Who’s afraid of globalization?

I first traveled abroad in 1969.   My wife and I were on our way to England for graduate studies.  At the old Manila International Airport, we were made to declare how much money we had with us, and to account for every dollar and traveler’s check we were bringing out of the country.   The whole process was irritating and seemed unnecessary.

I traveled to Europe in October this year, stopping briefly in Hong Kong.  This time I had less than one hundred dollars in my pocket.  I had with me only a local credit card and an international ATM card from my bank in Katipunan.  From Hong Kong to Berlin, from Brussels to Bangkok,  it was possible to pay for almost everything with a credit card.  The ATM card allowed me to make cash withdrawals in HK dollars, German marks, Belgian francs, and Thai baht as easily as doing it in Katipunan. This is globalization.

Wherever I stopped, I did not have to make an expensive phone call from a hotel.  With the same credit card, I could go to almost any public phone booth in any major city abroad and call home.  The charges would be in pesos, but without the fifty percent surcharge that most hotels usually add on similar calls.

I met all kinds of Filipinos on this last trip: Pinoy nurses in Bonn, nuns in Frankfurt, entertainers in East Germany, students, wives, cooks and professionals in Hamburg, OCWs and priests in Brussels. I was invited by a Filipino priest in Brussels to hear a Tagalog mass he was celebrating in a Belgian church, which on Sundays was completely colonized by Filipinos.   At a little snack bar in Hamburg, a kind kababayan offered to make me a nice hot sinigang to keep me warm. His Indonesian boss did not seem to mind the special treatment.  The dish was served with freshly-cooked steaming rice by a German waitress.

I saw a busy MacDonald’s in the small town of Taucha in Saxony – in the heart of what used to be the German Democratic Republic.  I tried the MacRibs, which was very  popular in pork-eating Germany.  The bun was different, the meat drowning in a strange-tasting sauce, but the Coke was familiar enough.   On my way back to Manila, while waiting at the Bangkok airport, I noticed the Kentucky sign in one corner.  It was the same chicken all right, but less breaded and truly Thai-style spicy-hot.

Some analysts call this hybridization, a phenomenon associated with globalization, in which the mixture of elements from diverse cultures produces the strangest fusions.   The Japanese sociologist, Mushakoji, writes: “The different religions and civilizations are also generating different kinds of hybrids, some material — like hybrid rituals in half-Western, half-Shinto weddings, and others more spiritual — like the diffusion of Zen meditation among Christians.”  And we should not forget that the Zapatistas of rural Mexico conducted their revolution partly on the Internet.

If these images of globalization were all that this concept signifies, then why the fuss over APEC globalization?  How can anyone stop a process that is being brought about by the unstoppable spread of modern technology and lifestyles, the massive increase in interaction among civilizations through tourism, trade and communications; and the dizzying mobility of people in search of work?  What is the core of the objection to globalization?  Why do some thoughtful people fear it?

The answer lies not in the diversity of the cultures and societies that are brought into contact with one another, but in the uneven character of their levels of development.  The free market principle which underpins the relationships that are built from this global contact has the effect of introducing a system of valuation that could distort the integrity of the less developed societies.

For example, high-paying jobs abroad lure many Filipinos away from their families and country.  Imported commodities, sold at competitive prices and backed up by powerful advertising, kill many small deserving local industries.  Farm lands are sold at high prices and converted into golf courses by new absentee owners.  Residents in coastal fishing communities sell their lands for unbelievable sums of money to beach resort developers.  Urban property soars in value because foreign money has come in to build condos and high-rise complexes, leaving in its wake locals with no hope of ever acquiring a home lot for themselves.

Of course, these cannot all be bad.  Migration improves the lives of many Filipinos.   Inexpensive and varied products, sourced from all over the world, bring savings to the consumer.  And if small landowners can sell their farm lands in order to send their children to college or have themselves treated for an old ailment, who are we stop them?  These things are happening not only in the Philippines but practically everywhere.

But nations like ours need not be helpless before the tidal wave of globalization.   This is precisely what a government is for – to see to it that the pace of economic development does not create enormous disparities that are politically unsustainable, and that economic changes do not permanently damage the natural environment or dislocate large populations and plunge them into a life of basic insecurity.  This, in my view, is the core of the objection to APEC.

The role of the State is not just to facilitate investments or to provide infrastructure support to business.  It is above all to assure the sustainability of the human community in all aspects.  This role requires a clarification of national purposes and values, so that we may have clear priorities by which to evaluate the forms of our national existence other than those that the market sets.


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