A nostalgic debate on globalization and development

When did talking on the subject of ‘globalization and development’ start to feel so retro? I got that distinct sensation at a lunchtime discussion at IPPR yesterday. The trench warfare of yesteryear – on the WTO, the Doha round, trade liberalization, protectionism etc, has somehow acquired a nostalgic glow. Most odd.

In the room were a random collection of NGOs, think tankers and centre-left types, all chaired by coming man Will Straw (son of Jack), global-worldwho’s chairing a set of discussions leading to a report in January on global governance and globalization. The project is headed by former EU Trade Commissioner and UK Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson and describes its purpose as ‘to re-examine who benefits from globalisation and how a more even distribution of these benefits – both between countries and within countries – can be encouraged.’ Yep, a very last-decade kind of gig.

The ensuing discussion mixed a reprise of some of the topics the NGOs have been banging on about ever since Seattle (1999), (and on which they have largely been proved right), but with some interesting new additions.

The old tunes:

Development is deeply pluralist – different countries follow different paths, involving a wide variety of institutional recipes, with different amounts of state and market; autocracy and democracy etc. But the role of the state is often central, as is technological upgrading to higher value economic activities. Implications? The global system, including aid, must encourage pluralism, not try to narrow it down through aid conditions or imposed rules on trade and investment liberalization or restrictive intellectual property laws. A Global Debate with no right answer is more productive than a Consensus in Washington or anywhere else. (Dani Rodrik was the most-referenced guru).

The ‘new’ ones:

Managing climate change has become a more central litmus test of global governance than trade and investment.

We have to think of the global system as – erm – a system. Is increasing volatility and importance of risk/resilience (eg climate, finance, food prices) a sign that it is too tightly coupled and if so, which connections need to be loosened through the creation of circuit breakers/fire breaks? Complexity and systems theory have become much more prominent in this debate than they were a decade ago (and no wonder, given the financial crisis).

Linked to that emphasis on volatility is a revived focus on shock absorbers – policies and institutions that cushion poor people against shocks, whether personal or societal. That includes social protection, access to finance and insurance, and disaster risk reduction.
Equity is about much more than income – access to environmental goods and services (like the right to emit carbon) is going to be increasingly contested. Pricing carbon may be a sensible way to curb emissions, but only if it doesn’t lead to a world of carbon haves and have-nots.

Globalization_by_Guille3691Global Governance is about much more than a simple shift from G8 to G20. We seem to have ended up with a form of ‘a la carte multilateralism’ – substantial conversations in some areas, paralysed ones in others, and an absence of discussion in the rest. The architecture varies from G-192 (UN) to G-zero (no-one in charge) depending on the issue.

My favourite line? As the UK prepares for its inevitable slide down the global pecking order, it should focus on values, human rights, and good global citizenship – it can start by approaching any foreign policy issue with the question ‘What would Norway do?’

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