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            OUR GLOBAL VILL AGE:
            Prospects for Globalization and National Borders


            A S T H E W O R L D B E G I N S A N E W C E N T U R Y,     flow across national boundaries at an increasingly
            some aspects of international politics are experienc-      accelerated pace. In their endless search for efficiency
            ing rapid changes amidst other more rigid aspects          and profits, multinational corporations have been
            which refuse change. Two concepts may best cap-            expanding their global production and marketing
            ture the nature and scope of this simultaneous static      networks. In order to make use of the opportunities
            yet fluid state: namely, globalization and national        for development outside their borders, national gov-
            borders. Globalization is currently a fashionable          ernments have opened their economies one after an-
            topic—some laud it, claiming that it is the path to        other to conform with prevailing international free
            peace, prosperity and progress. Others abhor it, at-       market principles by lowering tariffs, instituting laws
            tributing to it many evils in world affairs including      to regulate and encourage fair competition, and of-
            polarization, environmental destruction, cultural          fering tax incentives to foreign investors. As a result
            degradation, and so forth. The showdown surround-          of measure like these being taken around the world,
            ing the WTO gathering in Seattle last November             the international economy has never been so inte-
            highlights the intensity of the conflict. In contrast to   grated and individual nations’ economic practices
            globalization, the concept of national borders gets        have never been so similarly uniform.
            less and less attention. Technological progress, es-              As national economies become more homoge-
            pecially the Internet, has brought people closer to-       neous and more integrated with the outside world,
            gether. International and domestic concerns are be-        people are moving across national boundaries in
            coming increasingly intertwined. Under these cir-          unprecedented numbers and frequency. Tourists,
            cumstances, national borders have lost their previ-        business people, artists, researchers, educators, stu-
            ous significance and national sovereignty is becom-        dents, and even bureaucrats are increasingly seek-
            ing both anachronistic and a less valid excuse for         ing opportunities outside their home countries; as a
            idiosyncratic rule within national borders.                result, people from different countries are getting to
                   Such a view is premised upon the assumption         know each other and exchange views and ideas, of-
            that we are indeed in an age of comprehensive glo-         ten becoming friends and collaborators. The human
            balization. Close examination of the assumption,           network is broadening and deepening with the pas-
            however, reveals that it is a very misleading one.         sage of time. Enhanced by international media,
            The truth is, the current incarnation is at most a par-    people across national boundaries have begun to
            tial and uneven globalization; national borders are        share similar views, aspirations, and even similar
            as relevant as they have ever been since their forma-      heroes and idols. People are talking about similar
            tion. Unless we fully appreciate this, our understand-     topics, dressing according to similar codes, eating
            ing of international politics will remain inadequate.      similar foods, sharing similar dreams, and protest-
                                                                       ing against similar evils, as if the world were a single
            A TREND OF THE TIMES                                       community.
            Proponents of globalization argue that increasing                 Economic interdependence and social integra-
            technological innovations in communication and             tion are also generally accompanied by the spread
            transportation have brought the world closer together      of democracy. This is particularly true for the post-
            economically, socially, and politically. Economi-          cold war period. In Eastern Europe, country after
            cally, international trade and economic relations          country has embraced Western-state democracy in
            have exploded over the past decades. Commodities,          the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In East
            capital, and managerial and technological talents          Asia, South Korea and Taiwan joined the democratic

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                                                                                           FEATURE: GLOBALIZATION

