Sunday, September 20, 2009

Globalization, leap-frogs, and Wal-Mart

This week’s articles provided a thought-provoking look into what led to globalization and how it may both benefit and hurt various groups and nation-states. From shedding light on the development of organizations like Intelsat (after years of passing their Oz-like office in Van Ness, I now know what it is!) to adding detail background to the Wal-Mart debate, both Hanson and Sinclair provided a solid framework for understanding the various players in globalization.

Hanson’s discussion of globalization notes the search for “greater efficiency and competitive advantage” by the dominant MNCs that has led to production processes being split between many countries. In many ways, this sounds incredibly efficient, and seems like a good way to draw upon the talents of individual nation-states. Indeed, she mentions later that this trend has allowed small and medium enterprises to even be considered for participation in production processes. I wondered, though, how this is affecting the overall growth of each nation. If a nation is identified as a provider of merely one step in the production process, and remains pigeon-holed into this (potentially non-skilled) step, is that really progress? Additionally, there is no mention of the environmental impact of such “efficiency”. By the time many products have been completed, various parts have been shipped from all over the globe, with little attention paid to the energy used. With artificial or subsidized energy prices, how can we really know what is going into the creation of something like a car, with parts from multiple countries?

On the other hand, I was encouraged to see the opportunities for many countries that have missed out on past technological innovations to “leap-frog” into current technologies. The cell phone provides the perfect example: without taking the time and incredible cost to install the infrastructure needed to install land lines, many nations are now able to communicate efficiently and relatively affordably through cell phones. This example is currently being pushed in other areas, too – in seeking ways to provide electricity to remote areas, environmental organizations are working to leap-frog coal and other methods and create systems of renewable energy for these villages. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, these systems can empower villages to own their own energy and be freed from energy poverty at low cost.

Finally, Marjorie Ferguson’s theory provided a realistic analysis of the advances in technologies. In short, just because something exists doesn’t mean it is useful for all groups. She acknowledges that in the cases of MNCs, bigger is not necessarily better, and in terms of TV channels, more is not necessarily better. The various theories presented throughout the articles helped show the nuance in the globalization debate, and, significantly, how various nations are working to maintain power over their role in globalization.

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