SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO STERN-STEWART INSTITUTE,
GERMANY, 8 SEPTEMBER 2007
WHERE DOES GLOBALISATION END? OBSERVATIONS OF A CLOSE BYSTANDER.
As we have seen from the demonstrations at recent international conferences, globalisation has become a highly controversial issue. Its critics claim
- that it is simply a vehicle for the uncontrolled greed of trans-national companies;
- that the economic growth that it is unleashing is mindless and ecologically unsustainable;
- that it is swamping the world with the media, news and entertainment products of the United States’ rampant techno-culture.
There may or may not be some truth in these claims – which need to be discussed and considered.
However, regardless of the concerns and wishes of its critics, globalisation is here to stay. Just as the Luddites found it impossible to stem the industrial revolution and recreate the simpler, perhaps more human scales of cottage industries, so it will be equally impossible for critics of globalisation to stop the forces of planetary integration that are assailing them from every side. Indeed, they have about as much chance of doing so as King Canute had in ordering the tide to recede.
The reason lies in the inexorable tendency for physical, biological and social systems to evolve into more complex forms. Globalisation is the latest manifestation of this tendency. It has developed an organic momentum of its own – and is driven by numerous parallel strains that are all contributing to planetary integration. They include phenomena such as
- the internet,
- vastly increased inter-continental travel and tourism,
- the explosion of instantaneous telecommunications;
- rapidly increasing international trade; increasingly integrated transcontinental industrial production and
- the development of global brands and global cultural and entertainment products.
All this is overwhelmingly in the interest of people throughout the world. It is rapidly bringing almost 2.4 billion Chinese and Indians from rural poverty to the consumer benefits of urbanisation and higher levels of education and media exposure.
Globalisation is also developing its own broad standards for political governance and economic policy. Societies around the world are discovering that freedom works. Axiomatically, the more that governments empower their own people by giving them freedom of choice in consumer and labour markets the more they are enhancing the collective power and wealth of their countries. It is not by coincidence that the growth of the Chinese economy has been accompanied by the liberalisation of its markets and of the relaxation of the rigid controls and drab uniformity imposed by Mao Tse Tung. Emerging constitutional systems are unlikely to mirror Western democracies – but success anywhere in the planet will require greater personal and business freedom; less rigid regulation and sharper incentives to compete. By the same token, most states have learned that reliable judicial processes; relatively free international trade and responsible labour, monetary and fiscal policies are all necessary for continued growth.
Where will this all end? It is difficult to make predictions in an environment that is changing as rapidly as our own – in which the sum total of all published knowledge now doubles every three or four years; in which Moore’s Law continues its inexorable progression of doubling computer capacity and halving the cost of computing every thirty months or so; and in which new technologies are waiting in the wings that can rapidly change the world and the circumstances in which we live. It is important to remember that some of the central realities of our own time – like the internet, the cell-phone revolution and the collapse of Soviet Communism – were all unthought of only twenty years ago.
However, it is possible to venture the following scenarios for the future of our globalising world:
- China and India will continue to emerge as leading global economies. Together with Japan and the Pacific-rim countries they will begin to shift the planet’s economic centre of gravity back to Asia – where it was in the seventeenth century.
- After the United States withdrawal from its disastrous entanglement in Iraq – probably sometime during the next thirty months – it is unlikely that it will be prepared to continue to project its power on a global basis. This will bring to an end the present and unnatural unipolar global strategic reality. Other powers will have to play the role of global policeman. This will leave a global vacuum that will increasingly be filled by China, India, a resurgent Russia – and possibly the European Union.
- New technologies – such as nanotechnology and genetic engineering emerging from our increasing understanding of the human genome – will have a significant impact on the quality and duration of our lives – and could contribute to the emergence of new demographic patterns in our societies. The increasing ‘greying’ of populations will have far-reaching implications for retirement ages, work patterns and family lives.
- Endemic – and possibly increasing – instability in the Gulf region together with concerns over global warming – will increase pressure for the development of cost-effective alternative energy sources – and for the more efficient use of hydrocarbons.
- Tourism, entertainment and virtual reality will play increasingly important roles as newly enriched global populations seek new ways to spend their leisure time – and search for new forms of identity and meaning.
- Populations will be far more mobile. It will be increasingly difficult to seal the borders of Europe and North America from the influx of economic refugees from poorer parts of the world. As a result, populations will become more multicultural – which, in turn, will require the development of new approaches to co-existence and the accommodation of diversity.
The following factors might inhibit the onward march of globalistion:
- The rapid growth of the Asian economies will put even greater pressure on our fragile environment. Dwindling biological stocks – particularly of fish – and the continued decimation of tropical forests – will contribute to growing awareness of the need for sustainable development and economic growth. Environmental concerns – particularly with regard to global warming – are likely to emerge as the dominant issue in global politics – and might inhibit the ability of globalisation to assure continuing and unrestricted economic growth.
- Rapidly developing societies may have to deal increasingly with the crisis of meaning as whole populations migrate from the security of traditional rural cultures to the materialism, anonymity and alienation of modern cities.
- Counter-developmental tendencies of radical Islam can continue to cause instability in key areas of the world and will continue to pose the threat of international terrorism.
- Some regions – specifically – Africa – may fail in their attempts to share the benefits of globalisation – partly as a result of their own inappropriate policies and partly because of continuing unfair trading practices – including first world agricultural subsidies. The failure of such states to promote the best interests of their own people will create increasingly unacceptable contradictions in the global community. The international community will have to meet this challenge by creating a much fairer global trading environment and by encouraging failing governments to adopt appropriate policies. (Here, I might say, the extended ovation that government leaders of the Southern African Development Community recently gave to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, fills observers with despair.)
- Globalisation might also be slowed – but not stopped – by cyclical recessions. We must accept that the global economy will, from time to time, go into recession and periods of correction. Because of the globalised nature of the world’s economy we will inevitably become more economically interdependent. A slow-down in China’s growth will have far-reaching implications for commodities producers and for consumer markets.
So this, probably, is where globalisation is headed:
- We can look forward to a more prosperous interdependent global economy in which Asian countries will play an increasingly dominant role;
- We can look forward to exciting new technologies – and to the further development of existing technologies – that will continue to affect and improve our lives;
- We will be living in more culturally diverse societies in which the search for meaning, identity and accommodation of diversity will be increasingly important;
- Our societies will move away from carbon-based energy sources;
- The dominant issues will be our response to the developing global ecological crisis; the continuing need to accommodate and contain radical Islam; and the need to share the benefits of globalisation with the whole of mankind – and particularly with the people of Africa.
As for the end of globalisation? In the absence of any major catastrophe it will continue for as long as mankind exists. There will be no going back – no recapturing of earlier ages of relative isolation. Globalisation is our destiny.