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GLOBALIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Today, Globalization is being challenged around the world. There is discontent with globalization,
and rightfully so. Popular discontent with the economic process known as globalization is on the
rise not only in developing countries, for which globalization has had adverse consequences, but
also in the West, as shown by the large street demonstrations that take place whenever the World
Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hold a
major meeting. WHY HAS GLOBALIZATION-a force that has brought so much good-become
so controversial? Opening up to international trade has helped many countries grow far more
quickly than they would otherwise have done. International trade helps economic development
when a country's exports drive its economic growth. Exportled growth was the centerpiece of the
industrial policy that enriched much of Asia and left millions of people there far better off. Because
of globalization many people in the world now live longer than before and their standard of living
is far better. People in the West may regard low-paying jobs at Nike as exploitation, but for many
people in the developing world, working in a factory is a far better option than staying down on
the farm and growing rice.
Globalization has reduced the sense of isolation felt in much of the developing world and has given
many people in the developing countries access to knowledge well beyond the reach of even the
wealthiest in any country a century ago. There are negative sides to globalization, there are often
benefits. Opening up the Jamaican milk market to U.S. imports in 1992 lIlay have hurt local dairy
farmers but it also meant poor children could get milk more cheaply. New foreign firms may hurt
protected state-owned enterprises but they can also lead to the introduction of new technologies.
access to new markets, and the creation of new industries. In Globalization and Its Discontents,
the critics of globalization and the role of Western financial and trade institutions in promoting it
receive some heavyweight support from an insider who knows what he is talking about. This book
is a sustained and often devastating critique of the role of the IMF in globalization and is only
slightly less critical of the economic policies and assumptions of the U.S. government. Stiglitz
relentlessly offers example after example of situations in which the IMF’s rigid insistence that its
policies were the only correct ones to be pursued, in spite of evidence to the contrary, led to
disastrous results across the globe, from East Asia to Latin America and Russia. Globalization is
the process which has led to a closer integration of all the nations of the world by the reduction in
costs of transportation and communication and the breaking down of artificial barriers to the
movement of goods, services, capital, and people across borders. There is no doubt, as Stiglitz
points out, that globalization has brought many benefits. The opening up of international trade has
helped many developing countries grow far more quickly than they otherwise would have done.
Standards of living have been raised and life expectancy extended. However, in many parts of the
world, globalization also has failed to bring the predicted economic improvements. More people
live in poverty in 2003 than at the beginning of the 1990’s, even though total world income has
increased during the same period. Nor has globalization brought economic stability, as crises in
Latin America and Asia have shown.
Many developing world, globalization has not brought the promised economic benefits. A growing
divide between the haves and the have-nots has left increasing numbers in the Third World in dire
poverty. living on less than a dollar a day. Despite repeated promises of poverty reduction made
over the last decade of the twentieth century. the actual number of people living in poverty has
actually increased by almost 100 million. 2 This occurred at the same time that total world income
; actually increased by an average of2.5 percent annually. In Africa. the high aspirations following
colonial independence have been largely unfulfilled. Instead. the continent plunges deeper into
misery, as incomes and standards of living decline. The hard-won improvements in life expectancy
gained in the past few decades, begun to reverse. While the scourge of AIDS is at the center of this
decline. Poverty is also a killer. Even countries that have abandoned African socialism, managed
to install reasonably honest governments, balanced their budgets, and kept inflation down find that
they simply cannot attract private investors. If globalization has not succeeded in reducing poverty,
neither has it succeeded in ensuring stability. Crises in Asia and in Latin America have: threatened
the economies and the stability of all developing countries. The IMF was created in 1944 with the
task of ensuring global economic stability, Stiglitz believes that it has failed in its mission. Not
only have economic crises become more frequent over the last twenty-five years, but in many
cases, the policies promoted by the IMF have actually made the situation worse, especially for the
poor. The basic criticism that Stiglitz makes is that the IMF is attached to a rigid ideological agenda
that is not always appropriate for the situation. He calls this the “Washington Consensus.” This
consensus, which emerged in the Reagan era of the 1980’s, values the free market above
everything else. It emphasizes fiscal austerity, privatization, and market liberalization. According
to Stiglitz, when the consensus first emerged it made considerable sense, but as the years went by
it came to be applied as an end in itself rather than as a means to ensure equitable and sustainable
growth in the nations concerned. The Washington Consensus was then pushed too far and too fast.
Stiglitz calls this “market fundamentalism.”
If globalization continues to be conducted in the way that it has been in the past, if we continue to
fail to learn from our mistakes, globalization will not only not succeed in promoting development
but will continue to create poverty and instability. Without reform, the backlash that has already
started will mount and discontent with globalization will grow. This will be a tragedy for all of us,
and especially for the billions who might otherwise have benefited. While those in the developing
world stand to lose the most economically, there will be broader political ramifications that will
affect the developed world too. If the reforms are taken seriously, then there is hope that a more
humane process of globalization can be a powerful force for the good, with the vast majority of
those living in the developing countries benefiting from it and welcoming it. If this is done, the
discontent with globalization would have served us all well.
The developed countries have a special responsibility, for instance. to eliminate their trade
barriers, to practice what they preach. But while the developed countries' responsibility may be
great, their incentives are weak: after all. off-shore banking centers and hedge funds serve interests
in the developed countries, and the developed countries can withstand well the instability that a
failure to reform might bring to the developing world. Indeed, the United States arguably benefited
in several ways from the East Asia crisis.