The age of globalization In which we live has both blessed and cursed humanity with the most far-reaching societal changes since the industrial revolution. International trade deals abound, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal now before Congress, though not without some critics.
Still, with American consumers clamoring for cheaper clothes from Bangladesh and fresh summer fruit and vegetables from Chile in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere winter, it would seem that globalization is a smashing success. So why then would The Washington Post run a 2,500-word analysis of globalization's current state beneath a headline reading, "The Great Unraveling of Globalization"?
This late-April takeout ran in the newspaper's business section, where it consumed, with accompanying art, nearly two full broadsheet pages. Written by Jeffrey Rothfeder, former chief editor at International Business Times, the piece argued that globalization has not brought the economic gains promised -- the cheaper garments and year-round summer fruits beloved by consumers not withstanding.
For most -- in particular the multinational corporations and government coin-counters who fuel the consumer passion -- material gain is what globalization is all about. Given that Rothfeder's piece was a business section project, it's no surprise that he focused solely on globalization's economic side.
But globalization's far-reaching changes affect far more than the bottom line. Journalists interested in the bigger picture should keep in mind that globalization is about more than the facilitation of capital and goods across international borders. It's also about the people effected by the process's revolution in travel and communications -- particularly the world's have-nots desperate for a better life, the immigrants from the globe's failed or failing states who's growing presence in the wealthier West has upset the status quo social balance.
Religious, cultural and racial differences -- not to mention fear and the range of human insecurities -- are some of the most important reasons why globalization has disappointed its critics on the human as well as the economic level.
Just think for a moment about the difficulties Europe currently struggles with because of the hundreds of thousands of African, Asian and Middle Eastern economic and political refugees, some of whom are literally dying as they try to get into the European Union, or, once there, the disappointment and anger so many of them feel when their dreams go unfulfilled because of either their own or society's constraints, or both.
Before going any further I should state that I have a stake in this debate. Just over a decade ago I authored "Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval" (SkyLight Paths, 2nd edition, 2005), in which I contrasted the traditional economic and social values of eight major world religions with those of globalization. I imagine many GetReligion readers will not be surprised that I concluded that the cold capitalism and bloated consumption often associated with globalization are largely out of synch with the religious teachings I cataloged.
I wrote that because they are largely out of synch, as anyone who pays attention to the pronouncements of religious leaders must know. By way of example, here's an expression of concern from Pope Francis. And here's another from the leadership of the United Methodist Church.
None of what I'm saying is new. Academics, social activists, journalists and politicians -- in addition to religious leaders -- have long warned that globalization is leading to greater economic and social inequality, the accelerated destruction of environments distant from the malls and supermarkets of Western consumers, and the decline of traditional societies and values at a rate humans have great difficulty internalizing.
The Post piece referenced above is no outlier. Journalistic analyses of globalization's disappointments have for years been easy to find on the Web. Many focus on globalization's accelerated decoupling of corporate responsibility from the best interests of local work force communities. Here's one piece from The Financial Times, here's a second from The Guardian, and here's a third from The Huffington Post.
My point here is to remind those of you who write about globalization that the dots are left unconnected if the consequences of economic activity for humans are left unsaid. It's particularly important for religion journalists whose reporting should consider the values that gird religious beliefs and practices.
Globalization has sparked an unprecedented movement of people. It's revolution in communications allows just about anyone anywhere in the world to understand what they are missing, and to entice them to to go after it.
Globalization is a two-way street. It's not just about better access to cheaper goods and services. It's also about immigration that changes societies. The connection seems obvious. But there's no easy solution to the human fallout, which is why it behooves journalists to keep the connection before the public.