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Is globalization fuelling inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, June 14, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the impact of globalization on inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The wind of globalization has been blowing for decades and digital technology is fuelling it. The world is more interconnected today than at any other point in history. There has been a significant increase in free trade and cultural exchange. Cross-border trade deals between both private sector players and national governments form part of everyday news. What are the economic implications of this massive level of interconnectedness? What does globalization mean for inequality?

 

Technology has created a connected world where opportunities are shared. Globalization is the integration of markets. National boundaries have become more porous to goods, services, capital, and people. While some boundaries remain physically closed, this does not hinder flow of capital, services, and data. Social media applications like Twitter has particularly accelerated movement of information. The last couple of decades have especially seen a marked growth in cross-border exchange of human capital. The increasing use of sophisticated technology has generated need for specialised skills which are globally limited. Organisations are able to hire such technical services globally. Supported by internet connectivity, technical service providers do not need permits to work in particular countries. They can permeate national boundaries by providing their services virtually.

 

Who are the winners and losers from globalization? Globalization doesn’t seem to be benefitting everyone. Currently, there are an anti-globalization campaigns and policies in countries that view themselves as benefiting the world at the expense of their national interests. Offshoring of certain aspects of business to developing countries has enabled them to participate in global supply chains, positively contributing to their economic growth. On the other hand, labour has tended to flow from the less developed to developed countries and capital in the opposite direction. Developing countries have therefore benefitted most from globalization compared to the more developed ones. The effect has been decreased inequality between the global north and south.

 

Nevertheless, it is only the economically productive developing countries that benefit from joining global supply chain. The less productive ones that are simply an end market for goods manufactured in other countries. For instance, India and China are big beneficiaries of globalization currently. However, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to lag. The less skilled segments of the population, both locally and globally, are being left behind economically, widening the inequality divergence. Globalization is clearly a tide that is not lifting all boats.

 

What does this mean? The perceived inability of globalization to create mutual benefits could lead to political tensions between countries as seen currently between the United States of America and China. Trade wars and related conflicts could emerge if these perceived imbalances are sustained.  Trade has been shown to be the greatest driver of economic success and thus the convergence between developing and developed economies. Policies aimed at enhancing human capital through broadened access to quality education and healthcare, and reducing barriers to trade could reduce global inequality.

 

Globalization is a good thing. As the ageing economies such as Japan and parts of Europe start to fall short of the labour that is needed to drive their economies, Africa will be experiencing its demographic dividend. The world’s labour can be developed and effectively harnessed and distributed to benefit everyone. This is only possible if the wind of globalization continues to blow unabatedly.  

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  economics  globalization  inequality 

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What visions of society from the Global South can we learn from?

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He examines globalization through African and Islamic approaches to social values and economic thought. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

While globalization recalibrates the relationship between the West and the Rest, our discussions of socio-economic systems are too often dominated by Western sources. More specifically, our choices seem to be either neoliberal capitalism or socialism. This both marginalizes the full diversity of human thought and also deprives us of new ways of imagining socio-economic systems. We should look towards other traditions and consider what we can learn from African and Islamic approach to social values and economic thought, as a way expand our options on building new socio-economic systems and also helping us revisit Western thought.

African social-economic concepts are deeply rooted in communalism, such as in ujaama (familyhood), ubuntu (“I am because we are”), masakhane (“let us build together”), and others. Tanzania’s first president promoted ujaama is an African approach to socio-economics. Ujaama draws upon the idea of an extended family. The individual is deemphasized in favor of communal land ownership, communal labor, and village self-sufficiency. The primary difference from socialism and capitalism is that ujaama, as an economic plan, sought to regenerate the socio-economic systems of communal African villages.

While the ujamaa socio-economic plan ultimately failed, the idea of a more communal system of governance and economics continues in Africa, as represented by Desmond Tutu’s promotion of ubuntu and Tony Elumelu’s Afri-Capitalism. These African concepts emphasize reciprocity over selfishness, collaboration over competition, and reconciliation over punishment. While these concepts arise from the African context, they share similarities with the ideas of conscious capitalism and inclusive capitalism.

In contrast to African guiding socio-economic philosophies, Islamic thought has long sought specific guidelines over wealth and trade. Islamic jurisprudence on economics, called muamalat, encourages trade and wealth. Yet in Islam wealth and trade comes with its limits: profits must be earned responsibility and spending must have a social benefit. There are guidelines on how wealth can be earned, how much profit can be attained, and how it is to be used.

Islamic economic guidelines state that profits must come from being productive, fair, and socially responsible. For this reason, making money from money is prohibited; thus, charging interest, selling uncertainties, and gambling is off-limits. The absolute prohibition on interest was common in the Christian tradition as well, until debates in the 15th century helped to differentiate between interest and usury.

Eleventh-century Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali prohibited excessive profits, warning against attaining more than 10% profit margins or more than 5% for essential goods. (In comparison, in 2016 companies like Apple achieved margins of 21% and John & Johnson 23%.) Echoing today’s socially responsible investing movement (SRI), Shariah-compliant funds have long prohibited investing in socially harmful companies, such as in tobacco, defense industry, etc.

While there is much to learn from rethinking socio-economic systems within the context of communitarian values (such as in ujamaa) or social responsibilities (as outlined in muamalat), such thinking does also exist in the West. We should revisit these similarities in traditions and reinterpret older Western concepts such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (what does brotherhood mean today?) and the Roman law of res communis (how can we rethink the Roman concept of the commons?). We should treat these times of uncertainty about capitalism and neoliberalism as an opportunity to revisit the moral basics. Even Adam Smith, the figurehead of capitalism, warned against selfishness and ignoring the poor. What would he say about where we are today?


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  Africa  globalization  social value 

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