Just Globalization

In the blink of an eye, globalization has changed from the inevitable future and the panacea for all human ills to a curse word and the source of all American misery. It takes guts to speak up for globalization these days.

Brent Waters has guts. He no doubt began writing his Just Capitalism before the most recent outbreak of anti-globalization, but his book couldn’t be more relevant.

His claims are modest. He argues that today’s global capitalism and globalization are “not inherently incompatible with some central Christian theological and moral convictions.” Positively, and more strongly, he contends that “globalization is the only credible means at present for alleviating poverty on a global scale. Consequently, a well-ordered global capitalism is compatible with such core convictions as a preferential option for the poor and promoting human flourishing. To be naively anticapitalism is thereby to effectively opt against the poor and diminish human flourishing. Therefore, an ethic of globalization necessarily entails a defense of capitalism.” Globalization holds promise of an equitable distribution of goods.

This isn’t theoretical. In Brazil, for instance, “the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 (US) a day . . . has been cut in half from 2.6 percent to 1.3 percent of the population while per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than doubled from $3,431 to $7,896. More impressively, China’s poverty line has fallen from 10.7 percent to 4 percent, and per capita GDP increased from $466 to $3,528.”

Waters knows that integration into the global market creates dislocations; he knows there are losers. But he argues that no alternative system has done more to raise the living standards of the world’s poorest peoples.

Why then the opposition to globalization, especially among Christians who might be inclined toward a “preferential option for the poor”? Waters suggests that “it is often assumed that economic exchange in general is a tawdry affair, and the creation of affluence and wealth in particular is invariably ill-gotten gain.” Waters responds by pointing out that economic exchanges aren’t zero-sum and that “in an exchange-based economy, producers want affluent rather than impoverished consumers.”

More theoretically and theologically, “exchange is a vital necessity and should not be given short shrift. Humans flourish in sharing or communicating the goods of creation. Consequently, a properly ordered pursuit of producing, exchanging, and enjoying created goods can promote communicative associations in which human flourishing occurs most prominently.”

From the other side, Waters argues that globalization helps to inhibit the violent potential of nationalism: “Nationalism tends to exacerbate conflict, given contending national interests that are resolved through the threat or implementation of coercive solutions. In short, it is consumers, not politicians, who have much more at stake in preserving a peaceful world of trade and exchange.”

There is surely more to say. The global economy not a politics-free zone. Wealthy and powerful nations set the rules of the game, and set them to their own advantage, and (deliberately or in effect) to the disadvantage of weaker and poorer nations. Nations with gunboats and smart bombs can force their way to resources and markets that are closed to less bellicose or well-equipped peoples. Global commerce is not a panacea nor a perfect system.

But Waters mounts a powerful case, one that deserves attention—provided we can hear it through the anti-globalist static.

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