Books -- Small World --- Word Power
By Salil Tripathi
1 July 2004
Far Eastern Economic Review
(c) 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
[ In Defense of Globalization. By Jagdish Bhagwati. Oxford University Press.
Whether it is the prevalence of child labour in South Asia or environmental
degradation worldwide, globalization has a lot to answer for, if one reads
its best-selling critics like Naomi Klein or Joseph Stiglitz. Now, Jagdish
Bhagwati, a Columbia University professor and a senior fellow at the Council
on Foreign Relations in the United States, has stepped forward with a lucid
defence. Given the self-righteousness of some of its critics and the paucity
of eloquent defenders (with notable exceptions like Hernando de Soto), this
book hasn't come a day too soon.
Bhagwati's account is witty and eclectic. He draws on a wide range of disciplines
and opinions, ranging from Nigerian novelists and German poets to French
structuralists, Russian anarchists, Indian economists and American executives.
The message: There are things wrong with the world, but they're not globalization's
fault. Globalization does not need a human face, because it is a human process,
its influence largely benign. And while there is injustice in the world
-- inequality, poverty and disease -- institutions exist to set those right.
This may sound like an unusually sunny view of the world and, in trying
to cover so vast a ground, Bhagwati understandably has to skim over the
surface of some complex debates. But the picture that emerges after his
sweeping broad brush is convincing.
This is because Bhagwati takes globalization's opponents seriously. He takes
their arguments at face value and dissects them, agreeing that there are
serious problems with the world, but asks the relevant question (misquoting
Tina Turner): What's globalization got to do with it? Are you concerned
about child labour? Go after governments that fail to live up to their obligations
under the International Labour Organization. Does environmental degradation
bother you? Improve local legislation, and empower non-governmental organizations.
Are prices of essential medicines too high? Oppose the conversion of the
World Trade Organization into a royalty-collection agency for big pharma.
Globalization is good, but not good enough, he argues, and should be managed
to "reinforce and ensure" its benign effects. Too many critics assume that
globalization must necessarily be anti-poor. Actually, he argues, globalization
can help the poor emerge from poverty.
In concise chapters, he addresses the vast range of issues that grip anyone
concerned with globalization: Is poverty enhanced or diminished? Are women's
rights harmed or helped? Is culture imperilled or enriched? Are corporations
beneficial or predatory? Bhagwati has advised the United Nations' Kofi Annan
on globalization and the Gatt (the WTO's forerunner), and spends time addressing
concerns of environmentalists. Himself a supporter of reduction in carbon
emissions and sympathetic to many NGOs, Bhagwati is nonetheless unsparing
in his criticism of developing countries that want to maintain their own
barriers -- in trade, in the Kyoto Protocol -- and of NGOs that manipulate
There is, he shows, no race to the bottom; the real race is to the top.
Indeed, over the years labour standards have grown stronger, and lobbies
in the first world -- unions, NGOs and governments -- require the developing
world to meet those standards if they are to continue to receive foreign
Globalization is such a charged word that Bhagwati's book may not sway those
who are already convinced that it can't do any good. But for those with
an open mind who are concerned about the state of the world, this is a soothing
antidote to the negativism that dominates much of the globalization debate.
Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London