Democracy in Globalized World

Democracy in Globalized WorldTony Blair, former British PM, in his memoir “The Journey” Sept 2010, said: “My conclusion, strangely, is not that the power of politics is needed to liberate the people; but that the power of people is needed to liberate the politics.”

The debate on the growth of democracy in the context of globalization has been in vogue for over a decade now. Globalization effects on democracy have received much attention time and again, though there is STILL little consensus about what precisely those effects are – positive or negative – or how they can and should be handled.

Most commentators on globalization assume that the democratic welfare state is in a crisis and that globalization is undermining the very possibility of maintaining, let alone expanding, the egalitarian principles of state. For many, a robust democratically governed welfare state is unimaginable in a world of increasing global economic competitiveness and capital mobility.

Then, the question is: for whom is the “globalization” meant to serve – human development or development without humans? Critics are divided among those who propose cosmopolitan solutions and those who favor reinvigorating democracy at the national, sub-national, regional and local levels. Remember, countries like Sweden remained long time as a model (of democratic socialism) of good welfare state for its people, while being sufficiently advanced industrially and in technology with significant global presence. The most well known and respected former UN Secretary General “Dag Hammarskjold” was a great Swedish national and whose contribution toward world peace and harmony has been greatly acknowledged, and still cherished and remembered.

It is necessary not to forget that the debate about globalization is primarily all about trade, business, investment and finance, and how to make more material wealth at the expense of someone else who is less clever and whose social conditions continue to remain at the bottom of the scale. And the politics of it seems less to do enhancing the status of ordinary people, still struggling at a very subsistence level, or to do with any idea of equity and fairness, but more for the benefit and profit of those who are clever manipulator at playing this global game and make more wealth by serving their dedicated clients. Countries like Japan may probably prefer to expend their time, energy and resources to build more humanoids to ease looming labour shortages in their greying nations, so they can continue to trade and maintain the homogeneity of their race and culture. Japan gained wealth and #2 economic super power status through the 80s and 90s of hard work, loyalty and practical inventions/adaptations of original ideas marketed globally, but going through decade and over recession, due to failure in its political and socio-economic management in the face of an ageing population.

However, if one looks deeply into the matter, globalization has always been the characteristic of “nature” and it is always in place and functioning well since the planet was created or arrived. Saying in spiritual or philosophical parlance: there is an order in the universe and this order never goes out-of-order. It seems to be going “out-of-order” because we humans go out-of-order, never keeping a sense of respect and equanimity for the rest of the beings on this plant, be they nature’s basic elements or living beings.

Understand “nature’s” five basic elements – air, water, earth, fire and space (ether) – are in fact globalized commodities since eternity and given “free” to sustain life on earth. If these were not given and/or not functioning, one can easily imagine the consequences. Isn’t it true? No living being could have survived to this day to fight in the name of the present-day new “globalization” aspects and impact. Similarly, the climate and climate changes, diseases, parasites, virus, bacteria and other germs are long ago globalized without any UN, international treaty, convention or agreement. Can we afford to neglect any of these “natural” (or seasonal) occurrences, except at our own peril? We are still researching into these happenings to find the root cause(s) and try to prevent, eradicate or manage their widespread NEGATIVE impacts to humans and other living beings, and the environment.

Thus, one would desire that globalization per se should be about global development based on agreed principles of equity and justice – including development at the local, national, regional, and inter-regional levels – empowering people to confront and reduce global poverty, inequality and the violence that they breed. Hence, globalization perceives active involvement not just business and corporate interests, but the whole of civil society, including philosophers and non-philosophers having an important role in meeting this challenge. It should necessarily include both short and long term vision of ethically-appropriate social changes, and our development gurus to assess present institutional arrangements and improvements necessary supported by local, national, and global policies.

