One reason (of many) to be “anti-globalization”

In my last post I forgot to mention yesterday’s less publicized, short-but-sweet appearance of famous writer Jamaica Kincaid at Wesleyan’s commencement — she received an honorary doctorate. Wes does know how to pick ’em! This, along with the latest round of my ongoing debate with Bill, has prompted me to blog briefly about one of the many problems with “globalization” as such.

“Pro-globalization” types cite the steady rise of the Gross National Product in third world countries as sure fire proof that the status quo is good; capitalism is helping the poor, just like the Gipper’s handlers would predict!

Here I’ll echo Chomsky who points out that the kindest thing that can be said about Reagan is that he probably didn’t know much about what was going on during his administration…but I stray from the topic at hand.

GNP is actually a very flawed estimator of “progress” because it cares nothing for actual quality of human life as well as the myriad social and environmental impacts of capitalism. John Talberth writes, in the Worldwatch Institute’s “State of the World 2008”, that,

“there is widespread recognition that globalization indicators are increasingly irrelevant and out of touch with the greater humanitarian disasters unfolding on the planet, that they mask gross inequities in the distribution of resources, and that they fail to register overall declines in well-being that stem from loss of community, culture, and environment.

It is beyond dispute, for example, that GDP fails as a true measure of societal welfare. While it measures the economic value of consumption, GDP says nothing about overall quality of life. In 1906, economist Irving Fischer coined the term “psychic income” to describe the true benefit of all socioeconomic activity. Goods and services are valued not for themselves, Fischer argued, but in proportion to the psychic enjoyment derived from them. Higher levels of consumption may or may not have anything to do with higher quality of personal life if such consumption is detrimental to personal health, to others, or to the environment.

GDP gives no indication of sustainability because it fails to account for depletion of either human or natural capital. It is oblivous to the existence of local economic systems or knowledge; to disappearing forests, wetlands, or farmland; to the depletion of oil, minerals, or groundwater; to the deaths, displacement, and destruction caused by war and natural disasters. And it fails to register costs of pollution and non-market benefits associated with volunteer work, parenting, and ecosystem services provided by nature. GDP is also flawed because it counts war spending as improving even though, theoretically, at best, all such spending really does is keep existing welfare from deteriorating.”

Talberth’s chapter (available here as a PDF) goes on to provide an interesting summary (complete with quantitative analysis, visual aids, references, etc.) of work being done in the field of sustainable development, including the introduction of a more sensible progress indicator called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). For those of you (Bill) who might want to read some more economics-oriented work about sustainability, I’d recommend it.

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3 Responses to “One reason (of many) to be “anti-globalization””

  1. William Bruntrager Says:

    For exceptionally long quotes, use block quotes. Otherwise you risk confusing me.

  2. tripinchina Says:

    Fair point. I am aware of the block quote convention, and in a paper I would have employed them. But this blog design’s block quotes are a gray color that I find too light to see easily against the background…and I’m too lazy to figure out how to change that…so I figured I’d just run with it!

  3. William Bruntrager Says:

    I think we’ve learned a valuable lesson here: At 6 am, I’m too cranky to be blogging or commenting. But I think the block quotes are an improvement, and on net, I’m glad you weren’t trying to be cute with your spelling.

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