Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Reshaping globalization for all

Globalization 4.0 must offer a new narrative to replace neoliberalism, which has caused rampant inequality and climate disaster

By Winnie Byanyima

Illustration: Lance Liu

Imagine a world in which women and girls have their rights respected, climate change receives the attention it so urgently requires and poverty has been eliminated.

Never before have we had the means that we have now to make this vision a reality. In Africa, for example, I am excited to see how off-grid solar energy is expanding rapidly. In Kenya, mobile banking has significantly improved financial inclusion, particularly for poor women.

These and other technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) have the potential to boost productivity, incomes and leisure time for workers, while also decarbonizing our economies and freeing women from the hold of unremunerated care work, but to realize this potential, we will have to adopt an entirely new approach to globalization.

The World Economic Forum’s theme for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next month is “Globalization 4.0,” which comprises many of the competing narratives shaping our world. In the dominant narrative of the past 40 years, GDP was king and countries pursued deregulation, loosened capital controls, cut corporate taxes and liberalized their labor markets.

The eruption of popular anger that has roiled many countries’ politics is rooted in the failure of that neoliberal model, but there is no economic law requiring globalization to be a race to the bottom. On the contrary, for humanity to have any hope at all, Globalization 4.0 must break with neoliberalism for good.

I fear that business and government elites gathering in Davos do not seem to have grasped this fully. Until they do, globalization will continue to fuel inequality and sow discontent around the world.

Rising inequality threatens much of the progress that we have made over the past half-century. While the world’s richest 1 percent took home 82 percent of all new wealth last year, the World Bank reported that the “decline in poverty rates has slowed, raising concerns about achieving the goal of ending poverty by 2030.”

Even more shocking, extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is actually increasing, and almost half of all people worldwide are one medical bill or crop failure away from destitution.

These realities will persist as long as billionaires in Silicon Valley, Africa and elsewhere are writing the future narrative of globalization. We need new stories to challenge the “status quo.”

Consider that of Budi, a shrimp-processing worker in Southeast Asia who must peel 950 shrimp per hour to earn a minimum wage. It would take Budi more than 5,000 years to earn what a US supermarket CEO makes in one year.

Or consider the women farmers in my village of Ruti, Uganda, who wonder if economic growth will ever result in free, quality education for their kids.

Rich countries owe much of their prosperity to universal education, but in developing countries around the world, fees charged by for-profit schools are driving families deeper into poverty.

One person whose story must be heard is Berta Caceres, an Aboriginal-rights leader in Honduras who was assassinated in March 2016 for resisting a destructive hydroelectric dam project. Last month, a court ruled that Caceres’ murder was carried out with the knowledge and consent of executives from Desa, the corporation behind the dam.

When globalization has no rules or referees, the bullies will always win. Even research by the IMF shows that financial globalization has led to “significant increases in inequality,” as has increased trade in some developing countries.

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