IS THE GLOBALIZATION GOOD OR BAD?
GLOBALIZATION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION
MANFRED B. STEGER
Group essay by Sandy (Xiaoqing) and Suong
Globalization is a term that is no longer strange to the world nowadays. It is used and appeared in many aspects from the economy, education, technology till culture and social, etc. Globalization term is brought to use, discuss and debate in meetings, articles, television, radio, books, and even in the textbook in schools.
Specialists, scholars, politicians, teachers, etc. could have the reason to use this term to support their lectures, their speeches, or their thesis more and more. People are talking about and using it every day all over the world, however, do they really understand deeply and totally what the globalization concept is. There is a fact that the concept of globalization still causes many controversies. There is no suitable and accurate explanation about the concept yet because globalization itself needs to be observed and identified multidimensionally while some definitions about the globalization of scholars all over the world could not stand for and express fully the concepts of globalization in terms of its intensification, expansion, and creation.
The book: The globalization: A very short introduction, written by Manfred B. Steger has described: “globalization as a multidimensional set of social processes that create, multiply, stretch, and intensity worldwide social interdependencies and exchanges while at the same time fostering in people a growing awareness of deepening connections between the local and the distant.”
When talking about globalization, we cannot mention only one element in its whole ecosystem, for example about one economic system alone or one country, or an organization alone, but we should consider it as a big concept where its elements are connected as a chain of partial continuum and countries are the center of the chain.
Like the fabled story of 5 blind scholars and an elephant, when each scholar just researched on one part of an elephant but could draw out the judgment on how the elephant’s shape looks like, based on their mental imagination. This fable example refers to that one-sided consideration from only one element of globalization can make our judgment, evaluation, or view to the specific events or things limited, not enough, or even wrong and the scholars can fall into the trap of individual worldview and local mindsets.
Some researchers argue that the economic process is the core of globalization, while others mention that it can be in particular: political, cultural, ideological aspects or environmental processes play the main role of globalization on its own. They just identify correctly one aspect of a phenomenon, not its multidimensional scope.
Typically in Vietnam, when the mass media mentions on their channels globalization, mostly they include just the economic range to the content of their publications. Hence, that causes in the long term the wrong perspective of globalization which most people have perceived as the economic-related aspect.
Does globalization highlight more inequality in the world?
The inequality in the concept of globalization refers to the fact that not everywhere in the world received the even benefits from globalization to access equally to the thickening global networks or infrastructures. On Facebook recently posted a story of an Ethiopia IT teacher, who tried to help his young students approach modern technology from the computer. He has an old laptop that does not start anymore and he used it as a sample for his student to know how a laptop can look like. He taught his students by his drawing of the Microsoft Word display on the blackboard. We can easily see that the uneven development in a globalization connection chain brings mostly the benefit to some partials of the world, especially in the North area while in some areas in the south has a very different picture of globalization.
The rapid growth of the world economy by the effect of globalization deepens more inequality in many parts of the world. It means that the poor may become poorer while the rich will be richer or the differentiation between men and women is extended even larger. This polarization is the potential danger to the democracy of the world, raising more violence, racism, terrorism, etc. which can operate and develop in the way of globalization connecting as its whole and therefore can multiply the damage of the danger to the world. Osama bin Laden is a particular example to tell the story of this danger caused by global differentiation. It is not simply a story of a terrorist leader, but it implicates the fact of how globalization brings a chance or support to the terrorism system which is considered to be an old-dated system and be against the modern development of the world. This book by Manfred B. Steger has pointed out the modern traces on the propaganda video of Osama bin Laden and impressed his readers by the fact of how the things that Osama bin Laden wore on his body like the luxurious watch on his wrist and the Russian origin clothes or like other things he used in the video like the connecting technology tools could prove that globalization has been supporting the development of terrorism on the world.
Based on the Gini index, which reflects the inequality in income or wealth in a country or a group of people, will show how much the unbalancing of the number of the rich and poor or if the values are distributed evenly to each person or not within that community. The Gini ratio of Zero means that everyone in that community has the same income and the Gini ratio of One (or 100%) means only one possesses all incomes or consumption when others have none. According to Oxfam’s annual report on inequality, 2,153 billionaires in the world have more assets than 4.6 billion people and 1% of the richest people in the world have twice the wealth of the other 6.9 billion.
