Smart Library on Globalization
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The process of globalization involves the globalization of risks. Globalization of risk, misfortune and opportunity carries important implications for the globalization of law.

Globalization of Risk and Misfortune

Legal scholar Lawrence Friedman says that the globalization of risk and misfortune—the internationalization of problems—is an important component in the process of globalizing culture and law.

Friedman notes that while processes that give rise to global problems may have their origin in local events, they may still have global implications. He offers some examples of local problems that become global problems:

  • Population. Friedman says that, at first glance, the birth rate in Kenya is nobody else's business. However, he notes that a population explosion in one part of the world affects the rest of the world because it eats away at global resources and creates instabilities.
  • Genocide. Genocide in Rwanda should not necessarily present a problem in the Netherlands. However, he points out that the emphasis on human rights during the 20th century, “...makes it difficult for the rest of the world to remain indifferent to wholesale slaughter, even if it confines itself to a single country.”
  • Ecology. The demand for some products by consumers in one part of the world might have devastating effects on the flora and fauna in other parts of the world.
  • Health. There is always the danger that some exotic virus will leap from an animal host to human beings in some local setting and be transmitted around the globe.

While transnational risks are nothing new, there are more global risks today than ever.

Global problems, however, demand global solutions. But, there is no clear, consistent way to control, monitor and discipline sovereign nations that are the sources of the problems. This limitation to providing global solutions to global problems calls for hard and enforceable law that covers all nations. But, where would this come from, and how?

Global Risks of Free Trade

The globalization of free trade, may bring many benefits, but it also gives rise to global problems.

Free trade is an institution that presupposes customs, norms, and structures. While this institution may, according to orthodox economics, make everyone better off, Friedman notes that free trade may “do very little to help countries without the means to compete in a free market.” It is not just developing nations who feel the negative effects of free trade. Free trade also threatens to erode wages and protection for workers in the developed countries

Does free trade prop up democracy and good government because they produce stability as well as wealth? Not necessarily.

  • Free trade may, under some conditions, undermine stability and democracy. For instance, when one ethnic group within a country becomes economically dominant, they may command most of the benefits that global business brings to the country. Under such circumstances, development can actually be destabilizing.
  • Economic development may also increase the social and financial distance between rich and poor. While free trade may bring about general prosperity in the long run, impoverished people live in the short term. Twentieth century notions of human rights make it impossible to ignore the damage free trade does to the standard of living of the world’s impoverished peoples.
  • Free trade does not mean the free movement of people. Migration from developing to developed nations brings rich countries an ethnic and racial diversity that they may not want. The free movement of labor, following logically from the notion of free trade, builds pressure in rich countries to tighten laws of immigration and citizenship.
  • Rich and poor countries are prisoners of free trade. Ironically, rich nations may bring the problem of migration upon themselves. Developed countries often want immigrants to take the least desirable jobs. This may lead to a surplus of labor for the more desirable jobs in rich countries. This, in addition to multinational corporations outsourcing manufacturing labor to poorer countries, may lead to higher unemployment and put a strain on the welfare state. So, rich countries may become prisoners of multinational corporations just as much as the poorer countries.

Friedman concludes that the “arguments for free trade are politically and economically powerful—almost beyond challenge.” However, the benefits of free trade do not come without a price. Poorer nations may be exploited or fail to see the financial benefits of a globalized economy. Rich nations may find themselves with higher rates of unemployment and a fear that their “Western” culture is being diluted.

What threatens these cultures—rich and poor—is, in fact, cultural convergence. The problem with the globalization of culture is not simply that the rest of the world becomes like the “West.” Rather, the challenge is that cultures as different as “East” and “West” are converging on something more global and different from anything previously experienced.

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Friedman, Lawrence M. 2001. “Erewhon: The Coming Global Legal Order.” Stanford Journal of International Law 37:347-64.

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