Having lived through the changes in my country during the past 10+ years both in the urban and rural communities, it seems that contrary to popular perceptions, globalization renders governments and civil society more, not less, as important agents of change and actors for managing its associated risks and opportunities. The development process in general, and globalization in particular, fundamentally and necessarily changes both civil society and its relations with fellow beings and government, but this transformation need not entail conformity, enmity, coercion, or cultural homogenization. In the writer’s view, the best tool and safeguard against negative effects of globalization is increasing public awareness, fully supported and strengthened by good education and equal opportunities to self-development and prosperity. When people become interested in their surroundings and empowered with knowledge, real education and true development take place. It is possible to develop reliable performance indicators (outcomes) once we have in place necessary institutional arrangements and infrastructure to mange different sectors of human progress including sets of skills and potential for progress.

A dynamic civil society endowed with education and conscious of social contract accountability IS vital for debating the many difficult issues associated with integration into the global economy at different levels, and for empowering people in domestic constituencies to press for appropriate institutional and policy reforms. Supporting evidence is available in different forms and places.

One can probably suppose that the Right to Information and Right to Education, as legal rights of citizens, however feebly implemented right now, are likely to move the society toward better living conditions, equipped to handle changes easily. Key for this is better education, health, safe environment and reliable transport and communication.

In the writer’s understanding “globalization” has always been a part of human psyche. In fact, acts of dreaming and imagination without limit are a part of the globalized human traits. In the past, it was not possible to understand its importance and preponderance because of distance, geographical and communication barriers, cultural diversities in human behaviour and last, but not the least, the forms and styles of governance in different countries. Science and technological advancements during the past decades greatly helped to break these barriers; often making such hurdles, obstacles and blockages meaningless.

We now have a wealth of knowledge and information in global best practices in any department of life, freely available for adoption and enhancement.

Starting from 20th century, driven by rapid advances in the transportation and communication technologies, and with the knowledge and spread of democratic governance, west to east, east to north and south, people choosing its leaders and representatives to manage their national affairs, it is definitely possible to derive full benefits for the people from the current wave of globalized trade and economy. The question is just “how” and by what means – can we make the whole or majority population to enjoy the fruits of the globalization benefits in real democratic governance? Also, we need to have necessary safeguards in place, lest there is a danger of vested interests lacking integrity, but powerful to reap the maximum benefits, leaving only residuum to those in the bottom of the society.

Countries like China have shown practical vision and strategies, and proved their determined efforts to reap the benefits in a “one party” totalitarian system and build enormous resources to become #2 world economic super power. But, we all know, this progress did not come cheaply, but at the expense of some of the basic human rights – e.g. right to free speech, expression and opinion, and right to dissent without fear and repression.

On the other side of this equation, democratic countries like India have enhanced their industrial and economic growth thanks to globalization of trade and economy, with sufficient liberalization and privatization process out of sheer economic compulsions of the 90s – bankruptcy lurking in the corner. However, because of the lack or absence of suitable institutional and political framework to handle the liberalization and its “open-door” economic activities, the benefits from such expansion and growth are largely going to the so called established entrepreneurial and educated middle classes. Thus the packets of poverty with large sections of poor, vulnerable and marginalised population growing helplessly during the past decade or so, as these groups remaining untouched by the new wealth and material prosperity.

It is clear that in the context of inefficient ineffective governance and misguided/mismanaged institutional arrangements, democracies could become lackeys of greedy and corrupt politico-bureaucrat-corporate nexus. They capture the new opportunities for their own self-aggrandizement and fail to deliver any values to ordinary common people that globalization promised. This situation is turning into so called democratic totalitarianism as a new business model with focus not on good governance but “election win” and to occupy the seat of power at any cost. This model has developed so many devious strategies to thrive as long as uneducated and half-educated masses, who remain poor, can be fooled by pre-election promised and freebies like free colour TV sets to water buckets to stash of fresh currency notes tugged in milk pouches and delivered to each of the houses in the economically weaker sections of the society. This is called “politics of poverty” and it pays. The so called educated middle and upper class of the population remain silent and indifferent spectators of this growing malism and tragedy.

