Acton Commentary

The Moral Demands of Globalization


A recent article by Joseph Kahn in the November 25, 2001, edition of the New York Times was a thoughtful contribution to the discussion surrounding the phenomenon of globalization. Globalization, which is as celebrated as it is derided, seems to excite a great deal of action on the part of both supporters and detractors. One need only recall the violent protests in Seattle and Genoa to grasp this point.

Kahn examines the worldwide economic recession and attributes it to increasing economic interdependence. He offers that the "common [economic] slump may reveal a dark side to the increasing global integration." To his credit, he gives a very even-handed presentation in his assessment of this reality and is attempting, rightly, to shatter a certain hyper-optimism that the global business community often assumes concerning globalization. By presenting the issues that need attention in examining the full range of globalization’s effects, he has made an important contribution to this discussion.

It seems, however, that a discussion of global trade need not remain in the realm of pure economics and practical politics. In Ephesians, Chapter four, Paul offers to the community of Ephesus that there is "one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call."

Before I am accused of issuing a theological non sequitur, I should explain. As Christians, we have received the call of unity and belong to Christ as members of His Body. The incarnated Christ, who came among us as a man to share our sufferings, joys, and way of life, calls us to unity with one another, even in economic matters. Central to the faith is the fact that no facet of human life has gone, or should go, untouched by God, as a result of Christ coming among us. These realities present obvious challenges for Christians.

As Mr. Kahn points out, the increasing global integration of economic affairs poses difficulty for developing nations relying on U.S. prosperity to fuel their own economic development. A sliding U.S. economy can and does spell great hardship for those nations that rely on prosperous first world nations as trading partners.

Does this necessarily lead to an indictment of globalization for its alleged inhumanity? Perhaps within the ups and downs of the global economy, a moral call to realize the "one hope" that belongs to "the call" is present for all participants in this relatively new order. It has already been established that globalization is most beneficial to the poorest of the world, as it lowers the cost of goods and services and increases access. The down side to this reality is that when economic downturns occur, the poorest of the world are the first to lose access to goods and services. It is not necessary that the poor are ignored in the global economic order. Rather the phenomenon of globalization makes their plight all the more visible and all the more necessary to address.

As the global economy enters a recession, there is a temptation to overreact in an effort to alleviate suffering. In the U.S., some politicians are proposing large public works and social expenditures, despite years of accumulated knowledge that such efforts harm long-term economic development. Other nations are contemplating protectionist barriers for their products in an attempt to raise profits at home and prices abroad. The reality is that such measures will not work and will harm the very people such policies portend to protect. The reality across the board will be higher prices for people who now have less money, due to unemployment and diminished purchasing power.

A reality of global economic integration is that when one economy suffers, all seem to suffer, as well. This does not call for a heartless response to those less fortunate, but very directly reminds us of our responsibility to our brothers and sisters on a personal and global scale.

Rather than indicting the global economic order that has led to improvements benefiting all of humanity, we are reminded once again of the plight of the poor, for their lives and prosperity are intimately connected to our own. We could choose to ignore it, but that would be to our own peril, as we are more dependent on their well-being than ever before. Economic globalization is a reality that emphasizes our inter-connectedness with our fellow man and reminds us of our first moral obligation to recognize His dignity.

Globalization is not, as some commentators describe, an impersonal driving force that exploits the weak in order to supply luxuries to the strong. Rather, it offers a clear view within the framework of the economic order of "the call" we have received as members of the one Body of Christ. This is a call that cannot and should not be ignored.