Excerpted from “Full Thoughts On Prof. Michael Sandel’s Meritocracy Discourse: Part 2“
Solidarity at the national level is preferable to having polarised societies, indeed, but the true challenges to a sustainable and thriving humanity depend on cohesion of the global community. That reality is increasingly understood in the battle against the climate crisis and it has been reinforced through the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially in our understanding that we all remain vulnerable while others do due to emergent variants.
A topic which I have long planned to write on is to introduce the concept of ‘Quality Globalisation’ as opposed to the quantity form that has prevailed up until now. This concept came to me over a year ago when watching Raghuram Rajan, former Governor of the Bank of India and before that Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, on Bloomberg lamenting the pulling back from globalisation by businesses which he was concerned would accelerate in the pandemic. He felt that it was an expression of isolationism and therefore a mistake for the world.
Even though I am extremely pro globalisation in the sense that I desire a cohesive global humanity, I do not agree that ‘globalisation’ need be based only, or even mainly, on shared economic interests. In fact, I can see pitfalls to that conceptualisation – the Australian/Chinese trade tensions, is just one example.
‘Quality Globalisation’ must have its foundations at the human level, at a general level of respect and love for humanity.
The real overriding issue must always be what is good for the people, not what is good for the economy. I believe in free trade because generally it is good for people. However, I have a problem with laissez faire free trade where, even if economic data might suggest it is good for ‘the economy’, benefits mostly accrue to the wealthy owners of capital while some people are hurt by the trade, and while the poor in the low-income country, who should benefit most, only capture a small portion of benefits which permits a lifestyle only slightly above a subsistence existence thus remaining vulnerable to market dysfunction and/or natural phenomena.
Let’s take the textile industry as an example, where production was shifted offshore from developed nations to developing nations because production there was much cheaper. The owners of capital, the shareholders of large retailers, benefited by increased profits which flowed through in dividends and capital gains. The low-skilled workers lost and their continual feeling of being forgotten has been a hallmark of the emergence of ‘Trumpism’. So low-skilled workers lost a great deal while consumers, excluding those who were low-skilled factory workers, in net terms gained a little by clothing cost increases remaining subdued.
Bangladesh is one country that has developed a strong textile industry in recent decades as retailers sourced fabric and finished garments from low cost countries. Every once and while we learn of another tragedy in a textile factory which for a moment focuses attention on the reality that these cheap prices for clothing are obtained by paying poor people low wages and having them work frequently in unsafe conditions.
The end result has been that the poor in Bangladesh did not gain very much for the loss suffered by the low-skilled factory workers in the developed nation, while the already wealthy gained significantly.
Moreover, if the industry exited the country to either an even lower cost country or back to a developed country (mostly through sophisticated automated industrial production which involves few low-skilled jobs), those jobs will dry up leaving the workers little better off than before. This has been witnessed in real-time through the pandemic where retailers cancelled orders with their Bangladeshi suppliers and many female workers resorted to prostitution to earn an income for their families.
Similar observations have been made in different countries across different industries with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic proving that the model of industrial globalisation has not allowed the poor in low-income nations and migrant workers to increase their economic resilience
What needs to happen for globalisation to be ‘worthwhile’ – or of sufficient ‘quality’ – to humanity is that the benefits of production in developing countries be spread to the most vulnerable, in the form of higher wages and better safety standards. This might involve higher costs to consumers, and it should involve less profits flowing to the wealthy owners of capital.
In the developed country, there needs to be greater social spending to spread across the whole of society the costs from the loss of the industry. This ultimately will take the form of a UBI, but before then may be in the form of reactive industry-specific payments to affected workers and programs to support reskilling.
If that occurs then it will definitely be a significant step towards ‘Quality Globalisation’.
There is another aspect, however, that needs to be addressed, and it relates to the quality of the goods produced.
In my post “Coming Soon: ‘Product Miles’ like Food Miles” I highlighted the sheer waste inherent within the move towards a throw away society where ‘westerners’ have become ‘addicted’ to a cycle of continually replacing low quality cheap goods.
Since writing that post the European Union has moved to introduce a border carbon adjustment tax as a pricing mechanism to reflect the environmental consequences of trade in that product, just as I had predicted in my earlier post, which will come into effect in 2023.
This is only the start of this necessary adjustment and it is a critical step in the progress towards ‘Quality Globalisation’ where only quality goods with working lives inline with the amount of resources gone into producing and ultimately disposing of them will be economic to trade over significant distances and across national borders.
