OpenFiction [Blog]

OCW and globalization

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 5, 2006

Trying to stay disciplined and finish Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization before getting any deeper into Wealth of Networks. In Defense… and Why Globalization Works, by Martin Wolf, were two books recommended in the Economist review (req. subscription) of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. In Defense…, as the title advertises, presents the view that globalization is essentially a benign phenomenon with a few unsavory side effects. Ignoring for the moment how far you want to go back in defining globalization (say, back to the slave trade…), it seems to me that at present where you fall in the globalization debate largely depends on whether you are predisposed to see things macroeconomically and in the long-term, or see short term microeconomic effects.

Most days I fall into the former category. I do think in the long term, global economic interaction will be beneficial (as will cultural interactions, but I’ll stick to economics here). That does not discount or excuse the real suffering caused by economic upheaval and the exploitive behavior of some. Real human lives are hurt by these. The damage done by economic upheaval can less certainly be laid at the feet of globalization, though, because as Bhagwati points out this damage must always be measured against the potential harms caused by the lack of global economic activity, which can also be significant.

Exploitive behavior, on the other hand, is often excused as simply being the actions of an unscrupulous few, rather than an effect of the combination of market forces and asymmetrical power relationships. In my view anyway, if you have a situation where any one of a number of rival companies can develop a competitive advantage through immoral behavior, and all have the ability to do so, then the system invites such behavior to take place. And because in the short term, globalization generally creates asymmetrical power relationships, it tends also to create situations that encourage exploitive behaviors.

As I mentioned above, there’s a long history of such occurrences. I just happen to be passing though a section of my novel this morning that gives the back story of Foster’s in-laws, Cora and Luther. Cora is from an old southern family and Luther from a mountain clan:

(( She was southern through-and-through, from the deep south as opposed to Luther’s mountain roots. This might sound like a fine distinction to those not born south of the Mason-Dixon line, but it is a separation of worlds. You can point on a map to the southern states, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and so on down but within those states lies a division between two ways of life; all the way to Georgia, a distinct culture grew up in the mountains, one that had little to do with the plantations of the old south. The mountains allowed no room for big farms, so no real reason to have slaves. With few ways to get in or out of the hollows, little in the way of trade had come to Appalachia, and there was little need for money. If you needed something, you made it yourself.

This independent and vibrant culture had been shattered by the coal barons in the eighteen hundreds, who bought up the land in crooked deals and turned the mountain people over from their self-reliant ways to the indentured servitude of coal mining and dependence on the company store. These conditions largely shaped the outside world’s view of these people as poor, undereducated and prone to violence. With the exception of West Virginia, no one whole state stood entirely within the mountains, and that state did only because the two cultures of old Virginia split along the mountain fault line during the Civil War. The Appalachians lay carved up, small parts of them making up the backwater regions of most states in the south, home to hillbillies and rednecks. ))

Excusing the oversimplifications of the thumbnail history, this is one example of how asymmetrical power relationships allow for exploitation. And one of the chief asymmetries of the time was formal education. The people of the Appalachian were intelligent and highly motivated (you had to be if you wanted to eat in the region) but lacked the formal education that would have given them more sophistication in understanding and resisting the tactics of the coal barons. Of course there were many other political and economic advantages the industrialist held over the indigenous populations, but more education would certainly have helped tremendously to level the field.

Which brings me around to the issue of opencourseware’s role in the globalization issue. Opencourseware, as I see it, can act as a counterbalancing force in asymmetrical powered relationships, providing more information and more options to indigenous populations. By itself, opencourseware won’t cure the ill effects of globalization, but it is a tool that can help develop solutions…

3 Responses

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  1. […] I think it’s worth noting in the scenario I’ve described below that a great many other globalization-related forces now stand in opposition to exploitive behaviors due to asymetrical power relationships.  The media, mass and producer culture, now make it far more difficult for companies and countries to pursue exploitive strategies that are widely considered to be immoral.  In other words, the caveat I’m adding is that it is less and less possible for countries and companies to exploit one another, although in arenas like intellectual property—which are not as accessible to public understanding as, say, child labor—it’s still quite possible.  Even likely. Perhaps certain. […]

  2. […] Bhagwati does finally come around to discussing the issue of international intellectual property laws and trade, and in contrast to his generally upbeat assessment of free trade, he holds a dark opinion here. He tells in much more condensed form the story that is chronicled in Information Feudalism, how pharmaceuticals and media companies grafted IP issues (via TRIPs) onto trade policy, and used trade sanctions and bilateral negotiations as the big stick to coerce countries into accepting really awful intellectual property regimes as the price for trading with the US. Bhagwati’s view is that intellectual property has no place on the WTO agenda. […]

  3. […] I’ll keep you posted as to whether I come up with anything truly profound in following this angle, but in the mean time, it seems to suggest that open educational resources might be part of a rising tide of nonmartket information practices that help control some of the ill effects of globalization, as I have described before. […]


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