Eamonn Keane
Globalization and integral human development
By Eamonn Keane
June 1, 2010

The following essay is a revised and extended version of an article I authored titled Understanding Globalization that was published as INFORM 124: Faith & Life Matters by the Catholic Adult Education Centre in Sydney in February 2010.

What is globalization?

The process of globalization is one of the most powerful forces shaping our world today. The term globalization refers to the intensification of economic, social, legal and cultural relations between countries. It is characterized by the greater ease with which money, investment, goods, technology, information and people now move across national boundaries. This has been made possible by new technologies in communications and transportation, as well as by the adoption of trade liberalization policies by many countries. As a result the world, in a sense, has become smaller and people feel themselves part of the globe as well as part of the country where they live.

In the economic sphere, globalization can increase standards of living by making a wider range of goods available at lower prices. At the same time, it can mean the loss of a job for workers in developed countries when an employer decides to relocate production to a developing country where labor is cheaper. In this way globalization can mean increased job opportunities in poorer countries when foreign firms invest there or buy their produce. As against this however, it can also mean widespread social upheaval in rich and poor countries alike when foreign firms suddenly close down their facilities in order to pursue a greater profit elsewhere.

In the cultural sphere, films, books, newspapers and television programs are available all over the world almost simultaneously. People in other countries can be informed immediately of a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, and a concert organised to help the victims of the earthquake can be seen live anywhere in the world, with people able to donate to the cause in their own country.

Global media giants impact significantly on the development of moral perceptions and they foster global convergence in tastes and preferences for goods and services. In the area of cinema, for example, the top ratings in New York may not be dissimilar to those in Mumbai, and fashions can quickly become international.

In the area of education, the theme of globalization figures prominently in curricula from infants schooling right through to university level. As students study and become more acquainted with life in other countries, they simultaneously have increased mobility and are able to travel across national boundaries to further their education. In response to this trend, many universities in English-speaking countries have sought to change the mode of delivery and range of courses they offer in order to attract foreign students. Some universities have established campuses in other countries.

Economic globalization and the poor

As intimated above, globalization's impacts can be positive or negative. Referring to this in his 2009 encyclical titled Caritas in Veritate which means Charity in Truth (henceforth CT), Pope Benedict XVI says:

    "Originating within economically developed countries, this process [globalization] by its nature has spread to include all economies. It has been the principal driving force behind the emergence from underdevelopment of whole regions, and in itself it represents a great opportunity. Nevertheless, without the guidance of charity in truth, this global force could cause unprecedented damage and create new divisions within the human family. (CT 33)

In the economic sphere, globalization involves greater integration of the countries of the world into a market-based economic framework. Markets are driven by the forces of demand and supply and are linked to rights associated with private ownership of property, including freedom of enterprise. In this setting, the pursuit of profit is regarded as a powerful motivating force in bringing about an efficient allocation of resources. Free trade between nations is integral to this economic philosophy.

Arguments supporting free trade include expanded consumer choice, lower prices, more efficient use of resources and increased international competitiveness. The historical record shows that countries open to international trade tend to achieve higher rates of economic growth than countries that are not. It must be added, however, that many economists believe the present rules governing international trade need to address more effectively the economic needs of poorer countries. In his 2002 book Globalization and its Discontents, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics and currently a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, criticised the policies of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund for not responding adequately to the needs of poorer nations in times of financial stress. He argued that policy prescriptions of the IMF are often poorly targeted and inadequate to the problems they seek to address.

Referring in CT to benefits that can accrue to developing nations from involvement in global trade, Pope Benedict XVI says that "in the economic sphere, the principal form of assistance needed by developing countries is that of allowing and encouraging the gradual penetration of their products into international markets, thus making it possible for these countries to participate fully in international economic life" (CT 58). He noted in particular the importance of agricultural exports for developing countries, saying that "just and equitable international trade in agricultural goods can be beneficial to everyone, both to suppliers and to customers" (CT 58). This issue came to a head with the collapse of Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations in 2008 when many developing countries walked out in response to a refusal by the U.S. and the European Union to reduce agricultural subsidies to their farmers and to improve market access for the products of developing countries.

