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"We are social beings; we are meant to interact with each other; we are actually meant to depend on each other and make our way together."
- Carolyn Woo


Economic globalization involves societies around the globe becoming interdependent by trading—whether ideas, natural resources, finished products or labor. If such exchanges are uncoerced and free of deceit, they tend to be win-win exchanges. Country A’s land is best for growing fruit. Country B’s land has a poor climate for growing fruit but is well-suited for producing cereal grains. If the two countries freely exchange agricultural goods instead of each trying to grow all of its own food, both countries will benefit. Such exchanges are globalization at its best—countries entering freely into win-win exchanges to achieve greater abundance and diversity.

Globalization and Growth

Numerous studies have found a strong correlation between economic growth at all levels of a society and the degree to which that society is linked to global networks of exchange and productivity. For instance, a study published in 2005 by Axel Dreher using panel data for 123 countries over 30 years found that the countries with the lowest growth rates were those that had failed to globalize or that actively prevented globalization.

Globalization — Challenges and Critique

Although globalization is clearly linked to economic growth for rich and poor alike, many factors come into play in the process of globalization. These need to be understood if globalization’s negative effects are to be minimized.

Globalization has meant enormous change in the last several decades, particularly with the invention of such omnipresent technologies as computer networking. This change has led many to lament the cultural, economic and religious difficulties that have surfaced in globalization’s wake. Some of the problems include:  

  • The popular desire for the goods and services that globalization affords makes it almost an unstoppable force. Customs, traditions or mores that stand in the way of such a force can sometimes be swept aside.
  • The human person seems to become a helpless, faceless individual in the face of market forces that are perceived as more important than human dignity.
  • Open borders and opportunities far from home tend to draw people away from extended families and familiar neighborhoods, leading to societies where social bonds are weak and civil institutions attenuated. This in turn leaves the individual with little between him and the state, or between him and mass culture.
  • Misunderstandings of globalization can often lead to the spread of consumerism, materialism, and even hedonism.

Much of what is blamed on globalization is simply the result of perennial human fallibility. Pre-globalized countries have their own cultural problems, sometimes quite severe. And the tendency to romanticize pre-globalized cultures leads us to blame any evidence of moral corruption on the process of globalization at work in the developing country. At other times, the moral corruption may be caused not by global free markets but by forms of aid that encourage dependency and, with it, various social pathologies. 

Globalization and Civil Institutions

These are important considerations if we are to achieve a balanced and accurate understanding of globalization; but we should not pretend that globalization isn’t without its cultural challenges. Globalization has helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty, but the cultural challenges that attend it are real. A promising area of research and work to address such problems involves the work of 19th Century French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville and his call to strengthen religious and civil institutions and, with them, the family. More broadly, and following the work of Robert Nisbet, it also calls on people to limit the central government from arrogating to itself authority that best remains with families and local civil institutions.

This is not to suggest that an easy solution lies before us. At times, local communities are marked by deep corruption and human rights abuses, with even the institution of the family corrupted into a tool for the routine abuse of women and children. Often, too, a central government has crowded out a community’s local institutions over a period of several decades, and for the government to simply withdraw its bureaucracies will not undo the damage overnight. In such cases, the transition to a culture marked by strong families and robust civil institutions in the context of ordered liberty and limited government would be the work of decades and generations, with political, religious, academic, charitable and entrepreneurial leaders all playing important roles.

Rethink Poverty

Subtitled in 15 languages, this six part video series that will change absolutely everything about how you approach charity and missions.