding the rise of liberation theology in Latin America and elsewhere. (28 min.)

Zoned for Slavery: The Child Behind the Label a video on sweatshops produced by the National Labor Committee, the group that organized the recent visit of Bangladeshi workers to Xavier. (23 min.)

Showdown in Seattle includes extensive footage of the December 1999 protests at the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, an event that brought debate over the WTO into broader public consciousness. The impacts of the WTO and of free trade are examined primarily from the perspective of the protesters. (60 min.)

Are World Trade and Human Rights on a Collision Course. Town Hall meeting sponsored by the Brueggeman Center at XU, including panelists from a range of perspectives.

In the Name of Progress - part of the Race to Save the Planet video series, this episode explores some of the negative social and ecological impacts of conventional development policies in Brazil and India, along with an exploration of alternative grassroots approaches to development as seen in the Chipko movement in India and the rubber tappers movement in Brazil (60 min.)

Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh  a powerful video which complements a book by the same name written by Helena Norberg-Hodge. The video and book explore the impacts of conventional forms of  development on the Buddhist-influenced culture of Ladakh, a region of India, and raise fundamental questions about how authentic development should be conceptualized. (59 min.)

It Takes a Child a very inspiring video about a 12 year old boy from Canada who traveled to numerous countries (with an older friend) visiting child workers and began a movement known as Free the Children. The movement is made up of children working to end the exploitation of other children around the world by increasing awareness of the issues, raising money for schools and grassroots development projects, and influencing consumer decisions and corporate and governmental policies. (56 min.)

T-Shirt Travels: The Story of Secondhand Clothes and Third World Debt explores the impact of debt and of IMF/World-Bank structural adjustment policies on the continent of Africa. Also looks at the historical legacy of the slave trade and colonialism in shaping current African realities.

The XU library has several of these videos. Personal copies of some of the others can be borrowed from me, or I can provide you with information on obtaining a copy to preview. You can contact me at sniegocj@xavier.edu or by phone at x3287.

Numerous additional videos on globalization and related topics can be borrowed free of charge (you pay only return postage) from the video libraries of Church World Service and the Mennonite Central Committee. Videos on a variety of faith and social justice topics can also be purchased inexpensively from Maryknoll Productions.

With regard to written resources on globalization, in my course I use a book by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset entitled World Hunger: 12 Myths, a clearly written and insightful discussion of the systemic causes of world hunger. This is complemented by numerous shorter readings from a variety of perspectives, including Catholic social teaching materials and materials strongly supportive of current forms of economic globalization, that are placed on e-reserve. I also have the students do some additional independent internet-based research focusing on organizations that are working to respond constructively to the ethical issues raised by current forms of globalization. This assignment I have found to be essential in helping students to feel empowered to make a difference themselves, rather than being numbed by the complexity and immensity of the problems that we discuss. In connection with this segment of the course, we read Frances Moore Lappé and Jeffrey Perkins short book You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear.

Some additional books that provide valuable background information on the globalization debate, all of which are accessible to a general readership, include:

Books supportive of current forms of globalization:

Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1999) - This book by Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, is perhaps the most widely read book that is largely supportive of current forms of economic globalization.

Brink Lindsey, Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism (New York: Wiley, 2002) - Lindsey, of the libertarian Cato Institute, argues in favor of free market and free trade policies, opposing the dead hand of state involvement in economic life.

Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization (New York: Oxford, 2004) Bhagwati argues strongly for the benefits of current forms of globalization, while suggesting some minor reforms. Also see his book Free Trade Today.

Martin Wolf, Why Globalization Works (New Haven: Yale, 2004) Martin presents a case for current forms of globalization, based on classical economic theory.

Johan Norberg, In Defense of Global Capitalism (Washington: Cato Institute, 2003) 

Another book from the liberatarian Cato Institute highlighting the benefits of free trade, deregulation, and other policies of neoliberal capitalism.