While referring in CT to the benefits of global trade, Pope Benedict XVI was careful to sound a caution however against too hasty an embrace of globalizing processes. After noting how the global market has stimulated on the part of rich countries "a search for areas to outsource production at low cost" so as to enable consumers in developed countries to acquire lower priced goods, he adds: "These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State" (CT 25).

Dignity of workers and decent work

Workers should never be treated as mere factors of production. They have a right to a just wage, to safe working conditions and to form trade unions. In general, globalization processes need to be managed so as to ensure that they generate what is known as "decent work." By this term is meant work that is reflective of the dignity of the person performing it, that is freely chosen, free from any unjust discrimination, with wages adequate to support workers and their families (cf. CT 63). The International Labour Organization seeks to foster dialogue and cooperation between governments, employers and workers with a view to promoting decent work throughout the world. Pope Benedict XVI recalls how on 1 May 2000, Pope John Paul II "issued an appeal for 'a global coalition in favour of decent work,' supporting the strategy of the International Labour Organization" (CT 63).

In periods of rapid economic and social transformation as we are experiencing at present, there can develop a tendency to treat workers as mere instruments of production. Such a situation became widespread during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning in Britain and then spreading to Europe and United States, the Industrial Revolution was a period characterized by major transformations in the economic, social and political spheres. It was sparked by a series of inventions which revolutionized production, agriculture, transportation and trade.

As well as producing great wealth and enabling the earth to support much larger populations, the Industrial Revolution was also accompanied by the emergence of new injustices. In many places workers were treated as mere merchandise as they were forced to work in appalling conditions with minimal return for their effort. This situation prompted Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to write his famous Encyclical On Capital and Labor titled Rerum Novarum which, among other things, dealt with the mutual obligations of workers and employers. While condemning socialism and upholding the right to private property as a natural right, Rerum Novarum simultaneously pointed to responsibilities that accompany the exercise of such a right. In this regard, Pope Leo XIII condemned the emergence of a liberal form of capitalism that "handed over the workers, each alone and defenseless, to the inhumanity of employers and the unbridled greed of competitors" (Rerum Novarum 6).

In our own day, one of the negative consequences of the search for international competitiveness which is part of the globalization process now is the creation of 'sweatshop' working conditions in some newly industrializing countries. In seeking to maximize profits by outsourcing production to countries where labor costs are minimal, global businesses sometimes enter into agreements with local subcontractors that show little concern for the just entitlements of workers.

In the early 2000s, for example, a well-known sports shoe manufacturer's products were being produced in deplorable working conditions in several countries of Southeast Asia. Workers were paid a pittance for working in appalling conditions for long stretches at a time. In response to the negative publicity it received, the company argued that it was not able to control the working conditions provided by its subcontractors. Fortunately, the widespread perception that the firm was a human rights abuser induced it to place pressure on its subcontractors to improve conditions of employment for their workers.

Another current example of exploitive working conditions is to be found in China's mining industry. Thousands of miners have been killed in China over the last few years where they have been forced to work in hazardous conditions in order to keep up the supply of resources to China's export oriented manufacturing sector. A report in the November 23, 2009 edition of the Guardian newspaper in the UK recounts events surrounding the death of 104 miners in an explosion at a mine run by a state-owned holding group in Heilongjiang province. The Guardian report quoted the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based organisation supporting workers' rights, as saying: "As an enterprise responsible for profits and losses, state-owned coal mines are just as concerned with profit maximization as privately owned coal mines. And their managers' disregard for miners' lives in the push for profit or the drive to exceed production quotas is just as appalling as in privately-owned mines."

It is illegal for workers in China to try to form independent trade unions and to strike. In the absence of such freedoms, workers who seek to raise their voices in protest against their unjust working conditions are often violently suppressed. Hence, suppression of the inalienable rights of workers is a real but hidden cost of some of the cheap goods imported from China which Australian and American consumers enjoy.

