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Who rules the global village?

By Clyde Prestowitz Jr - posted Wednesday, 19 April 2000

With their nominations now assured, Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush begin a truly momentous campaign — at the dawn of a new century, at a time when the nation and the world are being radically transformed by rapid technological advances. Indeed, by shrinking time and distance, technology is creating a true global village. As the candidates develop their platforms, it is essential that they squarely address the pluses and minuses of the force that over the next decade will affect the voters more than any other — globalization.

At first glance this may seem to be a theoretical and even an academic issue; complex, difficult to articulate and over the heads of the vast majority of the electorate. Voters, so the pundits often insist, don't care nearly as much about what is going on around the globe as they do about how the store is being minded at home. The political strategists will argue, campaigns are not so much about educating the public as about defining your opponent and letting no charge go unanswered. But this prattling of conventional wisdom betrays a persistent underestimation among many gurus of the powerful global forces shaping the everyday lives of millions of Americans.

The fact is that foreign affairs are no longer so foreign. When a sell-off in the Tokyo stock market triggers a decline in the value of pension funds on which most Americans are relying for their retirement, events in Japan become of great interest. The massive public demonstrations at last year's meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle underscored in dramatic fashion the "local" concerns that many Americans have about globalization.


The hard reality is that Messrs. Bush and Gore simply cannot ignore the great potential benefits or the potential price of globalization. The Economic Strategy Institute's Global Forum, being held this May in Washington, will be the first major revisiting of these issues on U.S. soil since Seattle. How the world business, economic and political leaders gathered there propose to optimize the benefits while minimizing the costs of the galloping integration of world economies is the key to the continued prosperity and security of America and the world; how Messrs. Bush and Gore address these questions is key to their own electoral prospects.

On the one hand the candidates must understand and make the electorate understand that globalization is America's most fundamental national interest for two reasons. First, because it is one of the keys to the "new economy," and second, because it is the most powerful force for global democratization and peace. The incredible growth and prosperity of the past decade were not only a matter of Americans working harder and smarter. They also owed much to the flow of capital, goods, and services from abroad that funded U.S. borrowing and kept the dollar up and inflation down. Foreign markets enabled U.S. producers and exporters to make and sell more and to reduce the costs of production because of the greater volume of exports.

Even more important than the contribution to American prosperity is the impact of globalization on the rest of the world. The greatest threat to the United States and to world security today is not the strength of other nations. Rather it is their weakness. Economic disaster in Russia or China or Latin America is far more potentially dangerous to American and world security and to human rights than any conceivable military threat. Growth based on trade, international investment and technology flows, and the rapid expansion of the Internet is the best insurance of stability.

Modern economies cannot be run without connection to the Internet, and both decentralization and connection to the information society are powerful forces for expansion of human rights and democracy. For all these reasons the candidates need to tell us how they propose to provide for greater openness, transparency and rules based competition in the global economy.

But the benefits of globalization do not come without a price. Rapid technological change, capital shifting around the world at the speed of light, and new international production and supply patterns are sometimes unsettling forces. They undermine traditional relationships and displace old, venerated structures and institutions thereby creating uncertainty and even fear. While there are many winners, some will also undeniably be threatened with painful losses. Domestically, some workers may lose their jobs as a result of the global restructuring of industry, and a growing digital divide that threatens permanently to separate information "haves" and "have nots" is a concern for millions of parents.

On the global scene, while America has prospered over the past decade, other countries and regions have faced crises, stagnation, and painful restructuring. That a majority of the world's most dynamic and successful global companies are American sometimes makes globalization look like Americanization to people in other parts of the world, who fear domination by the U.S. colossus. Here too there is growing fear of an international digital divide that will leave other countries trailing far behind the United States in the global prosperity sweepstakes of the future.


All of this is beginning to create a backlash which was evident in Seattle and which if not dealt with properly could destroy the very basis for the kind of development that would close the gap in the future. It could also drive dangerous wedges between the United States and its friends and allies in key regions of the world. Possibly the greatest task of the new president will be to determine how to maximize the value of globalization while paying the lowest possible price. We need to know how Messrs. Bush and Gore are planning to do this — and the sooner we know it the better.

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This article was first published in The Washington Times on April 4, 2000.

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About the Author

Clyde Prestowitz is founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute. He was a U.S. trade negotiator in the Reagan administration and is the author of Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions.

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