Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

The Jesuit International Network on Global Economy and Cultures (GEC Project) has organized an international meeting in Manila (Philippines), on April 15. Fr. Ando will attend the meeting on behalf of the Social Center. The Bulletin this time deals with the fundamentals of globalization and in the next one we will cover the international meeting in Manila.

The expression "global" is not new. The word "globalization" in its actual meaning goes back to the beginning of the '90s, following the collapse of the cold war structures. To express it in a simple way it means a border-less free flow of people, goods, capital and information. However, the sudden increase of multinationals after World War II and going back to the 16th century the golden times of sailing followed those same patterns. Modernization refers to the times of "internationalization." Then, how can one distinguish internationalization from modernization?

First, globalization refers to the domination of a free market economy. The communist block collapsed at the end of the eighties and the international debt of the third world showed a sharp increase during the nineties, with the result that there were no more political competitors to the Western industrial countries. This way, the free market economy, imposed by the G7 Summits, the IMF and the World Bank, the WTO and other world financial institutions, remained the only economic theory to rule the world.

Secondly, global standards made their appearance. Nowadays, that the world is linked by computers and information circuits, as one single market under a thorough free market, companies that have a "de facto" monopoly in several fields have come to dominate global markets. Thus, all over the world, the OS Window programs run under global standards.

Thirdly comes the homogeneity of the world. The global standards have permeated all cultures and life styles through various consumption services. In all cities, all over the world, people can enjoy the common services of the Internet, McDonald's, Seven Eleven, the Hollywood movies, CNN and MTV that have attracted young people so long. In such manner all cultures and life styles have become homogeneous.

Such corporate globalization, based on the principles of the market, has brought numerous distortions.

For instance, as a result of computer networks that link all financial and stock markets, the crash of one market immediately affects all world markets and produces enormous instant financial losses.

Seeds of agricultural products, the gene arrangement of living species, new medicines for medical treatment, etc. that, being connected to human life, are common heritage of the human race have become a monopoly of a few companies by applying to them intellectual property rights and patents.

Enormous political and economic differences have resulted among those who have access to the Internet, the media and computers and those who cannot.

Starting from food, clothing and shelter to entertainment, life styles and cultures are homogeneous around the world and typical local industry and culture, as well as values have started to collapse little by little.

We could go as far as to say that, everything, even those things that were not considered the objects of economic trade, is measured according to its economic value and what has a low value or is inefficient runs the risk of becoming extinguished.

Developing economies and those countries of the old communist block that have started to change their systems are the ones suffering most from the damages of globalization. They have been thrown into the middle of globalization by obliging them to introduce a free market economy in exchange for receiving capital from the World Bank and the IMF. On top of that, those countries lack industrial basis and personal resources as well as the know how of a market economy, but they have to compete with the industrial countries in the ring of the free trade system promoted by the WTO. They start with a big disadvantage created by a foolish capital accumulation and heavy national debts. This said, could we expect competition under such circumstances be fair and free?

On one hand, Japan proceeded ahead with industrialization for more than 100 years from Meiji on. During that time, Japan escaped colonization and making full use of her personal resources and the foundations of industrialization laid during her national isolation succeeded in developing a capitalistic society of her own. It was a system different from the West and, according to some scholars, this was the cause for Japan to be late in embracing globalization. Such economic development of Japan has a different background from the modern developing countries and could not be applied in the same manner, but could be helpful to developing countries in discerning about the merits and demerits to introduce hastily globalization.

People from all over the world have hotly demonstrated against, since the Seattle WTO World Conference of 1999, as a result of the abuses created by globalization. The targets of such criticism are not only the IMF and the World Bank annual meetings or other international and government organizations, like the G7 and EU summits that promote globalization, but also transnational companies like Microsoft, McDonald's, Nike and others.

Different kinds of people participate in such demonstrations. They vary from radical activists that throw eggs to heads of governments, the IMF and the World Bank to those of Farmers Unions of developing countries, as well as members of NGOs that act in solidarity with developing countries or members of consumers and ecological groups and trade unionists of industrial countries protesting unemployment. Formerly, NGOs and citizens' movements acted following their own goals, but they have joined efforts under the understanding that, unless the current of globalization is changed there are no real solutions to the problems of the world.

Although it looks ironical, the Internet has, sometimes, made possible to organize demonstrations in which tens of thousands of people participate. People use home pages to call for a demonstration and exchanging information by e-mail, participants from European or North American countries come together. The critics of globalization are also acting globally.

When globalization is promoted local societies experience decadence. The youth of developing countries, influenced by the waves of globalization, try to make it its own and then attempt to escape from the rural areas into the cities and from there towards the industrial countries.

McDonald's and Seven Eleven shop chains overrule local shops and restaurants. Mass Chinese production of UNIQLO clothing brings pressure on the textile industry of Japan and Chinese vegetables transported by air to Japan in large quantities smash the Japanese farmers.

Nevertheless, will cultures, unable to be calculated in money equivalent, survive as an outcome of such globalization? Will communities of poor people supporting and helping each other survive? What will happen to nature continuously exploited by a human desire for unlimited growth? And should not the human person, with closer community links that embrace life long global values, live within the cyclic process of nature?

All over the world people are now accepting such way of thinking and life styles. Europeans oppose the "fast food" goods and have started a movement, called "slow food," to reevaluate traditional food culture. In Japan, a "people's bank" has opened to advance funds for the activities of non-profit organizations. A special currency, called "local currency," that circulates only in some fixed regions has been issued. Over three thousand local currencies are floating around the world and tens of them also circulate in Japan, as optional currency.

German novelist Michael Ende has strongly influenced the Japanese movement of local currency. According to him, actual financial systems suffer from the following problems: (1) money, that is only a means to exchange equivalent things, has become a commodity to trade. (2) Financial systems under the capitalist system provoke unlimited growth (3) Financial systems that presuppose unlimited growth do not match with limited natural resources. Mr. Ende says that such financial systems will continue exploiting mercilessly the poor and nature of industrial societies as well as of the third world.

A local currency, on the opposite, (1) is not a currency, as such, creating interests, but it is a pure means of exchanging services and goods among the members of the locality. (2)The main purpose is to answer the needs of the members of the community, not economic growth. (3) It does not try to expand production without limitation by throwing in resources, but aims at enforcing community spirit and self-support with the help of mutual communication among its members and the recycling of community resources. Taking it this way, local currencies are an amazing antithesis to globalization. They are still limited in scope and might be taken as "children's toys," but the experiment, as Mr. Ende remarks, could be the first step towards the reform of a system based on the use of "money," even at the risk of human existence.

Globalization will remain with us and the problem seems to be how are we going to handle it. What is demanded from us, Christians, is not "how can we join the group of winners" as business magazines incite the public. Our faith demands us to find ways to build up a world where poverty and oppression do not produce terrorists. The issue is not only economics, but also the globalization of human and religious values. Unless we keep this in mind, globalization will wind up increasing at world levels contradiction and discrimination, poverty and oppression.

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