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Attack by Distortion

August 23, 2001

Suppose someone defined the game of golf in terms of riding in carts, wearing funny pants and large shirts, and occasionally using the various clubs to beat one's dog. Would this be fair?

Chances are, someone who gave such a definition of the game would probably be on a warpath to disparage it, encourage attacks on it, not to explain its true nature.

So consider how the critics of globalization--legion after September 11--deal with that far more important contemporary phenomenon-which, by the way, isn't all that contemporary (since in certain periods of the modern era globalization was in full advance).

These critics point to the fact that globalization is sometimes related to child labor; it can involve various strains of insidious nationalism, such as trying to whip a country's economy into shape by coercion; and it can involve some regional collusion (as with the European Union). 

Indeed, when so characterized-or, should we say, caricatured-globalization looks like a positive evil unleashed upon the globe by demons, instead of a promising method to promote the economic prosperity and political liberty fostered by sensible political economists (beginning with, among others, Adam Smith himself).

Why would some folks hate globalization as it is properly understood and conceived? Why would they be so eager to distort its nature and paint it in a bad light? We could ask the same thing about those who would distort the nature of golf or marriage or education. Enemies of golf might think that there is too much money spent on the sport, at the expense of their own favorite pastime. Enemies of marriage might wish to discredit it because they have failed at it royally and now wish to make free love or some other kind of union respectable.

Enemies of education might want to have others believe that all there is to it is indoctrination in dogmas that the old want the young to accept uncritically because, well, they don't much like to learn and find intellectual effort unpleasant. So what might be some reasons for disliking bona fide globalization so that it is then mischaracterized to make it seem a menace to be destroyed? 

For one, the removal of international trade barriers, the central theme of globalization, unleashes competition, which is the nemesis of entrenched industries and labor groups. It is sort of like the famous American "dream team" that was sent to the Barcelona Olympics: They were completely unbeatable for a time, but eventually other countries started to learn and catch up, and the dream team could not continue to win without improving its own game, without doing hard work to stay on top.

Industry, including labor, often would like nothing better than to achieve prominence in the market and then stay there effortlessly. There is much of this everywhere-including academic life, where many people wish to coast about their discipline without keeping up, without doing anything past when they get tenure.

When young Turks turn up, as it were, and challenge the old guard, this is not often received with welcome. Sure, in principle, academics like others are supposed to keep going and invite challenge and criticism from their colleagues, but there is corruption there, as elsewhere, and it often issues in barrier to entry-refusing tenure to a challenging young teacher or scholar and so forth.

This is one of several reasons why globalization is resisted-the motive is known as protecting one's vested interest, and members of many industries evidence it aplenty. Another one is the widespread belief that if we open up markets and encourage international commerce, this will eliminate or diminish national and cultural distinctiveness. There is something to this, though not much.

It does not take genius to see that the marketplace unites people on some levels but by no means all; just go to any mall and see the enormous diversity of shoppers and merchants. The bulk accept the common medium of exchange and the ethics of commerce that should guide everyone, without any threat whatsoever to personal, cultural, or religious identity. 

Of course, there are some groups the practices of which conflict with principles of free trade. If your tribe likes to enslave people, this will certainly be threatened by globalization, since slaves experience the harshest barriers to free trade of all. If the dominant male citizens in some country treat women badly and wish to bar them from economic power, this, too, is going to be threatened by freedom of trade. 

Perhaps one of the main enemies of globalization is the widespread belief that living a good life is itself something of an affront! People should suffer here on earth, not enjoy their lives, and globalization promises many folks just the opposite-namely, prosperous living.

Under the guise of globalization, of course, some dirty practices are also possible, and some mistake this for consequences of a real thing. For example, taking your firm abroad because in the host country you can dump your soot into the atmosphere with impunity may appear to be consistent with freedom of trade, but it isn't. This should be a crime, because people are being assaulted, and freedom of trade cannot tolerate assault among trading partners. Globalization, in fact, should encourage the enactment of laws that protect life and property from assault, including pollution.

I suggest that we do not listen to those hostile to globalization in any form when it comes to how the system would work out, any more than we should ask those who disparage them about the nature of golf or marriage.


Tibor R. Machan teaches at Chapman University and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. See his Mises.org Archive or send him MAIL

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