As we sat drinking Optimator in the Rathskeller last Friday, the topic of globalization — somewhere between discussions of how the evening might ideally progress and of the arguably illicit activities in which recent engagement was a commonality among our ranks — slipped into a conversation that my friends and I were having.
Although initially it seemed the course of dialogue had taken a peculiar turn, upon further consideration, I realized my own surprise — we failed to talk about the issue often enough. After all, globalization has become, and will continue to expand as, the most powerful of our governing forces. And, while people can point fingers at elected officials and recognize — or at least, make guided assumptions about — how their lives are affected by decisions made at the top of the public power hierarchy, no such feat can be as easily accomplished in trying to understand how the ins and outs of macroeconomics might impinge on your Friday afternoon.
The past few decades have seen the world economy integrate and grow at an unprecedented level. Trade-facilitating economic agreements between countries, capital-wielding mega-corporations realizing new channels for expansion and the modernization of technology and communications have all been major factors in a boom that has transcended borders and cultures to touch almost every human being. Our way of life is in the balance as we consider how to approach a situation that, every day, becomes less likely to be affected by said approach.
Strangely, however, our generation has largely failed to even discuss the most important issue we face.
We are all affected by globalization whether we choose to play an active or passive role in its progression. And ironically, those of us playing passive roles in globalization also happen to be playing the most active roles, helping to facilitate the ascent of an economically dictated world power structure and allowing this ascent to go unquestioned. The market is increasingly deciding everything from the price of bread to the accessibility of health care to the balance of world power. The traditionally influential actors on the world stage — governments — are for the first time being rivaled in power by strictly economic actors — major corporations — whose decisions take into account only economic considerations.
Simply put, as we squabble over who controls our governments, these governments are becoming less powerful than economic entities over which we have absolutely no control.
So what should be done to counter globalization? Should globalization be countered at all? Should we continue to allow our ethics to be defined by the market? As children, we were taught that to steal a piece of candy is wrong, but doesn't it also seem wrong for an economic system to assign land values in a faraway country, forcing the people to leave their land and work for the system that took it away? And is this not as wrong as taking the piece of candy from a Wal-Mart? Why? Are any results of capitalism right and is any impediment to capitalism wrong?
These are just a few of the many unanswered questions about globalization. Nobody seems to have the right answers, but unfortunately, as time marches on, globalization is providing all of the answers without consideration of what we consider to be right or wrong.
It is crucial that our generation at least begin to open a dialogue about globalization before we come to a time when the consensus reached in any such dialogue might be irrelevant. For every second we waste in discussing this issue, we are one more second removed from having any influence on the forces that will control our lives.
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.