The concept of ‘Quality Globalisation’ goes even further, however; it encompasses a mindset as much as a trade policy regulatory framework for environmental sustainability. It is about bureaucracy and everyone in society identifying closely with the global community – a genuine ‘Global Village’.
In reality, this is not a new concept as the great four-term US President Franklin D. Roosevelt spelled out the lessons of the period of his presidency in his Fourth Inauguration speech:
We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.
I have previously argued for the insertion of a Rooseveltian clause in the legal constitution and/or instruments of all nations, presumably as a requirement to sit under the auspices of the United Nations, which is essentially based on these luminous words of FDR.
It would recognise and focus attention on the fact that to discharge an oath to address the concerns and/or interests of any subgroup of people – whether that subgroup is based on geography (national or regional), or common interests or beliefs – the most basic premise is that caring equally for all members of the human community is the best way to advance the interests of any and all subgroups of people.
The obvious question is this: given a long history of being manipulated into parochialism, including nationalism or religious beliefs, by powerful interests, how do we change the mindset of people so that they identify with a global humanity above these human-defined subgroups?
In “Racial Prejudice And Bias: A matter of degrees” I said that openness to the world is not dependent on the possession of a passport or any particular credentials, but on the possession of an open heart.
Furthermore, without an open heart a mind can never be truly open, because only by loving all people can we be open to the full potential of humanity.
Thus most of this work must be aimed at opening the heart of more in society to connection with human diversity.
Even with superficial thought two things become immediately apparent to me – there are very many ways that openness to other cultures can be cultivated (literally the only limit is one’s imagination), and it must start with children.
In “Racism and Political Correctness” I highlighted how Australia’s education system presently is falling short on teaching about diversity values in my experience, and that it is vital to engage radicalism in schools to decrease societal disturbance including from terrorism.
The ease with which we can communicate real-time around the world, proven in the pandemic, shows that this technology can be opened up to create personal connections for students around the world. Even language barriers are declining continually with translating technology developing rapidly. It should be possible right now, for instance, to co-teach classes across national borders which would allow for working groups of children to work with children in other nations and even across time zones. This is happening now in business, and there is no reason why it cannot happen in our education system.
This type of thinking to create genuine emotional intelligence surely is at least as critical to contemporary childhood and early adulthood educational and emotional development as any other cognitive skill.
A new anecdote on racism and prejudice is pertinent here. In “Racial Prejudice And Bias: A matter of degrees” some of the anecdotes were from a friend who moved to Australia in recent years to take up a high-level managerial role in the resources industry. Thankfully he was well prepared by conversations we have had on the truths about living in Australian society and working from the perspective of being from a minority culture. More recently he relayed that he had a new middle-aged woman commence work under him – his direct report recruited this person – and on her first day, after introducing himself to her, she objected directly to him about his name and asked “where are all the Johns and Jacks?” Seeking to be open-minded to her intentions, and trying to be courteous, he suggested that with a little time she would become comfortable with the different name. Trying to express empathy and relatability he also relayed how he had difficulty on his arrival with names that were unfamiliar to him, at which point another colleague abruptly and indignantly asked “oh yeah, which ones were those?”.
For a long time we have talked about a ‘Global Village’, and, although many of us know its existence to be not only true but vital to humanity’s existence, linked financial interests from global commerce and international travel by the relatively wealthy has not served to embed this reality in humanity’s broad consciousness. Barriers from the diversity of cultures and languages remain even though the technology now exists in much of the world to break these down. What is required is collective determination to do so.
I believe that the series “The Me You Can’t See” by Prince Harry and Oprah, available to stream on Apple TV, is a brilliant example of a ‘Global Village’ approach to addressing an issue of universal importance. Even the format of the final episode, group discussion over Zoom, now ubiquitous as a consequence of the pandemic, emphasises the shared global experience. Moreover, mental health is both an issue for the global community to address as well as an issue that will be improved by growing connectedness within that ‘Global Village’. This series should be a model for future programs.
If humanity came together in a project to embed the concept of the ‘Global Village’ in the consciousness of people across the globe with all of the passion and creativity that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic entailed, even with a small fraction of the money spent on addressing that crisis, the impact would be enormous and enduring. The result would be a genuine ‘Quality Globalisation’ where a cohesive humanity stood in solidarity ready to address the climate crisis that we already know will challenge us for the remainder of this century along with the other crises we are certain to confront.
We need to harness the benefits of our modern technology and communications to create that ‘Global Village’ mindset starting in schools and spreading everywhere throughout societies. Universities, which have long been at the vanguard of this mindset, will continue to be critical in this development but will need to step up their pace of adaptation to maintain their significance.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021
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