Understanding Globalization

Globalization is a diffuse term, but is generally used to describe the advancing integration, interdependence, and homogenization of the world, trends very often measured in economic terms. Social and economic development is essential for many nations to emerge from situations of persistent poverty and societal distress. In 1990 more than 189 United Nations member states pledged to work toward achieving by 2015 a set of Millennium Development Goals, a framework of benchmark advances addressing global needs in eight areas of basic human development, including poverty reduction, heath care, education and women’s rights.

In recent decades the development and applications of technology have increased greatly, spreading far into rural communities. At the same time international corporations and financing institutions have accelerated investment into previously underdeveloped societies and non-privatized sectors of their economies. These rapid expansions of international society and economy have created jobs and increased the ease of communication, travel, and commerce across borders. Previously insulated communities can now see, talk with, and exchange goods and ideas with people around the world.

However, increased development is also valued in economic terms as integral to the development of new labor, capital, and consumer markets. U.S. trade policy promotes a free-market strategy commonly referred to as the Washington Consensus, which holds to the premise that global economic growth is best achieved through trade and investment liberalization across borders, increased privatization of and corporate investment in public services, and the global redistribution of capital, production, and marketing of goods. Yet dominant economies, which include not just wealthy states but many Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) whose capital worth dwarfs most developing state economies, often control the terms and therefore maximize the benefits from these trends toward growth and greater economic integration. Investment interests often entice or coerce developing states to open up markets and avenues for foreign investment without regard for public well-being. The leveraging of profit motive over human development and security has resulted in a global “race to the bottom,” in which the TNCs and industries influencing trade arrangements compete to find the cheapest labor markets in countries with the least industry regulation.

The consequences of these dramatic economic changes among the world’s most desperate populations has resulted in great societal upheaval: unsustainable migration of peoples, the disruption of traditional economies and small-scale agricultural practices, and excessive environmental impacts, all of which place tremendous strain on family and social structures and the fabric of native cultures. The dynamic forces that have brought our international communities together present challenges to relationships among our nation-states, societies, and faith communities.

As two denominations committed by our resolutions and our commitment to God’s mission, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ must take a stand knowing the concerns of Global Ministries partners throughout the world, while distinguishing between beneficial and harmful globalization. It is clear that globalization affects us all, both positively and negatively. As many of our missionaries from all over the world have reiterated, those with access to money and technology tend to see the brighter effects of globalization while the less fortunate are forced to suffer with its harsh consequences. Often labeled as “contemporary colonialism” and “cultural imperialism,” economic globalization in particular is often seen as oppressive, but it is imperative to realize that many benefit from the jobs and infrastructure created through globalization.

Samia Khoury from Rawdat El-Zuhur in East Jerusalem writes, “Is it morally acceptable to fill the country with hamburger huts, and coca cola stands when there is not enough drinking water and when the basic needs of life are not yet attended to? But then we are told that the justification is creating jobs. Can we not create jobs for people by doing constructive community-building; therefore, the question is not whether to promote or protest globalization, but rather, ‘What kind of globalization should be supported?’” The magnitude and complexities involved in trying to encompass the interrelated nature of societies, cultures, and economies, while recognizing the dominant role of TNCs and trade blocs as well as other pressing consequences such as humanitarian crises, and environmental degradation can overwhelm us. We must find ways to harvest the spiritual, cultural and economic riches of closer relationships across national boundaries, ways that also lift up the whole of humanity.

Rather than endorsing (or resigning ourselves to) the presence of dominant superpowers, imbalances in scales of economies or the forced exploitation and access into other countries’ markets and societies, we should look toward developing stronger economic, social and moral ties among countries, while gradually reducing the dependence of less-developed countries on foreign institutions. Globalization should be a determining factor in establishing just and independent societies that function in accordance to ideals of freedom rather than creating efficient profit-making ventures for TNCs that often equate to oppressive work environments for the least empowered members of society. Our partners have already initiated conversations as to how globalization has affected them in their part of the world and identified as a priority ways of responding faithfully to it.

In January 2004 Global Ministries staff participated in the ecumenical consultation Just Trade Agreements? North America Addressing Globalization, which was co-sponsored by Church World Service, the Canadian Council of Churches and the Centro de Estudios Ecumenicos in Mexico. The consultation was held as part of a series of international forums addressing different aspects of globalization initiated jointly by the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the international Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. Consultation participants signed an ecumenical statement What Does God Require of Us? A Declaration for Just Trade in the Service of An Economy of Life. Participants affirmed in the Declaration that “We are churches who believe that the economy of God includes ethical and spiritual principles that offer guidance and direction in the search for the very practical alternatives to ensure trade and investment respects the important role of government, advances the common good, and serves an economy of life not death.” Further, the consultation commended participant denominations in a Plan of Action to “develop church-wide policies/practices that ‘live out’ the values being promoted.”