The economic dimension of globalization
Globalization is an uneven transformation process and affects differently to the people in various areas of the world. Under the globalization flow, the global economic trade relationship has been intensifying and extending. By that, the flow of capital and technology has aroused the development of trading in goods and services. The markets are not limited inside a country anymore but started to reach out of the borders like a powerful hose, connecting continuously to the other economies or markets. This leads to the creation of new global economic order when the differentiation and division of labor, values, as well as benefits between countries, have become sharper. There are more and more multinational companies extending their business activities by moving the manufacturing, technology background, or operating systems to other countries. For instance, the manufacturing activities moved mostly to the areas of developing countries where there is a big amount of labor and the salary per person is lower. These multinational companies are considered as main players in the globalization of the economy and to support equal development, free trade agreements have been formed to guarantee fair competition across the countries where the institutions of the countries must follow the same rules of the global game. That means if the country would like to join the global market economy, they must build up a transparent policy system to make sure every player involved in their economic ecosystem is treated fairly.
Overall, free trade guarantees to offer more options of products and services for buyers which reduces the power of exclusiveness of some companies on the market, increasing the productivity and wealth globally, enhancing more connections among the economic relationships, support for the technology development and transformation in the global range, as well as creating the specialization to the technology for the workforce.
How does free trade affect the environment?
Free trade for sure will create more pressure on its participants which requires them to follow the fair play game while still creating more competitive advantages for their business on the markets like offering better prices with higher quality. Usually, the bigger companies will take more advantages in dealing to find more quality goods sources with cheaper prices when they order a big amount of quantity, together with the optimized manufacturing system, etc., they can save costs to reduce the selling price of the products. However, the smaller companies must struggle harder to compete and create outstanding values for their products. The issue about sustainable development must be put on the scale to the profit issue to survive and to avoid being swallowed by the shark companies. Thinking of the environment means adding cost to the selling price. These competitive concerns also affect the decision of the government who is willing to move to relax the monitoring and enforcement of environmental regulations to prioritize economic development. On the other hand, the government also will create a supportive environment in order to entice and retain the multinational companies in their country, despite the red alarms related to pollution or environmental damage.
Rigid regulations in order to protect the environment, human health, food safety, and wildlife protection usually clash with trade rules. Those who are against free trade have also criticised strongly that the removal of ignorance of social control mechanisms has lowered the global labor standards, caused severe forms of ecological degradation, and increased the indebtedness of the global.
The Culture Dimension of Globalization
Cultural globalization is concerned with “the symbolic construction, articulation, and dissemination of meaning”(Steger, 2003). In daily life, language, music, images, etc., are the main forms of meaning expression and are particularly important in the cultural field. When our lives are surrounded by foreign stuff such as McDonald’s, Hollywood movies, western pop music, etc., have you ever thought about how it makes people all over the world become more similar or more different? Does globalization threaten cultural diversity?
In Steger’s book, a group of commentators points out western multinational corporations control the production and distribution of cultural products, which includes prints, music, TV programs, visual arts, movies, photography, radio, fashion, etc. And cultural globalization is seen as dominated by western cultural industries, with cities such as New York, Hollywood, London, and Milan as bases, spreading this popular commodity culture to all parts of the world. Globalization has brought about the convergence of global culture. With the spread of British and American values and consumer goods, the world is “Americanizing”. One example is the term “McDonaldization” which has been used to describe the expansion of “fast-food culture” to different parts of the world and different industries. It makes the principles of efficiency, standards, and manipulation more and more the indicators to replace local cultures. In order to expand the market, multinational companies adopt the same advertising and promote the same products and are committed to creating a single standard and single taste all over the world. They dominate the cultural trends in the world market. As a result, local small companies are eliminated. Some critics believe that local culture and inherent values will also be eliminated. Instead, the western lifestyle will be expanded all over the world, and also attracting people from all over the world to the single market of western cultural industries. They describe the scene after globalization where all parts of the world will become closer, as everyone is watching the same TV shows and Hollywood movies, and eating the same fast food.
