What Good is Globalization?

What good is globalization?

A bonanza for some and a catastrophe for others, globalization has interwoven Earth’s cultures and economies to an unprecedented extent.

No single discipline can encompass its vast effects; all four divisions of the liberal arts are needed.

Accordingly, Gettysburg, the College's magazine, asked four faculty members to parse globalization’s costs and opportunities. Physics Prof. Sharon Stephenson represents the sciences, economics Prof. Char Weise the social sciences, film studies Prof. Jim Udden the arts, and Spanish and globalization studies Prof. Alvaro Kaempfer the humanities.

Jim UddenFar beyond Hollywood

Globalization is good when it does not erase regional differences, but calls attention to them due to global cultural flows; when it flows not one way only, but from several directions at once, with multiple centers of influence.

Take Hollywood. Hollywood today is truly a global industry, not an American one. Does it rule the world? In one sense, yes, but in another, no.

In blunt economic terms, Hollywood is arguably the greatest cultural force ever to exert influence around the globe, doing so through economies of scale that no one else has ever matched. Yet go to any respectable international film festival today and one discovers that cinema outside of Hollywood is still as vibrant and varied as it was in the past.

Today there are thousands of film festivals the world over, not hundreds like a few decades ago. More people attend film festivals today than at any time in the past. This festival realm is a global circuit that acts as a counterforce on several levels — culturally most of all.

So long as that world thrives, there is still something “good” to be said about globalization. If that realm dies, then prognostications that all is devolving into a sort of cultural global pudding — likely brought to you by ... (gulp) ... Michael Bay — will likely prove to be true.

Film studies Prof. Jim Udden has been on the faculty since 2003. He teaches in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program.

KaempferFrom colonialism to consensus

When Christopher Columbus took possession of the West Indies in the name of the Castilian crown, he triggered the historical process that moved Europe from the margins to the center of a new world. It was not embodied by the Americas alone, but also by the emergence of an unevenly integrated global society that collapsed innumerable and irreducible cultures, languages, and environments into a homogenizing economic, political, and historical arena.

Projected on a planetary scale, the speed and reach of this process have increased exponentially in the last two centuries, bearing witness to both beauty and horror (exterminations, genocides, slavery, and environmental cataclysms). Our critical and documented perspectives on the colonial foundations of modernity reveal that all peoples, sensibilities, and cultures are entitled to shared rights, duties, and considerations.

From this planetary perspective, I believe a liberal arts education is vital. The greatest good of the global process is the truth it reveals: we must respect, understand, and protect not only peoples, languages, and cultures, but also every form of life. We must conserve the planet if we are to conserve ourselves. That wisdom has been voiced in a multiplicity of languages, expressing diverse cultural sensibilities from and about an unevenly articulated world. Whether local or global, communities are working to explore, analyze, and understand this mutually impacting global condition, and to experience it fully and build consensus that can aid us all before globalization’s vast challenges.

Spanish and globalization studies Prof. Alvaro Kaempfer joined the faculty in 2008. He coordinates the Latin American Studies Program.

StephensonScience knows no borders

For scientists, globalization isn’t “good,” it’s necessary.

All major advances in science have always involved players from more than one place.

Take my line of work — I am a nuclear physicist. My specialty is in using neutrons to better understand how nuclei are assembled.

Whenever I research a new project, sooner or later a Russian physicist’s name pops up. It’s not always the same name, but always the same country.

Lately I’ve been part of a group that makes and studies “exotic” nuclei, so neutron-heavy they can barely stay contained. The United States has a large facility for creating and studying such nuclei, but so do Japan, the European Union, Canada, France, and Germany.

We work together, globally, to answer the same physics questions.  

Physics Prof. Sharon Stephenson chairs her department and has been a faculty member since 1997.

WeiseManaging the change

Our current concerns about the economic impact of globalization are not new. Since the dawn of history human societies have interacted with each other economically, socially, and politically. Sometimes (the Roman Empire or European investment in U.S. railroads in the 19th century) the result has benefited the societies so engaged; at other times the effects have been devastating (the slave trade or the European conquest of the Americas).

Now as always, the question is whether we can make globalization work for us. We are probably better off as a whole economically as a result of expanding trade with China, Mexico, and other relatively poor countries. But trade has resulted in lower wages for a large segment of society and has contributed to widening economic inequality.

If we want to maintain a healthy middle class and a strong democracy we will have to do a better job of managing the change that has come about through globalization.

There are no easy prescriptions, but I would start by strengthening the social safety net so that people who lose their jobs or see their incomes decline because of trade are not thrown into poverty. We also need investments in education so that young people develop the skills they need to find jobs in expanding areas of the economy; of equal importance, we need to ensure that the next generation receives a broad education in history, literature, science and other areas to enable them to understand the changes happening around them. Finally, we need sensible macroeconomic management that maintains a growing, flexible economy.  

Economics Prof. Charles “Char” Weise has been at the College since 2000.

Is the world getting smaller? Let us know what you think: alumnimagazine@gettysburg.edu

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Sun, 2 Sep 2012

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