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Unless you have a time portal, forget about escaping globalisation

By Keith Suter - posted Friday, 27 August 2004

Globalisation is a lot better than many critics make out. Indeed, such critics are a form of globalisation in themselves.

A sense of history is important, and this is one of the major changes in history.

Globalisation is the third era of governance. In the first era, people lived in small, localised tribes, principalities, and baronies etc, some of which were part of empires with distant imperial capital cities. That era ended in Europe in 1648, with the break up of the Holy Roman Empire after the Thirty Years War (1618-48), the last of Europe’s religious wars.


The second era revolved around the nation-state. “Nation” referred to an homogenous group of people and “state”, the political machine for controlling them (politicians, legal system, defence forces etc). National governments were the central part of this system of governance. The imperialistic Europeans took the nation-state system and replaced indigenous tribal systems in overseas colonies.

Now the era of the nation-state is drawing to a close. The third era is dominated by “globalisation ”. This is the collective term for the erosion of national boundaries and the reduced significance of national governments. We are moving from a world with borders to one without borders.

The nation-state will remain in existence but the process of globalisation means that national governments will have to share their power with three other groups of entities.

First, there is “economic” globalisation: The growing importance of transnational corporations, such as Microsoft, Ford, Coca-Cola  and CNN. These are now the major driving forces in economic policy. They are also creating a class of global consumers.

The second form of globalisation is the mobilisation of “people power”, for example, the critics of globalisation. They use the tools of globalisation (such as television and the Internet) to oppose economic globalisation. Most people have lost faith in conventional politics: “who ever you vote for, a politician always gets elected”. Governments are rarely able to implement fully their election promises because of the restricting power of corporations and lobby groups (popular globalisation). But people are still interested in politics; they prefer to concentrate on specific campaigns for a specific amount of time. Anti-globalisation groups - rather than mainstream politicians - have made economic globalisation a major news story.

Finally, there is “public order globalisation ”. Governments increasingly have to work together on common problems. Diseases, pollution and climate changes do not recognise national boundaries. They have no respect for human-made lines on maps. Therefore, national governments work through inter-governmental organisations such as the United Nations and European Union.


One implication of this new era is that governments have not done enough to warn their citizens about the changes, hence the rise of the politics of anger. People who see themselves as the victims of globalisation and the casualties of change are asking nationalist leaders to get explanations about what is happening. The major split in politics in most western countries is not between the parties (such as Liberal-National and Labor) but between the mainstream parties and the alienated, angry people who feel excluded from the political process.

Economic globalisation cannot be reversed. It has moved too far too quickly and become too entrenched. Little can be gained by seeking a return to some earlier nationalistic era when life seemed to be better. The 1950s may have been good for white middle-class males, but there were also many losers.

We will be living with globalisation for many years to come. We need to ensure that globalisation and technological change are worth living with. This means that there needs to be more public education on explaining the process of globalisation and its implications. Since the public is so sceptical of glossy governmental publications, why can’t governments provide funding for non-governmental organisations to educate the public about globalisation and technological change? NGOs know how to produce readable material without high cost.

Globalisation cannot be reversed. Therefore instead of complaining about it we need to ask how can we make the most of it. How can we make lemonade out of this lemon?

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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