camp and in other parts of the world, democratiza-       tories to developing countries. Meanwhile, third
tion also appears to be the trend of the times.          world countries struggling for development are more
                                                         and more accommodating to the demands of the mul-
THE FLIP SIDE                                            tinational corporations in order to attract and keep
Globalization, however, has not only not solved the      their investments. Consequently, ecological destruc-
problems the world is facing, but in some cases, even    tion continues and intensifies, only in a different lo-
made them worse. To begin with, the process of glo-      cale.
balization has not reduced national and ethnic con-             As the world becomes increasingly polarized,
flicts. Instead, in many places, one sees nationalism    migration from third world countries to first world
and separatism on the rise. From Kosovo to               ones has become an increasingly attractive option
Chechnya and from East Timor to Taiwan, the              for many people in third world countries. Despite
clamor for independence has either led to deadly wars    the ever tighter immigration rules of wealthy na-
or generated the risks of military confrontation with    tions, a growing number of people try to smuggle
dire consequences.                                       themselves into richer countries which provide more
        Nor has globalization helped reduce the prob-    lucrative opportunities. Gangsters in almost every
lems of polarization, both among the people within       country have also found a highly profitable business
countries and among countries in the world. Eco-         in human smuggling. With their help, increasing
nomic integration has led to increasing concentra-       numbers of illegal immigrants reach their “land of
tion of wealth within a few hands in a few rich coun-    hope” to become contemporary coolies in sweatshops
tries. While billionaires grow in number, millions of    in the first world without any form of protection.
people find themselves out of jobs and many without      This development has lowered the cost of labor in
food, shelter or medical care. As we begin a new         the richer countries but has also caused political,
century, the world has never looked so prosperous        social, and ethical problems.
but at the same time, it has never been so glaringly            Globalization has thus been coupled with the
unequal.                                                 internationalization of crimes. Improved means of
        Globalization has also done nothing to relieve   transportation and communication across national
the hazards of ecological destruction. As developed      boundaries have enabled criminals to establish in-
countries strengthen environmental regulations,          ternational networks and operate on a global scale.
multinational corporations move their polluting fac-     They traffic drugs, counterfeit currencies, sell arms,

                                           A GLOBAL MARKETPL ACE?

                                                                                                           WINTER 2001   33

            and launder money. Corrupt officials—especially           tive country. On the contrary, such identity has be-
            those in the third world countries—deposit their ill-     come stronger because outside pressures tend to make
            gotten money in banks of the Western countries while      people feel insecure and more willing to embrace
            suspects accused of heinous crimes sneak to other         nationalism as a form of protection.
            countries to avoid prosecution. This has posed a se-             The national segregation of labor underlines
            rious challenge to international law and order.           many of the problems discussed above. To begin with,
                   Finally, globalization has also led to strong      it constitutes a blatant breach of human rights: the
            resistance to democratization and international in-       right to immigrate and the right to seek a better life.
            tervention in third world countries. As some people       Ever since the dawn of history, immigration has been
            in the West step up efforts to push for democracy in      a way—as well as a right—for human beings to es-
            developing countries, many in                                                      cape natural and human disas-
            the developing countries resist                                                    ters and to seek a better life.
            such pressures. They believe           INTERNATIONALISM MAY SOUND NICE,            Over the past two centuries,
            that interventionists often pro-       BUT THE KEY TO SUCCESS AT HOME FOR          however, the world has wit-
            ceed from self-serving biases          THE POLITICIANS IS STILL PATRIOTISM.        nessed increasing restrictions
            and priorities and work for                                                        on immigration. Existing im-
            their own good instead of the                                                      migration systems, particu-
            interests of the people they are supposed to help. They   larly those in richer countries, deny such a right. More-
            also worry that rapid democratization will jeopar-        over, by requiring a certain length of residency for
            dize domestic economic development and political          citizenship and taxing those on citizenship proba-
            stability. Finally, some also question the validity of    tion, the existing immigration systems perpetrate an-
            the Western form of democracy, which is perceived         other violation of human rights, taxation without
            as giving emphasis to the procedural rather than sub-     representation.
            stantive aspects of democracy.                                   Secondly, the construct of national borders is a
                                                                      hotbed for the growth of nationalism. Since national
            INCONSISTENT BENEFITS                                     borders largely define most people’s interests and
            Upon reflection, one finds that practically all of the    welfare, they tend to identify more with people re-
            problems discussed above have to do with the fact         siding in their same countries and less with others
            that globalization is but a partial and uneven pro-       outside their borders. The more pressures a people
            cess. Whereas capital, technology, information, and       feels from the outside world, the more likely they are
            the elite have gained unprecedented access to other       to feel insecure and nationalistic. Because the labor
            countries, the vast majority of people—particularly       force is large in number, its political support is the
            the laborers in third world countries—find them-          target of local and national politicians. While the
            selves with few such privileges. They cannot go to        latter may have international perspectives or inter-
            live and work in other countries because immigra-         ests, they nevertheless need to address the concerns
            tion restrictions deny them the right to do so. Al-       and interests of the masses at home if they ever hope
            though some do make it across national borders—           to consolidate their political support. Accordingly,
            through legal and illegal means—most of them can          one hears politicians banter about catchwords such
            only stay in their own countries and the political        as “patriotism,” “fair trade,” “decent labor standards,”
            construct of a national border becomes a very real        “foreign exploitation,” and “international hege-
            barrier.                                                  mony.” Internationalism may sound nice, but the key
                   Precisely because of this, the interests and wel-  to success at home for the politicians is still patrio-
            fare of the vast majority of the people in the world      tism.
            are associated more with the interests and welfare of            In the third place, national borders are a source
            the countries in which they reside rather than those      of international polarization. Because capital can
            of the so-called global community. If a person’s coun-    move globally much more easily than labor, the bar-
            try of citizenship is prosperous and stable, his life is  gaining positions between the two tend to tip in fa-
            likely to improve. On the other hand, if his country is   vor of the former. If labor refuses to accept a certain
            experiencing economic problems and political tur-         wage or labor conditions, capital can always threaten
            moil, his quality of life is likely to deteriorate. Ac-   to move its business to another country. Conse-
            cordingly, globalization as we know it has not weak-      quently, labor either in the rich countries or the poor,
            ened an individual’s identification with his respec-      must to accept the terms of capital-holders or face

