Two Ways to Say No to Globalization

Peter Kent showed us one way to say no to globalization. Does Carney offer an alternative? Anouk Dey asks.
By: /
December 21, 2011
2011_12_RTX7OGN1.jpg

Thomas Friedman has had a difficult couple of weeks. If one follows the statements and actions of major figures in international affairs – and commentaries on OpenCanada – over the last 14 days, it appears that his “flat world” thesis is no longer so flatly uncontested. Not everyone buys into the notion that the world is increasingly integrated, and that we need to embrace the tide of integration. 

First, David Cameron vetoed a new EU-wide treaty designed to address the eurozone’s economic plight. Jennifer Welsh repudiated any analogy between Cameron’s embrace of “splendid and detached isolation” and Churchill’s over 70 years earlier. While going alone served the British national interest then, in a world of Globalization 3.0 (as Friedman describes it), the case is much less clear. The financial sector accounts for only 10 per cent of British GDP – was spurning key allies like France and Germany really worth saving the city? It would be one thing if Cameron had closed the door to Europe with the intention of opening it to, say, China. It appears, however, that he simply said a Tory ta-ta to globalization.

Then, as John Hancock put it, Canada gave the finger to the rest of the world over Kyoto. For all of its inadequacies, Kyoto represented a global solution to a global problem. Like the Montreal protocol before it, Kyoto accepted that certain problems cannot be dealt with by individual nations acting alone. It implicitly acknowledged that national borders are coming down – that globalization is as much of a reality as global warming. Canada’s withdrawal, then, represented another Tory ta-ta to globalization.

Canada’s no – and Britain’s, to a lesser extent – was incredibly shortsighted. It is not just Chiquita banana that took note – so, too, did international organizations like Oxfam (which tweeted that it was “an affront to poor people fighting #climate change around the world”) and the international media (like The Globe’s Doug Saunders, who tweeted: “You can just watch Canada’s international reputation collapse in the international press this morning. All to save $14 billion”).

But perhaps there is something more profound afoot. While David Cameron and Peter Kent were playing Scrooge, some thoughtful people were also questioning the merits of globalization.

First, Mark Carney, speaking at an Empire Club event, explained, “Europe’s problems are partly a product of the initial success of the single currency. After its launch, cross-border lending exploded. Easy money fed booms, which flattered government fiscal position and supported bank balance sheets.” He went on to describe how this irrational exuberance masked massive imbalances in national inflation rates, labour costs, and other crucial metrics.

Carney, chairman of the Financial Stability Board, clearly believes in finding global solutions to complex problems. His remarks simply suggest that he has a healthy suspicion of jumping into the integration process too quickly – without adequate safeguards in place.

Then I had the fortune of interviewing Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child, in preparation for our upcoming series on the Future of Aid. In her new Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid (McClelland), Nutt is immensely critical of programs that send untrained students who are in their “gap years” to support relief efforts. She argues that these self-proclaimed aid workers do more harm than good. “With every school that is built by well-meaning western volunteers in impoverished villages in Africa,” she writes, “there is one less opportunity to provide employment and skills training to young people living in these communities.”

This all begs the question: If we are to develop a future generation of global citizens, don’t we need them to see the world’s problems first hand? Like Carney, Nutt believes that global integration is an inescapable process. The problem of development, in particular, requires a global solution. But sending Torontonian teenagers to Darfur, and Vancouver undergraduates to Haiti, won’t do it. We need to first cultivate their global outlook at home, and then send professional aid workers abroad to support local organizations in implementing community-based solutions.

There are thus two ways to confront the tides of globalization. The first, epitomized by Canada and Britain’s recent moves, is to view integration as an opt-in/opt-out type of enterprise. The problem with this is that, ultimately, globalization will sweep you into its wake – and, particularly if you are a relatively small country, it will be impossible to escape it.

The second approach is to follow in the footsteps of Mark Carney and Samantha Nutt and recognize that there are both upsides and downsides to globalization. As Friedman wrote during a better week, “Whatever people’s fears of change, globalization is here to stay – and, if properly managed, it will be a good thing.”

Photo courtesy Reuters.