Forms of capitalism

In 1991Pope John Paul II issued his Encyclical Centesimus Annus to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum and to bring Catholic Social Teaching up to date. Here Pope John Paul II rejected collectivist ideologies on grounds that the "fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature," it "considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism" (n. 13). While he drew attention to the necessity of "safeguarding the prerequisites of a free economy," Pope John Paul II added however that this "presumes a certain equality between the parties, such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience" (n. 14). This vital principle governing the establishment of just economic relations between individuals, demands that careful distinctions to be drawn between various forms of capitalism.

The various forms of capitalism range from ones based on a materialist understanding of the human person which tend towards the debasement of human beings and the development of gross inequities in society, to ones based on an integral human anthropology that takes account of the inalienable and transcendent dignity and rights of the human person and are thus conducive to human flourishing.

In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II posed a critical question in regard to the various forms of capitalism when he asked: "Can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?" (n. 42). In answering this question, Pope John Paul said:

    "The answer is obviously complex. If by 'capitalism' is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a 'business economy,' 'market economy' or simply 'free economy.' But if by 'capitalism' is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative" (n. 42).

Ethics and economics: markets are not impersonal mechanisms

In CT, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to the need to underpin economic activity with an integral perception of reality. He warned of the harmful effects on society of understanding the social order as something determined only by market forces and government regulations: "The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society" (CT 39). This corrosive impact is greater when market outcomes and government policies are understood as impersonal forces unrelated to individual moral decisions. Such a mentality weakens bonds of charity and solidarity between individuals and groups.

Pope Benedict XVI states that economic life "is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner" (CT 36). This truth becomes all too obvious when we recall that the 2008 global financial crisis was partly caused by many housing loan applicants in the U.S. lying on their mortgage application forms, as well as by "reckless behavior and unchecked excess...where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses," as President Obama described it on September 14, 2009 in a speech marking the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In reference to market dynamics, Pope Benedict stated: "In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become the place where the strong subdue the weak" (CV 36). He added that in evaluating market outcomes, it is necessary to understand them as something expressive of choices made by individuals: "it is not the instrument [the market] that must be called to account, but individuals" (CT 36). While recognizing the usefulness of markets in achieving desirable economic outcomes, Pope Benedict nevertheless noted that "the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so" (CV 36). Describing one aspect of this ideology, Fr Paul-Anthony McGavin, formerly a Professor in the School of Business at the University of New South Wales said:

    "The 'ideology' presented as the 'occasion' of Caritas in Veritate is that markets (in this case, financial markets) are self-regulating. Crucial to the emergence of recent and present international financial disruptions was the weakness of public policy formulation and governance of financial markets in the USA...It was 'ideology' — an unquestioning belief that markets always 'work' and always work to achieve socially desirable outcomes — that was the causal influence, the 'driver'" (L'Osservatore Romano, 25/11/09).

The 16th plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences was held in Rome from April 30 to May 4, 2010 and was focused on the theme Crisis in a Global Economy: Re-planning the Journey. In his address to participants on April 30, Pope Benedict XVI again took up the idea of how illusory it is to perceive of markets as self-regulating mechanisms that can be relied upon to always deliver optimum economic and social outcomes. He said: "The worldwide financial breakdown has, as we know, demonstrated the fragility of the present economic system and the institutions linked to it. It has also shown the error of the assumption that the market is capable of regulating itself, apart from public intervention and the support of internalized moral standards." He stated that this error is based on an "impoverished notion of economic life as a sort of self-calibrating mechanism driven by self-interest and profit-seeking," adding that "as such, it overlooks the essentially ethical nature of economics as an activity of and for human beings." He said that "economic life should properly be seen as an exercise of human responsibility, intrinsically oriented towards the promotion of the dignity of the person, the pursuit of the common good and the integral development — political, cultural and spiritual — of individuals, families and societies."

