Acton Institute Powerblog

Promises and perils of globalization

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Thomas P.M. Barnett has written a good, concise, piece on the consolidation and deepening of globalization, specifically Wal-Mart’s tapping into local producers in developing countries. (HT: Real Clear World)

As far as I can tell, there are no Wal-Mart’s in Italy, but having spent the last three weeks at my parents’ home in Flint, Michigan and shopping at places like Wal-Mart and Target, I can clearly see how far behind the curve Italy is.

While family-run boutiques and the slow-food movement have many things to recommend for body and soul, they simply can’t operate at anywhere near the same level of efficiency. Religious leaders can help us understand and better cope with these changes if they regularly read pieces like Barnett’s.

For a fuller picture of the world today, however, the economic perspective does not suffice. I arrived in Michigan just before the failed attempt by a Nigerian trained in Yemen to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. This near-miss and Anne Applebaum’s piece on the growing international jihadist elite remind us the globalization also includes expanding networks of Islamist hatred and violence, which religious leaders must, indeed are most responsible for, addressing with the utmost seriousness and urgency, even though this is a battle that will be fought for generations.

What’s needed is not just understanding and empathy for “the other” as university intellectuals would have it, but argument and counterargument, as Applebaum says. There is too much going on in the world and too much at stake for well-intentioned believers to remain on the sidelines.

Kishore Jayabalan Kishore Jayabalan is director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute's Rome office. Formerly, he worked for the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. Kishore Jayabalan earned a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In college, he was executive editor of The Michigan Review and an economic policy intern for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He worked as an international economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. and then graduated with an M.A. in political science from the University of Toronto. While in Toronto, Kishore interned in the university's Newman Centre, which led to his appointment to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. Two years later, he returned to Rome to work for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the Holy See's lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. As director of Istituto Acton, Kishore organizes the institute's educational and outreach efforts in Rome and throughout Europe.


  • I’m not so sure I follow Mr. Jayabalan’s piece but I think he’s getting at what many business people see as the benefits of QS9000 and its string of quality standards that have made some product assurance possible in a world of suppliers. But basic to those “we will do it this way” promises is the common and clear understanding of what a promise is and that it has lingering meaning.

    Today in The Wall Street Journal Rebecca MacKinnon writes about Google’s China gambit with the truth. When Google was allowed to enter the Chinese market, they went along with a censorship provision that is now becoming less attractive to their bigger angels. How will Google proceed? Will they cry out to China a la Al Pacino “You can’t handle the truth,” or go along with the lies. Stay tuned.

    All the while we here in the United States should not be smug. Last year Obama’s team at the National Endowment for the Arts were caught in a scheme to flower up everything the NEA funded with pro-Obama panache. And the little Obama minions at the FCC are putting forth their own version of China’s web intrusion with schemes to fund “underserved” regions of the populace so as to continue the praises to their own king.

    As for Wal-Mart: Mr. Jayabalan puts great value in “efficiency” and there’s no question that process improvement weighs big with me. In Los Angeles with strip malls and shopping centers all over the place, a store like Wal-Mart gets lost in the maze of choices. But in small towns like Hillsdale, Michigan and Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia the Wal-Mart sucks the life out of a quaint downtown. And makes the word efficiency empty when measured against the “for lease” signs on the fronts of what were friendly and knowledgeably maintained shops where the inventory was not measured only in skus.

    To paraphrase Ms. MacKinnon’s conclusion: history will reveal to the [American] people who their real friends have been.

  • Jenn

    Ken – I think you had some great points in your response, well demonstrated with your contrast of the benefits (or lack thereof) Wal-Mart brings to cities within our own country, like a LA and a Hillsdale. I think simply focusing on how much more efficient we are in the U.S. with our mega-shopping is completely missing the point of living life entirely. And contrasting my hometown Flint, MI to most cities, towns, and villages in Italy is a joke! Is the obesity, heart attack, unemployment and depression rates in this country (especially in Flint, MI) worth being more efficient in buying worthless items we don’t need to cover up or hide from much larger issues in our life? Give me the slow movement and inefficiency of Italy any day over that misery. Oh, and by the way, the quote from “A Few Good Men” (you can’t handle…” was the great Jack Nicholson NOT Al Pacino. Something that works very efficiently is Google. Use it.

  • My point wasn’t so much about Wal-Mart and its business practices but about the “promises and perils of globalization”, especially as viewed by religious leaders. I should have made this point more clearly at the beginning of the blog post.

    I found the Barnett piece worth reading because it says that rather than a reversal of globalization in response to the financial crisis and recession, we are seeing its consolidation and deepening. I doubt that most religious leaders would think that this is actually happening, so I mentioned it.

    I wasn’t simply praising efficiency but since I live in Rome, I can see the trade-offs. Trust me, you will value efficiency much more after you have to work in a place that doesn’t value it very much. Italy has many qualities and is great for vacations and leisurely lunches, less so for getting things done.

    The comparison between Flint and Rome was made just because I happened to be home for Christmas but I guess that point was lost as well.

    The second story on the jihadist elite also shows that globalization is not going away anytime soon, so religious leaders had better start to address how to deal with it rather than bemoan or ignore it. Terrorists and innovative businesses understand the process much better than most of us and are moving at a completely different speed. That is what I was trying to say.

  • Neal Lang

    “Will they cry out to China a la Al Pacino ‘You can’t handle the truth,’ or go along with the lies. Stay tuned.”

    Actually it was Jack Nicholson in “A Few GooD Men.”

  • Neal Lang

    “And contrasting my hometown Flint, MI to most cities, towns, and villages in Italy is a joke! Is the obesity, heart attack, unemployment and depression rates in this country (especially in Flint, MI) worth being more efficient in buying worthless items we don’t need to cover up or hide from much larger issues in our life?”

    I could survive on pasta, red wine, olive oil and bread, however, if Europe had relied on the Italians to stem the Reds of the 1940-50s they would have seen the Iron Curtain drop on the East bank of the English Channel. As for unemployment rates, Italy’s was substantially higher than the US unemployment throughout the 2000s until 2008.

    BTW, who forces you to live in Flint, anyway? Why not emmigrate to Italy and enjoy life?

  • Roger McKinney

    As Mises often pointed out capitalism is production for the masses, which means mass production. There is no way to reduce the cost of living other than through mass production, which means large businesses who can achieve efficiencies and economies of scale. An economy with nothing but mom and pop boutiques is a poor economy. Because of its efficiencies, WalMart has improved the lives of the poor who shop there dramatically, far more than any government program ever did.

    As for WalMart crushing the quaintness of small towns, better highways and cars did far more damage than WalMart. I lived for 13 years in a small town 1 1/2 hrs from a metro area, most of the time without a WalMart. Every weekend the town was a ghost town because everyone fled to the metro areas to shop and eat out. When a WalMart finally came to town, it kept some of that money in town and benefitted the town’s taxes enormously.