Books Critical of Current Forms of Globalization:

David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 2nd ed. (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian

Press, 2001) -  This is one of the central texts of the movement in opposition to current forms of economic globalization. Korten, formerly a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, develops an extensive critique of dominant forms of economic policy and presents the broad outlines of an alternative vision. His latest book, The Post-Corporate World, continues this discussion.

John Cavanagh, et al., Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002) - This book is co-authored by many of the world's leading critics of neoliberal globalization, under the auspices of the International Forum on Globalization. Authors include Vandana Shiva (who will be an E/RS lecturer at Xavier in Spring 2005), David Korten, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Walden Bello, and others.

Jim Yong Kim, Joyce Millen, Alec Irwin, and John Gershman, Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000) - Presents case studies from around the world focusing on the negative impact of current forms of globalization on the health of the poor.

Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, Who Owes Who 50 Questions About World Debt (London: Zed Books, 2004) - A primer about the Third World debt crisis, its causes, impacts, and possible solutions.

SAPRIN, Structural Adjustment: The Policy Roots of Economic Crisis, Poverty, and Inequality (London: Zed Books, 2004) - This book is perhaps the best critical overview of the impact of IMF/World Bank structural adjustment policies on the world's poor. This study is the product of a joint project between civil society groups and the World Bank. The authors contend, however, that the World Bank has largely ignored the conclusions and recommendations that were made in the study and has continued pursuing the very types of policies that the study critiques.

Arthur MacEwan, Neoliberalism or Democracy Economic Strategy, Markets, and Alternatives for the 21st century (London: Zed Books, 1999) - MacEwan, an economist from the University of Massachusetts, develops one of the most detailed refutations of the idea that no alternatives to neoliberal forms of capitalism are possible.

Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003) -   Stiglitz, winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, presents a sharp critique of aspects of structural adjustment policies and highlights the need for alternatives.

John Madeley, Hungry for Trade: How the Poor Pay for Free Trade (London: Zed Books, 2000) and Big Business, Poor Peoples: The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World's Poor (London: Zed Books, 1999)   Madeley is the author of numerous books exploring the impact of current economic policies on the world's poor.

Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, eds., The Case Against the Global Economy (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996) -  Another book that brings together the writings of many prominent critics of current forms of economic globalization.

Robin Broad, ed., Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) - A textbook exploring free trade and other neoliberal economic policies, criticisms, and alternatives. Includes excerpts from a wide variety of sources, accompanied by detailed commentary.

Internet Resources

"Life and Debt" film

Jubilee USA (on Third World debt) www.jubileeusa.org
Jubilee Research  www.jubileeresearch.org
Sweatshop Watch www.sweatshopwatch.org
Cato Institute pro-free trade site http://www.cato.org/ 
International Forum on Globalization www.ifg.org
Development Group for Alternative Policies www.developmentgap.org
Resources on Catholic Social Teaching www.osjspm.org/cst
Center of Concern www.coc.org
Small Planet Institute www.smallplanetinstitute.org
Oxfam America www.oxfamamerica.org
Global Exchange www.globalexchange.org
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch www.citizen.org/trade/index.cfm
Alliance for Responsible Trade www.art-us.org
Socially Responsible Investment www.socialinvest.org
Coop America     (with extensive resources on socially responsible purchasing) www.coopamerica.org
Corporate Watch www.corpwatch.org
People-Centered Development Forum www.pcdf.org
WE (Formerly "Free the Children") www.we.org
World Bank www.worldbank.org
International Monetary Fund (IMF) www.imf.org

Exploring the issues related to economic globalization is a complex task, yet a crucial one. The outcome of these debates will shape in fundamental ways the future of our world. My hope is that the above materials may be found useful in pursuing this exploration and analysis ourselves and in stimulating our students to engage thoughtfully in these discussions.


Contributors to the Lesson Learned series have been selected to share their experiences in the classroom, describing a teaching technique or exercise that they have found to be effective.

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