In summing up Pope Benedict's address to the Pontifical Council of Social Sciences and his teaching in CT regarding economic activity and markets, President of the Council, Harvard law Professor Mary Ann Glendon said: "One might suggest that in 1991 Pope John Paul II emphasized the energies of the free economy. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the moral and juridical framework." In commenting on the various papers presented at the conference, Professor Glendon noted how one contributor "spoke of a shift from an economy based in the real production of goods to an economy dominated by speculative activities driven by greed." She referred to how other contributors warned against the "danger of the 'financialization' of human relations, in which human activities, even in the family are reduced to a merely commercial dimension." She said "such a 'financialized' approach to the social order not only narrows the vision of the human person, but creates instability in the economy."

Given the concern expressed above by Professor Glendon regarding the financialization of the social order, it is worth recalling that Pope Benedict XVI in writing CT wanted to commemorate another great social encyclical by Pope Paul VI titled Populorum Progressio (On The Development of Peoples). In reference to what he termed the "woeful system" of liberal capitalism which accompanied the Industrial Revolution, Pope Paul VI in this Encyclical went on to say:

    "[I]t is unfortunate that on these new conditions of society a system has been constructed which considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation. This unchecked liberalism leads to dictatorship rightly denounced by Pius XI as producing 'the international imperialism of money.' One cannot condemn such abuses too strongly by solemnly recalling once again that the economy is at the service of man" (n. 26)

Subsidiarity and solidarity

Many economic and social problems cannot be solved on the technical level alone. They need the involvement of people who reverence truth and are inspired by a sense of charity. Pope Benedict XVI says: "The individual who is animated by true charity labors skillfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely" (CT 30). The person motivated by truth and charity will understand that all he possesses is a gift from God to be used well for the satisfaction not only of his own needs but also for the good of others. Hence, "in commercial relationships," says Pope Benedict XVI, "the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity" (CV 36).

When governments and large businesses provide adequate scope for individual and group action inspired by truth and charity in the resolution of economic and social problems, the principle of 'subsidiarity' is thereby respected. This principle affirms that individuals or smaller entities closest to a problem should not be crowded out in their attempts to resolve it by more remote and powerful government or business authorities. Pope Benedict XVI refers to this principle as "a particular manifestation of charity and a guiding criterion for fraternal cooperation between believers and non-believers," something which he adds is "an expression of inalienable human freedom" (CT 57).

A failure to respect the principle of subsidiarity undermines that of solidarity as well. The principle of solidarity means that human beings are by nature called to be actively concerned for each other's wellbeing. Both principles imply that decisions taken in the head offices of large businesses in say New York or Sydney must pay due regard to the impact such decisions will have on all their stakeholders. It would show a lack of ethical maturity for such businesses to pursue a line of action simply on the basis that it generates maximum dividend return to a relatively small group of already wealthy shareholders, while simultaneously undermining without due compensation the livelihoods of thousands of poor people in far-flung regions of the world.

Cultural globalization

A perceived benefit of globalization is that it fosters democratic aspirations and a desire for greater personal freedom. This is conducive to long-term economic and social development, provided the notion of freedom involved is understood as something related not only to individual rights, but also to duties and to the recognition of moral absolutes such as the prohibition of pornography, abortion and euthanasia.

There is a danger that the countries that dominate globalization, usually the more wealthy ones, can spread all over the world not only the good elements in their own cultures, but the harmful ones as well. It must never be forgotten that such media as television, cinema and the internet have a powerful influence in determining how their users think and live. This can of course be a good thing in spreading the acceptance of good moral values, the truths of the faith, and healthy lifestyles. But equally, and perhaps more commonly, globalization can lead to the spread of ideas and lifestyles contrary to the true good of the human person. For example, the various media often present the attainment of wealth, pleasure and technical efficiency as the most important goods to be sought.

Always, globalization must respect the true values inherent in every culture. Pope Benedict XVI mentions how years ago "cultures were relatively well defined and had greater opportunity to defend themselves against attempts to merge them into one. Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners" (CT 26).

Pope Benedict identifies two dangers in the increased commercialization of cultural exchange. First there is what he calls "cultural eclecticism," where cultures are simply placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and interchangeable. Secondly, there is the opposite danger of "cultural leveling" and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles. "In this way one loses sight of the profound significance of the culture of different nations, of the traditions of the various peoples, by which the individual defines himself in relation to life's fundamental questions" (CT 26).