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                                                                                             FEATURE: GLOBALIZATION

unemployment. This explains why wealth is being           PROSPECTS FOR DEVELOPMENT
concentrated in the hands of few people in a few coun-    Given this analysis of rigid national borders, the
tries so much faster than ever before.                    world’s prospects for dealing with the problems of
       A fourth point is: national borders are a ma-      globalization discussed above is dim. The difficulty
jor reason for the world’s inability to deal with en-     in resolution is rooted in the partial and uneven na-
vironmental problems. Since capital-holders can           ture of the current globalization process, a trouble-
always persuade some governments to accept lax            some situation which can best be alleviated by
environmental standards in exchange for invest-           through removing the existing national immigration
ment, governments tend to accommodate them as             restrictions. Only through this method can the cur-
much as possible so as to attract or keep the invest-     rent imbalance of power between labor and capital
ment. In the cases in which governments do impose         be corrected and can the world deal effectively with
strict environmental regulations, capital simply          the problems engendered by globalization. This pre-
moves its factories to other countries. Consequently,     scription will not be easy to execute, however, for
the factories either pollute the country where they       although laborers in the West stand to benefit from
originally locate or pollute the countries to which       removing immigration barriers in the long run, in
they move.                                                the short run increased immigration would lead to
       Finally, national borders are the source of        lower wages for them. In accordance with their short-
many international conflicts. As long as people are       term calculations, labor forces in the rich countries
segregated into different states by national borders,     is more likely to oppose liberalization of immigra-
they develop separate interests and identities. Con-      tion rules than not, and as long as they oppose this
sequently, they are disposed to see international re-     liberalization, there is little hope of effectively deal-
lations more as a zero-sum than as a positive-sum         ing with the problems discussed above. In short, the
game, a mindset which hampers international coop-         current kind of globalization may bring people of
eration in dealing with the problems the world is         the world closer together than before where national
facing. This is the case with trade, security, human      borders had previously kept them apart. Sadly,
rights, and the environment. Under these circum-          largely because individuals in wealthy countries
stances, international conflicts are likely to continue   refuse to look beyond their short-term interests, a
to be a way of life in world affairs.                     more effective handling of the world’s problems is
                                                          unlikely to arise. ¤


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