Global citizens - RSA

Global citizens


  • Social brain

Are we, as humans, capable of coping with the complex problems created by human progress?  Population ageing and global warming are both challenges resulting from success. Globalisation too is hastened by man-made advances in technology and trade. But globalisation also brings great problems in its wake. Scanning this morning’s papers provides a fascinating insight into the dilemmas we face.

On the national finance scale Geoff Mulgan and Will Hutton’s piece in the Guardian calls for better regulation of banks to avoid further credit crunch fiascos. Individuals are just as vulnerable to the blows dealt by changes in the economic cycle, but thus far the benefits conferred to the banks have not been passed on to the individual – this is particularly important in terms of engendering public trust in national institutions.

In the FT, David Sproul and Bill Dodwell argue that the major companies are leaving the UK because they not only face relatively high corporate taxes, but are concerned that the treasury will tax certain kinds of overseas profit as well.

Reading these in conjunction reminded me of the debate around Joseph Stiglitz’s new book Making Globalization Work, which was recently reviewed by Robert Skidelsky in the New York Review of Books. For globalisation to benefit the whole world, and for developed countries to be willing to make the adjustments necessary for global fairness, we will need to have better global regulatory organisations.

The question is –  where is the political will to make this happen? If one country were to act on its own it would inevitably lose out in the global market.

A lot of this is about complex policy issues and institutional reform at a global level. But underlying this are questions as to whether we, as citizens of this new world, are able to understand its realities and able to give our leaders the scope to show leadership. The choices we as citizens make are just as important as those of our leaders.

As David Aaronovich points out in the Times this tension is playing out in the Clinton / Obama race. Interestingly both candidates are keen to be seen as progressives on the world stage, while at the same time offering protectionist policies to their electorate.

So while the main victims of globalisation are the poorest people, mainly living in Sub-Saharan Africa, the most vociferous opponents are the formerly skilled manual workers of the developed world.

Skidelsky argues that the problem with Stiglitz’s book is that it doesn’t recognise that you need to co-opt those people in the developed world that feel they’re losing out, and show how they too can gain from globalization. Otherwise we have a globalised world governed by national imaginations.

Returning to a well worn theme the answers here must combine citizen-centric and government-centric solutions.

For example, we need new collective institutions (both in the real and virtual world) that help constitute a global civil society. Two examples of this are the fair trade movement, and, importantly, the Make Poverty History Campaign. Both are focussed in their scope but have had an impact on changing the way people think about their money and their ‘stuff’. Globalisation will only work for humans if appropriately regulated. Regulation has to happen on a global scale. But leaders will not rise to this challenge unless we as citizens are more able to think globally ourselves.

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