There is no gainsaying that increasing international economic openness certainly poses some challenges to the democracy, but the notion that the democratic welfare state is in danger is a myth. It is not based on what is actually happening at the ground level.

From a democratic perspective, the welfare state may not necessarily be helpful or harmful per se. But remember it is the responsibility of the state to ensure equity and justice to all sections of its citizens – stronger and weaker. We must explore the ways in which welfare state programs, where necessary, can help a healthy democratic polity based on a meaningful degree of citizen efficacy in directing the course of their lives. We must examine just how the welfare state can be good for democracy and take full advantage of globalized financial, economic and trade activities, without undermining the rule of law. Such a situation should promote growth opportunities and individual efforts to improve his/her economic status, collaborative efforts and creativity to wealth creation. And all these take place in a caring and sharing society. It is only such an analysis can expose the frictions and gaps in the governance mechanism, how democratic it is for the people served and challenges of the inevitable march of globalized economies.

In the final analysis, it is believed that the following important elements are key to sustaining good democratic values in the context of globalization, which willy-nilly can neither be wished away, nor will humans ever want to go back in times and live and die in caves or cocoons:

  1. As globalization offers and encourages competitiveness, good democratic governance should assume the effective role of regulator and ensure that the whole process engenders collaborative creativity and cooperative framework wherein no one community or group or individual is left out in enjoying equal opportunities for progress and development.
  2. It is the responsibility of democratic governance to remain watchful and stop exploitation in any form, in violation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
  3. Rule of Law should not only be based on human dignity and worth, but seen to be fair and equitable and enforced as such without any discrimination and in a timely fashion. Justice is what is required, not judgement based on individual or collective bias.
  4. Social contract and its governance, be it with the state, state-run institutions or private enterprises, must be subject to the universally accepted principles of transparency, efficiency, professional integrity, and last but not the least, total accountability. Employing technologies like TEAMS (Total Efficiency Accountability Management System) introduced by former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani should become a normal practice in all departments dealing with the common citizens and their welfare. E-governance should be the norm for all state and public sector institutions, their performance in dealing with public should be transparent and subject to fair reward and punishment.
  5. International Organizations like UN, UNICEF, etc. should work seriously in their mission goals to promote all ways and means to spread and sustain democracy as a workable model of human progress. Two recent encouraging examples to promote democracy based on equity and justice:
    – The initiative of Hillary Clinton on the Global Alliance for Clean Cook-stoves is a new public-private partnership to provide energy to rural communities and keep pollution low.
    – UNICEF field research findings on the cost effectiveness and efficacy of delivering services directly to the poor in the remote rural and difficult accessible areas, as opposed to taking easy path of serving the urban poor and easy reach communities in the sub-urban areas. The study showed significant reduction in infant and maternal mortality rates as well as improvement in nutrition levels and health standards.
  6. There should be real separation of powers, responsibility and accountability between different branches of governance – legislative, executive, and judiciary including law enforcement.
  7. Zero tolerance for corruption and inefficiency. Since performance-based-pay seems impossible in a governmental set up, monitoring and evaluation of all public service departments should be strengthened, done every year and results made public. Culture of “no free lunch” should be encouraged.
  8. Given federalism in the management of state/zonal units within a country, encourage healthy competitive spirit toward development and progress among the states or zones, etc. and make annual progress reports available at the public domain to enhance accountability and ownership among the citizens.

* Source: Academic research papers, case studies by a number of reputed socio-educational institutions, official public documents of UN agencies and IBRD (World Bank), and personal experience observing and understanding the life changes in the urban and rural areas of southern India since 1990s (which remains a watershed for the economic liberalization and privatization regime in India).

V. Muthuswami, Chennai, India.
UN Retiree Activist Group striving for justice in the UN.

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