Is globalization boon for Sri Lanka?
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Globalization has had both a negative and a positive impact on the contemporary world. Many countries have greatly benefited through globalization as a result of dramatically- increased trade and cultural exchange, while, at the same time, some observers have been critical of globalization for various reasons. These include environmental concerns and the increase of social ills. This is true in the case of Sri Lanka because Sri Lankans have subsisted on their own food production except some items. Consequent to globalisation Sri Lanka has increased its import of rice and other basic commodities. Neighbouring India has always been trying to set foot in the name of modernizing Sri Lankan industrial sector. Through means of globalization India and other countries keep an eye on controlling Sri Lankan lives.
Globalization is a term used to describe the changes in societies and the world economy that are the result of dramatically increased trade and cultural exchange. In a specifically economic context, it refers almost exclusively to the effects of trade, particularly trade liberalization or "free trade". Between 1910 and 1950, a series of political and economic upheavals dramatically reduced the volume and importance of international trade flows. More specifically, beginning from World War I until the end of World War II, when the Bretton Woods institutions were created (i.e. the IMF and GATT), globalization trends reversed. In the post-World War II environment, fostered by international economic institutions and rebuilding programs, international trade dramatically expanded. With the 1970s, the effects of this trade became increasingly felt, both in terms of the benefits and its disruptive effects.
The term "globalization" is used both in a descriptive and normative sense. It describes a process of internationalization and growing interdependencies, wherein boundaries of nation states become less and less important in decisions to be taken by economic agents. The normative perspective assumes that the full liberalization of market forces through open trade and foreign investment regimes will stimulate sustained growth and greater convergence of income per capita throughout the world.
Increasingly, in developing countries such as Sri Lanka, social expenditure has been strongly affected by successive crises. These trends worry policy makers, especially in view of the long-term implications of poor education and health conditions on the population. Such social implications lead to the conclusion that the agenda for further trade liberalization and regulation should take into account priorities and concerns of all parties. If not, resistance will increase, preventing countries from taking potential advantage of open markets.
Most developed countries and countries with economies in transition are unable to exploit the opportunities of liberal markets. They become very vulnerable to the costs of adjustment. To strengthen their capacity to benefit from open trade and capital movements, good governance and effective implementation and administration of the laws and rules are required, together with a wide range of necessary micro-economic reforms. The importance of education and the creation of infrastructure for the better absorption and adaptation of more advanced technologies cannot be over emphasised.
There is no doubt that globalization is the exhortation of the decade. Experts use the term to signify that something profound is happening that the world is changing, that a new world economic, political and cultural order is emerging, etc. Yet, the term is used in so many different contexts, by so many different people, for so many different purposes, that it is difficult to ascertain what is at stake in the globalization problematic, what function the term serves, and what effects it has for contemporary theory and for politics.
A wide and diverse range of social theorists argue that today's world is being organized by increasing globalization, which is strengthening the dominance of a world capitalist economic system, supplanting the primacy of the nation state by transnational corporations and organizations and eroding into local cultures and traditions through a global culture. For some, globalization entails the westernization and liberalisation of the world, while for others it involves a cover for the ascendancy of capitalism. Some see globalization as generating increasing homogeneity, while others see it producing diversity and heterogeneity through increased hybridization. For business, globalization is a strategy for increasing corporate profits and power, for a government it is often deployed to promote an increase in state power, while non-government social organizations see globalization as a lever to produce positive social goods like environmental action, democratization and /or humanization.
A critical theory of globalization is necessarily trans-disciplinary and describes the ways that global economic, political, and cultural forces are rapidly piercing the earth in the creation of a new world market, new transnational political organizations and a new global culture. The expansion of the capitalist world market into areas previously closed off to it is accompanied by the decline of the nation-state and its power to regulate and control the flow of goods, people, information, and various cultural forms. There have been global networks of power and imperialist empires for centuries, accompanied by often-ferocious local resistance by the colonized entities.
Accompanying the dramatic expansion of capitalism and new transnational political organizations, a new global culture is emerging as a result of computer and communications technology, a consumer society with its panorama of goods and services, transnational forms of architecture and design, and a wide range of products and cultural forms that are traversing national boundaries and becoming part of a new world culture. Global culture involves promoting life-style, consumption, products, and identities.
Culture itself is being redefined for previously local and national cultures have been forces of resistance to global forces, protecting the traditions, identities, and modes of life of specific groups and peoples. Culture has been precisely the particularizing, localizing force that distinguished societies and people from each other. Culture provided forms of local identities, practices, and modes of everyday life that could serve as a bulwark against the invasion of ideas, identities, and forms of life extraneous to the specific local region in question. Indeed, culture is an especially complex and contested terrain today as global cultures pervade locals and new configurations emerge that synthesize both poles, providing contradictory forces of colonization and resistance, global homogenization and new local hybrid forms and identities.
