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Globalization

08/02/02 12:00AM By Olin Robison
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(Host) Commentator Olin Robison shares his thoughts on the paradoxes of globalization.

(Robison) It is fascinating how words come into the language, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, and instantly become commonplace. One of the most recent is the word "globalization." Both the word and the concept are post-Cold War phenomena. For the last half century, we lived in a bi-polar world; a world ideologically and geographically divided. East and West, communism and capitalism. The universal assumption was that the ideological competition was global.

The new mantra of globalization, on the other hand, suggests that differences of time and place have become less relevant; that national, tribal, cultural and even religious differences must, of necessity, accommodate to certain common global norms, almost all of which, it would seem, are economic. It is the economic and political El Niżo.

The governing assumption is that economic forces now define power far more than armies do. While great powers are very reluctant to use their armies, none are reluctant to use their economic clout. The high priests of this new world order are the central bankers and a small handful of economic theorists. They are the College of Cardinals of this new order. It is a priesthood that is obsessed with that which can be measured and quantified. It is indifferent to almost everything else. Like most priesthoods, it is basically self-perpetuating. These guys ż and they are almost exclusively guys ż choose their own successors. Outsiders need not apply.

It is a little scary, actually. The fact is that, in today's world, powerful economic forces that are remote and hard to understand really do have a great impact on all of us. Again, we are told that, like El Niżo, these economic forces have an inevitability like that of the tides and gravity, and that this won't change. And to the degree that they are controlled by anybody, the aforementioned high priests are in the driver's seat. Even presidents and prime ministers are relatively powerless by comparison.

A part of what I find so bothersome about the globalization mantra is the degree to which it is now delivered to the world as revealed truth. Revealed truth, of course, is not to be questioned; merely accepted with gratitude. It is, nevertheless, true that there is in all of this a profound paradox. That paradox is this: As people and organizations become more global by necessity, they become more local by choice. The more we have to accommodate anonymous global forces, the more intense our worries become concerning issues closer to home. Globalization may, in fact, make all politics even more local than they already are.

Local politics, by definition, deal with local issues, which become even more important as the bigger stuff becomes ever more remote and incomprehensible. Few politicians are elected because of their global views. We are told that over one-third of the members of the United States Congress do not own a passport.

Maybe we are simply destined to live with paradoxes such as this; a world in which we accommodate to remote forces which we largely do not understand, and take out our frustrations by magnifying in importance local issues which we can see, feel, touch and vigorously argue about. Maybe this is the New World Order.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.
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