Optimists highlight that more identities have been produced, which is a good thing. They call themselves a group of cosmopolitans. The pioneer believes that or enthusiastic about the free market and supporting the values of global consumer capitalism. Internet technology has played a big role in cultural convergence. Steger believes both two attitudes are reasonable. Contemporary living and behavioral experiences that cross-cultural boundaries mean both the loss of traditional meanings and the emergence of new symbolic expressions. Culture has caused a significant change in people’s consciousness.
In April 1992, the first McDonald’s fast-food restaurant in Beijing opened. It was the world’s largest McDonald’s restaurant at the time, with more than 700 seats and 29 cash registers. It received more than 40,000 customers on the day it opened. At first, the golden arches, which represent the United States, represented a fashion in China, an experience chased by young people, and even luxury for second-and third-tier cities. It also represents a cultural invasion. At that time, there were a lot of such controversies in the Chinese media. “Are we admiring foreigners?” “The Chinese food culture for thousands of years is not as good as a hamburger, a glass of Coke, and a bag of French fries in front of young people?” Many people worry that Chinese food culture will be replaced by Western food in this way. The door to China has been opened. After seeing McDonald’s efficient operation and globalization strategy, advanced management, and business concepts, China’s food industry and even public opinion have felt a great impact and threat.
In 2008, the 1,000th McDonald’s in Mainland China opened in Dongguan, Guangdong. By 2009, McDonald’s had opened 110 branches in Beijing. As of February 2020, there are more than 3,500 McDonald’s restaurants in Mainland China, serving more than 1 billion customers each year and having more than 180,000 employees. At present, the mainland of China has become the world’s second-largest market for McDonald’s, the fastest growing market in the world, and the world’s largest franchise market outside the United States. The globalization strategy of McDonald’s seems to be successful in China, so what kind of influence has it brought to Chinese culture?
As we all know, fast and cheap are the two characteristics of fast-food restaurants. When McDonald’s first entered China, it was called “luxury foreign fast food” as the price wasn’t cheap at that time compared with other Chinese restaurants. But the smiling service, standard food price, friendly environment, and superior location make it different from other dining places and let people easily accept this foreign fast food. It was trendy for young people to eat in McDonald’s, wear Nike gear, and listen to the Sony Walkman those years. It seems that people can get a status symbol by eating there. While Chinese people were gradually accepting this foreign fast-food culture, McDonald’s also adjusted their business strategy. In order to adapt to all social strata and people of all ages in China, McDonald’s localized their strategy to make it become a place where people can “hang out”. Visit McDonald’s, take a drink or a bag of French fries, chi-chat, read the newspaper, gossip with friends, or even job interview, people can sit for half an hour, or longer. American fast food is obviously slowing down in China. Many people think that McDonald’s is a symbol of leisure, and they go to McDonald’s to relax. Thus, McDonald’s in China is neither cheap nor “fast”. However, they adjusted their marketing methods, products, and services in response to different local cultures to the needs of different markets. There are two examples of McDonald’s and KFC’s localization. McDonald’s and KFC launch Chinese breakfast and sell them in the form of standardized fast food packages (Figure 1 Source:https://www.smzdm.com/p/22589573/, http://www.5ikfc.com/kfc/huolizaocan/). KFC adopts the Minnan-style traditional architectural style for their restaurant (Figure 2 Source:http://www.rejuu.com/news/hot/188648.html).
Figure 1. Localized MacDonald’s and KFC Breakfast options (China)
In the early days of McDonald’s entering China, the turnover of the domestic catering market was less than 1billion us dollars. In 2017, it was close to a 586billion us dollar. During this period, Chinese food culture was not westernized, western fast food has not been expelled from the Chinese market either. Precisely this kind of interaction between local culture and global culture increased cultural creativity and cultural diversity (Yan，1997). They have broadened the people’s eyes, increased the selections, and they have also allowed local catering businesses to learn new concepts and integrate local culture to build new Chinese fast-food eras.