International tourism is another important aspect of cultural globalization. It too has both positive and negative aspects. On one hand it can lead to a greater knowledge and appreciation of the different cultures of the world, and it can help to redistribute wealth to poorer countries that depend on tourism as an important part of their economy.

But it can have negative effects too. Pope Benedict mentions in particular "sex tourism," where even young people are sacrificed to the desires of tourists, often with the support of local governments. He also singles out tourism "which follows a consumerist and hedonistic pattern, as a form of escapism planned in a manner typical of the countries of origin, and therefore not conducive to authentic encounter between persons and cultures" (CT 61).

The environment and human ecology

The question of globalization's impact on the natural environment is complex. To the extent that it increases wealth and facilitates a more rapid diffusion of technology around the globe, it can allow for more resources to be used in safeguarding the natural environment. As against this, globalization has negative impacts when it encourages over-exploitation of the earth's resources or when it prompts transnational corporations to shift production to areas of the globe where environmental protection laws are weakest, thereby evading their responsibility to develop and use environmentally appropriate technologies.

Some environmental groups view economic growth as necessarily evil and population growth as disastrous. Indeed, some expressions of environmentalism have acquired quasi-religious status. Warning against this, Pope Benedict says: "[I]t is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism [belief that everything is God]..." (CT 48). It is also necessary, he adds, "to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a 'grammar' which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation" (CT 48).

Pope Benedict XVI states that the most fundamental truth about the natural environment is that it "is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole" (CT 48). But in order to protect environmental ecology, we must first protect what he calls "human ecology." He says that the decisive issue in regard to environmental stewardship is "the overall moral tenor of society," adding: "If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology" (CT 51).

Regarding human ecology, it should be noted that in CT, Pope Benedict XVI locates the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae as central to any proposal for the creation of social and economic conditions conducive to integral human development. He said:

    "The Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life. This is not a question of purely individual morality: Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics...The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized" (CT 15).

Consistent with his statement above, Pope Benedict goes on in CT to condemn as contrary to integral human development population control programs "that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion" (CV 28). He says that respect for the right to life of innocent human beings "cannot in any way be detached" from programs claiming to be directed at the development of peoples (CV 28). China is the worst offender in this area. At the same time, it was sad to witness how on his third day in office, President Obama issued an executive order allowing U.S. tax dollars to be used for funding agencies abroad that perform abortions. Also, in March 2009, the Australian Labour government overturned a ban imposed by the previous Howard government on Australian foreign aid being used for abortion-related purposes in developing countries.

On this question of the responsibility of politicians to protect all innocent human beings — born and unborn — from all who would destroy them, the words of Pope John Paul II are pertinent: "To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin' (Jn 8:34)" (Evangelium Vitae, 20)

Drawing up the balance

As has been made clear by now, globalization is a multi-faceted reality that has both positive and negative aspects. The globalization process is in some way a reflection of the fact that human beings are called to live in family and to enter into relationships with each other. This in turn reflects the fact that man is made in the image and likeness of God, who is a Trinity, a communion of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "there is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love" (n. 1878).

Seen in this light, globalization's capacity to multiply opportunities for interpersonal relationships of mutual benefit among people of diverse backgrounds is a great good. It simply reflects man's creation in the image of God. Always, the Trinity should be the reference point, and so Pope Benedict writes that "relationships between human beings throughout history cannot but be enriched by reference to this divine model." He goes on to say that "in the light of the revealed mystery of the Trinity, we understand that true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration" (CT 54). Looking at it from this supernatural perspective, we should all be open to all that is good in globalization, while working to overcome what is negative in it.

© Eamonn Keane


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Eamonn Keane

Eamonn Keane is married with five children. He studied Commerce and Education at the National University of Ireland and Religious Education at the Catholic Teachers Training College in Sydney, Australia. He currently serves as Head of Social Science at Sydney's Redfield College... (more)


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