Sri Lankans are good candidates to buy name brands like those in the western countries. Middle-class and rich people aspire to have Nike and other popular brands, as the Japanese and Indian brand bicycles. However, Sri Lankans do not seem to have taken measures to innovate their own technologies and the culture of exporting their own innovations to other countries. Sadly enough, they are good consumers of foreign goods because they live in the misguided belief that those of western countries, as well as the innovations of Indians, Chinese and Japanese would be superior to theirs. They do not seem to have realized that these industrialists try to export their cultures through their innovations to the Sri Lankan consumers.
There are strong arguments both for and against globalization. Some say it has brought in new opportunities to developing countries. Greater access to developed country markets and technology transfer hold out promise improved productivity and higher living standard. But another section says globalisation has thrown up new challenges like growing inequality across and within nations, volatility in financial market and environmental deteriorations. Another negative aspect of globalisation is that a great majority of developing countries remain removed from the process.
In general while globalization in the sense of opening the economy to trade and long-term capital flows can constrain some policy options and wipe out some existing jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for the poor and for small enterprises, in the medium to long run it need not make the poor much worse off, if appropriate domestic policies and institutions are in place and appropriate coordination among the involved parties can be organized. If the institutional prerequisites can be managed, globalization opens the door for some new opportunities even for the poor.
Of course, domestic institutional reform is not easy and it requires political leadership, popular participation and administrative capacity which are often lacking in poor countries. One can only say that if we keep the focus on agitating against transnational companies and international organizations like the WTO, attention in those countries often gets deflected from the domestic institutional vested interests, and the day of politically challenging them gets postponed. In fact in some cases opening the economy may unleash forces for such a challenge.
Globalization also involves the dissemination of new technologies that have tremendous impact on the economy, polity, society, culture, and everyday life. Time-space compression produced by new media and communications technologies are overcoming previous boundaries of space and time, creating a global cultural village and dramatic penetration of global forces into every realm of life in every region of the world. Sri Lanka has enjoyed little of this because Sri Lankans are still living in the dark-age where they have not sufficient access to cybercafés as those that exist in India or elsewhere. Sri Lankan government has the time and energy to fight the LTTE and they invest their time and energy in bargaining with other political parties and businessmen to maintain themselves in power. The Sri Lankan government's efforts to introduce the scientific revolution among the teachers, students and general public in general are far below the required level.
In the age of globalization, many people have misused the allocated powers into exploiting children and women into the sex trade. The article entitled "Globalization, Over-Exploitation, and Social Exclusion: the View from the Children" is, of course, a great article to read. The industry of child pornography is apparently experiencing a global rise in influence, due to a few different factors.
The globalization of markets for everything and from everywhere to anywhere, whether it be organized sex tours or audiovisual distributions of the pornographic material, is a factor. The child sex industry is taking the needs or desires of pedophiles into consideration and cashing in on the "commodification" of children. Innocent children are compromised by variables out of their hands and in the hands of those who have been created by industrial capitalist societies. There are many reasons why these social ills have been on the rise. Some of these are poverty, situations in families, addictions, etc., factors that provide the raw product for the market of exploitation that exists.
Foreign nationals make sex tours to countries like Sri Lanka to exploit children and women. Many westerners have been taking the advantage of the practices of law-enforcement agencies because they can be ransomed with money in return. Violators of the crimes from other countries easily leave Sri Lanka without being charged for violating the Sri Lankan laws on sex industry. Sri Lanka falls prey to illicit sex industry in this age of globalization. On the other hand, the sex industry is helping the government to show more earnings in revenue. The recent announcement by the Sri Lankan government not to allow women to work in Middle East is a promising one. Sri Lankan government must take responsible for the welfare of the Sri Lankan maids working in the Middle Eastern countries. The government should work together with the law enforcing agencies in the Middle East countries to ensure that the perpetrators of the crimes such as the abuse of maids by their masters or by their co-workers are prevented from doing so through the means of globalization.
Globalization has cut both ways. On one hand it has eradicated poverty and increased employment in some parts of the world. On the other hand, it has been misused by some to exploit the world and to create social ills, with which the next generation will have to deal to fight it or live with it. Globalization has started to spread throughout the world in recent decades, including the most populous countries like India and China. Whether we like it or not it has come to stay.
(The author can be reached at e-mail: email@example.com)