Figure 2. KFC in Chinese architecture (China)
Local communities usually give new cultural meanings to foreign cultural products, which means that local communities do not passively accept the influence of foreign and global cultures. Apart from resistance, absorption is another main method. Generally speaking, foreign products and ideas will be incorporated into the local cultural framework and reinterpreted (Wassestrom, 2003). This coincides with Steger’s opinion which implies when western cultural products are transformed into local cultures, no one is going to be replaced. In contrast, they will be integrated into the inherent cultural life.
As Steger told, globalization has brought many great changes to the world such as giving development opportunities to developing countries. However, globalization has also been challenged in many ways. On the economic level, it is not as some people claim, everyone will benefit from this set of social processes. The so-called “free trade”, whether the profits generated are fairly distributed within and among countries remains unclear. What is more, global investors often use the fragile systems of finance and banking to make huge profits from emerging markets in developing countries. The Matthew effect brought about by the free market (the rich get richer, the poor get poorer) and global economic inequality have to make people question the idealized image of globalization. At the political level, the self-determination rights of nation-states are increasingly being influenced or even influenced by huge multinational corporations, and multinational corporations often have their own political forces behind them. In the post-colonial era, is colonization proceeding in a more concealed manner? On the cultural level, in the face of a strong Western culture, where should the local culture go? It is a test for people living in a weak culture. Should they embrace Western culture and deny local culture, or should they absorb and retain some?
Although I don’t fully know the background knowledge which was stated by Steger, I will use China as an example to describe some of the phenomena. On the economic level, China’s economic growth has benefited from China’s reform and opening-up policy and the pushing of globalization. At the same time, the price is heavy. Economic development in many places is at the expense of the health of one or several generations. Western multinational corporations have just used the imperfect or corrupted supervision systems of developing countries to build many industrial factories that cause heavy pollution in China and other developing countries, such as textile and garment factories, paper factories, shoe factories, and etc. Driven by monetary benefits, the government and multinational corporations controlled the domestic economic trend. The water pollution, air pollution, food pollution, soil pollution is already severe. Despite this, the government always reports good news and ignores the bad ones.
Cultural globalization spreads consumerism, advocates consumption as the core, and establishes a set of life attitudes and values that are compatible with consumption and tends to pursue consumption as fashion which is also called “McWorld” (Barber, 1995). As fact stated in the book, the population of the United States is only 6% of the world, but it needs to consume 30-40% of the world’s natural resources. By the influence of such consumerism, many people in China are unscrupulous in pursuit of benefits, even at the expense of consumers’ health. The 2008 Chinese milk scandal is a typical example of a food safety incident. Meanwhile, by the time the world’s major luxury brands entered China, the gap between the rich and the poor became more visible. For a long time, China’s wealthy people were keen to buy luxury houses overseas. The luxury homes and cars in the distant western movies are no longer a dream. Some rich people are enjoying showing off their wealth. So that ordinary people are willing to spend money to organize a group to take pictures in places where the rich have stayed deliberately to create an atmosphere of showing off their wealth.
Under the premise of maximizing benefits driven by globalization, the working conditions of factory workers have also been compressed to the extreme. Although the factory will not actively require employees to work overtime, fewer working hours means fewer wages. Young people who come from the countryside for the purpose of making money are willing to work 7 days a week, more than 10 hours a day. Similar condition for office workers, ”996” is the unwritten rules which means you have to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and six days per week.
Globalization has different impacts on different individuals, different groups, and different nations. What is certain is that globalization promotes economic development and integration, promotes cultural exchanges, and cultural identity. The western countries, which dominate globalization, have the obvious advantage. As a developing country under globalization, it is more crucial to find its own rules and make choices. Putting people first, protecting our natural resources can increase the benefits of globalization. Like Steger said in the end, from possibility to reality, it often takes the efforts of several generations, not overnight.
Steger, M. B.(2003). Globalization: A very short introduction. London: Oxford University Press.
Barber, B. R.(1995). Jihad vs. McWorld: How globalism and tribalism are reshaping the world.
McDonald’s in China for 28 years: Luxury “foreign fast food” has become “daily”: http://www.xinhuanet.com/2018-09/28/c_1123493606.htm
The terrible McDonald’s: Consumerism in China
YanY. 1997 McDonald’s in Beijing
Wasserstrom, J. N.(2003). “A Mickey Mouse approach to globalization” Yale Global Online, June 16 Issue.