The missing middle ground

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: May 7 2005, 05:49am hrs
One of the most used, debated and generally cliched terms of our times is globalisation. There are millions of articles, doctoral dissertations, research forums and organisations that focus intensely on this subject, and yet, it is a rare essay or book that is objective, forceful and inspiring. Most of these voices are either rehashed or boringly arcane or ideologically committed especially true of economists or management consultants or NGO types; whose words appear to be self-indulgent ranting that leave many on the outside untouched.

There is either the Davos school of cheerleaders who see globalisation as a wonderful thing requiring no further explanation, like love or religion, and then there is the World Social Forum school of reflexive rejectionists who simply see it as a sinister conspiracy designed to enslave 99% of humanity.

It is only an occasional work that is simple, straight from the heart, punchy and balanced. Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University comes close, and his recent book In Defense of Globalization is so intelligently worded and well researched, but even he misses a larger human dimension. Maybe, one way to look at this debate anew is to look at how people feel about their life. There are many guides to this, whether rough, anecdotal or scientific. In fact, a search on Google for Whats wrong with the world elicits over 25,000 page hits while in comparison a similar search for whats right about the world produce less than 200 hits.

Of course, pain, angst and suffering make up the essential fuel for thought, but the vast gap still tells its own story.

While, we in India, tend to see globalisation as an insidious and mysterious force from the West, amazingly enough the fear of globalisation is true as much in rich countries as poor. In a worldwide survey of BBC viewers last year, it was seen to pose a more serious worldwide threat than either war or terrorism.

And one of the biggest non-fiction best selling books of recent times is Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester Brown, whose passionate plea, that modern civilisation is in trouble because we have created an artificially inflated bubble economy and the only sensible alternative is to stabilize consumption and population, has found a resounding audience amongst millions of readers.

From different angles and for different reasons, there is a thick fog of worldwide cynicism against those guiding our destinies, whether politicians, religious clergy, United Nations, multinational companies or even genetic scientists gone amok. And, this is despite the fact that the world has made so much progress in the last 100 years, including the removal of slavery, end of colonialism, spread of democracy, increased gender equality, better medical knowledge and facilities, healthier lives, and greater material prosperity. Despite all this, there a palpable sense that we are somehow being left behind.

Perhaps the common thread is our natural abhorrence at inequality of any kind. And, while the world is far better today, it is also far more unequal in wealth, power, access and status. This unbalance is becoming bigger and quantitatively different every passing minute, a phenomenon best reflected through Bill Gates. He has done some wonderful things, but are his achievements really equal to the quiet struggles, accomplishments and dignity of 100 million people Thats a rough calculation using his net worth and that of sub-Saharan Africa. Should any individual be really worth so many others

In other words, the gap now is so huge that what was once only a difference of degree has become a difference of kind.

Bill Gates is not a villain, and in fact he has donated much to charity, but those early notions of grace and humility which usually accompanied success are now rare.

The result is that many slick peddlers of globalisation have made empathy look wimpy while anti-globalisers have turned it into a frighteningly dull and bureaucratic monster. Plus, the latter have also made the quest for prosperity, a fundamental human driver, sinful. These are all absurd and aberrational responses. In the end, what really matter are people and not empty epithets or fancy labels.

Globalisation is neither universal nor a mirage; it is neither a conspiracy nor manna from heaven. The essence of its future success will rest on how well we can renew our lost sense of common bond and kinship.

The writer is Editor, India Focus