Why are poor countries so poor and rich countries so rich? The simple response suggests the disparity is due to exploitation of the former by the latter. History compares the position of poor counties today to that of slaves in ancient times and while there may be some merit to this claim, the concepts behind it are fundamentally wrong. Exploitation has not caused the suffering of poor countries. It would be better to say that these countries suffer from having been abandoned to their fate because they aren’t even considered as part of the global market. To say the Western market depends little or not at all on sub-Saharan Africa, does not exonerate it of blame for the inequities in the Third World; it merely suggests that the relationship between the West and the Third World is not of the exploiter and the exploited.
The present globalization is just the third act in a story that began a millennium ago. The first act began with the discovery of America in the sixteenth century, the age of the Christopher Columbus. It was not just Spanish culture that the Conquistadors brought to America, but also diseases such as measles, influenza, and typhoid. One civilization destroyed the other, not because it was more “advanced,” but because it is immune to its own diseases, protected against the negative effects of its system. Today, as yesterday, a considerable amount of impoverished countries are destroyed because they are “unable to protect themselves against the negative effects created by globalization” (Bhagwati 2004) and the new lifestyle that it creates. Americans have grown up in a democratic, economically-driven, global world and have dealt with the day to day perversions of globalization in such excess that it is considered normal.
The second act was the nineteenth century, Great Britain, a grand empire skilled in free trade, dominated most of the world because of technological innovations in transportation and communication such as the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. A lesson that was learned from this second act was that improving transportation and communication in poor countries isn’t enough to promote a level distribution of wealth. India was just as poor in 1913 as it was in 1813, despite being a member of the Commonwealth for a century. With the railroad, small towns in India were unable to compete with bigger towns and cities. When a railroad connects two towns, it is the larger of the two that will prosper and in most cases the smaller town disappears. Likewise, today’s “information economy and modes of communication favor established transnational businesses” (Chua 2003) and do not give new players a chance; replacing the barriers that technology breaks down. How can these new economic forces compete when they aren’t even considered?
To understand the third act of globalization requires that one renounce the idea that the poor are stunted or exploited by globalization. Globalism is not simply capitalism. This is the whole problem. The tragedy of the poorest countries is that they want to participate, without losing themselves, in a world that essentially ignores them. Advancing the interest of poorer countries doesn’t require that globalization be abandoned or unilaterally driven; rather it rests upon, “interventionist policies implemented at the national level to ensure that the benefits associated with globalization are shared equitably” (Mandle 2003). To makes the world more just, it will be necessary to create institutions that facilitate poor countries’ entrance into global capitalism while constructing mechanisms that open a public space outside the realm of economic forces.
Mandle, J. R. Globalization and the Poor. (2003). Cambridge: University Press
Chua, Amy. World on Fire. (2003). New York: Random House
Bhagwati, Jagdish. In Defense of Globalization. 2004. Oxford: University Press