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Global Economy >Can Globalization 'Go Social'?

Amid scarcity, emerging
global society requires justice

By Frank Garcia
Commenting from Boston

Globalization is affecting people’s life prospects in fundamental ways through powerful social processes and institutions such as foreign investment, multi-national enterprise, trans-boundary pollution, world trade regulation and international human rights. When people’s life prospects are affected in this way, it has always been the task of justice to subject those institutions and processes to a stringent test: Are they consistent with our most important values? Are they fair? Are they just?

Globalization is forcing us to ask these same questions, but at the level of global institutions and processes. Essentially, globalization is bringing about the same conditions at the global level that make justice both possible and necessary at the domestic level. That is, from the point of view of justice, globalization is creating a single world community.

How is globalization doing this? First, through globalization, people are competing for the same scarce resources they already fight over domestically, but now on a global scale in a shared territory: our planet. Thus we find at the global level the same basic condition—scarcity—that makes social cooperation, and the idea of justice, both possible and necessary domestically.

Second, globalization is creating a community of knowledge. Through globalization, we can know so much, immediately and intimately, about the plight of people in other parts of the world. Such knowledge satisfies a basic requirement for community—that we have the capacity to know another’s needs, concerns and preferences—and is the basis for solidarity, that leap of the moral imagination that says that your concerns are my concerns.

Globalization is also creating a community of shared risks, interests and practices. The desire for security, environmental health and sustainable development is not unique to any one specific culture, but is shared by all. To the extent that globalization is creating a global market society, we share the need to find ways to soften the rigors of capitalism and conduct a larger global debate over the most humane ideology for global market society.

Fourth, it is because of globalization, in particular its technical and economic revolutions, that we now often have the capacity to respond to the needs and concerns of others beyond our boundaries, through the transnational mobilization of information, power, capital or public opinion. By creating a real capacity to respond to another’s needs and concerns, globalization is satisfying a further element of community—the capacity to help. Our common response to global needs and atrocities, even if at times weak, limited and inadequate, also suggests an emerging sense of solidarity or community at the global level that, for all its weaknesses, would not have been possible at all a century ago.

Fifth, because of globalization, we increasingly find that our state’s policies, and our own political and consumer choices, are influencing the life prospects of others in direct and dramatic ways. This kind of economic interdependence means we must take seriously the possibility that we are contributing to the socioeconomic circumstances of others, another basic criteria of community. Thus, we have the capacity to harm each other as well.

Finally, globalization is creating global society because we share the need to look to institutions beyond the state in order to frame an adequate social response to many of the problems and challenges we face. This need to look beyond the state for responses to global social and environmental problems underscores a further shared understanding: that such institutions will increasingly formulate or channel social policy decisions and orchestrate social welfare responses, and that few states can act without them on any important social issue.

So, when I say globalization must be just, I am saying that globalization is creating social outcomes and processes of the sort that make justice relevant, but at the global level, and that we need to consider whether those outcomes and processes are indeed acceptable in terms of core principles.

Some may object that these principles of justice only apply to national communities, that justice depends upon the existence of certain groups. The challenge, of course, is determining which kinds of groups and who is a member. In early classical times, the notion of justice was reserved for free adult Greek males. Since then, we have seen the community of justice extended through the formal elimination of slavery, and the elimination of gender and racial criteria for civic membership, as well as the formation of larger and more inclusive political and territorial units. In my view, we are living through another era of expansion in the community of justice: globalization.

Whatever we think of the very idea of a just globalization, there is another powerful reason why we can’t afford to ignore this question: the widespread perception that globalization is unjust. Social psychologists who study justice argue that the perception of injustice provokes the most powerful human emotive response. In other words, no matter whether we agree that something is unjust, we need to take quite seriously the fact that someone else believes it to be unjust. If we ignore the many criticisms made about the justice of globalization, we are turning a blind eye to the reality that this perception will set in motion a powerful process of human response, both channeled through social institutions and directed against them, which can threaten the stability and security of our own societies. Sadly, we have seen in the wake of September 11th the fragility of the open society we value so highly when presented with threats to our security.

Concepts such as justice and fairness were developed because of human needs and social conditions that will continue to be with us at the global level. If we fail to grasp the essential changes globalization is bringing about in our global social relations, we are in danger of losing concepts like justice that have been hammered out in domestic society even as we make the jump to a global society.

Frank J. Garcia is Professor at Boston College Law School.