Globalization: do we have a choice?

Globalization is a process we cannot avoid.  But globalism, a doctrine that presumes that everything global is superior or beneficial, is something we can and must shun.  This useful distinction was proposed by the writer Peter Waterman, whom Ed de la Torre cites in a recent column.

I think that if we keep this distinction in mind, it might be easier to adopt an informed attitude toward APEC.  Globalization is brought about by economic and technological changes that defy national borders.  The effects of these changes cannot be contained within the territory of an originating nation.  Globalization creates a space for transnational economic, social and ecological processes that are beyond the control of any single nation or corporation.

When the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine overheated in 1986 and began spewing clouds of radioactive isotopes, the resulting contamination covered thousands of square miles, far beyond the political jurisdiction of the Soviet Union.  The lethal particles fell on European grazing grounds on which feed the cows that produce the milk that is exported all over the world.

A few years later, a satellite that the Americans had sent to outer space was found to be hurtling back into the earth’s atmosphere.  The unguided satellite could have crashed into a densely populated area, and set up an explosion akin to that of a powerful bomb.  Luckily, that did not happen.  But it gave rise to the question: who owns the sky?

On the other hand, another satellite,  which originally served the exclusive security purposes of the US Department of Defense, has made possible the vast information highway known today as the Internet.  The information that is exchanged every second through this immensely useful network is mind-boggling.  Its users include governments, transnational corporations, revolutionary movements, religious groups, intellectuals, businessmen, anarchists, artists, pornographers, etc.  There is no way any government or political power on earth can limit the use of the Internet.

The opening of the job market in the Middle East in the 1970s saved the Philippine economy but created new social forms and practices, whose long term meanings have yet to be studied by social scientists. Migration has spawned its own culture.  The men who built the hospitals, homes, offices, airports, and shopping malls in Saudi Arabia have come home with tales of adventure and sacrifice.   Their wives and daughters now demand the same opportunity to try their luck abroad – as nurses, clerks, and domestic helpers in the same structures built by their menfolk.

But more than this, overseas contract work has democratized foreign travel.  Today anyone can aspire to go abroad to marry or to work.  I remember sitting in a plane from Frankfurt to Oslo in the mid-80s. Behind me were two young Filipinas in their early twenties, straight from a rural village in Negros Occidental.  They were on their way to marry their Norwegian boyfriends whom they were meeting for the first time.

Psychologically and culturally, globalization has perhaps come too fast for many of our people.  Our embassies and consular offices abroad, accustomed to taking care only of visiting politicians, are ill-equipped and understaffed to give assistance to the thousands of Filipinos who are being victimized in other lands.  Recruitment agencies and mailorder-bride operations, deploying hundreds of thousands of adventurous Filipinos every year, have sprouted all over the country in the last two decades.  Yet, as a nation, we have only managed to attend to the complex problems of OCWs in an ad hoc manner.

It is the same attitude we see when dealing with the reality of APEC and the World Trade Organization.  We are easily mesmerized by the prospects of rapid growth and new opportunities to be unleashed by free trade and investment liberalization.   But we don’t have the patience to carefully sort out the preparations and the adjustments that need to be made so that our people are not crushed by these processes.

It is the old bahala na attitude at work.  Of course in some instances, this recklessness has worked as a positive force.  Sometimes the only way to make a decision is by going ahead and doing it.   In a sense, that is exactly what we did in the case of the  American bases.  Had we listened to Dick Gordon who painted a grim scenario about possible starvation and dislocation, the Americans might still be in Subic today, and Dick would not be SBMA Chairman but the insignificant mayor of a marginal town outside the Subic Naval Base.

But we need not go blindly into APEC and the WTO.  There is still time for us to strengthen our own industries and farmers, to re-skill and empower our own workers, and educate our people so that they do not flounder in the quicksand of globalization.  There is no need to volunteer a faster pace and a shortened time frame for total deregulation just to show how brave we are.

Above all, this is the best time to remind ourselves that economics is not everything. Once upon a time, we fought a dictatorship that promised a shortcut to economic development, and mothballed a nuclear power plant for which we had already borrowed a lot of money because we were not convinced it was safe. There are values other than those set by money or the profit motive.  We expect President Ramos to remember these as he goes into the APEC summit.


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