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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #32

Chapter 5: Understanding Globalization

There is no doubt that globalization is an idea whose time has come….[But] the fact that [it] has come…does not mean we should sit by and watch as the predators destroy us.

—Mahathir bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia

The one dominant force shaping the world today is globalization. That is, the increasing integration of markets, economies, infrastructures, and other institutions into one world standard. As a consequence, there is increasingly free movement of goods, capital, services, and ideas across borders.

Globalization, observes the World Bank, is not just an economic phenomenon. While the accounting of benefits and costs of globalization depends very much on one’s perspective, there is no question that it is a relentless and inevitable tidal wave. And like any tidal wave, one is more likely to survive and even thrive, if prepared. A non-swimmer will be swept away and drowned, but a skillful surfer will exhilaratingly ride the crest.

The choice then is simply whether you should prepare yourself to be a skillful surfer if not at least a passable swimmer, or let yourself be swept by the tidal flow. Stopping the flood is not one of your options.

While many clamor to join this global mainstream, just as many resist. Globalization is enthusiastically embraced by those steeped in the ways of the new economy and modern technology. Its detractors include such “America first” advocates as Pat Buchanan, as well as the Mahathir’s of the Third World. Such bewildering alliances and confluences reflect the complexity of this phenomenon.

One of the reasons for these diverse coalitions is that globalization is perceived differently by the various constituents both in the West and in the developing world. To American factory workers, it means the loss of their jobs to such places as China and Mexico; to their executives, an opportunity to reduce costs of production. Third World leaders view globalization as surrendering their nation’s sovereignty to multinational corporations; those citizens meanwhile look forward to the job opportunities afforded by these foreign companies. Such conflicting perceptions are understandable as there is no consensus what globalization actually means. That notwithstanding, there is at least a general agreement on what globalization is not.

What Globalization Is Not

Globalization does not mean a single all-powerful world government along the line of a vastly expanded United Nations issuing edicts from New York to remote corners of the world. This is a particular paranoia of American right wing groups who are forever on the look out for black UN helicopters ready to take over their country. Similarly, globalization is not another form of regional cooperation in the fashion of a strengthened Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Nor is it a political and economic entity along the lines of the European Union or a common market like Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement).

Globalization will not mean the decline or end of the nation-state, as some exuberant advocates proclaim and some nationalistic leaders like Mahathir fear. As Peter Drucker, the management guru and respected futurist noted, it will be a greatly changed nation-state that will survive globalization. In particular, totalitarian states that have a tight stranglehold on their citizens will have difficulty maintaining their grip. With the free flow of ideas and information across borders, the state’s propaganda machinery would be effectively neutralized. [Author’s updated note: We are certainly seeing this in Malaysia where the government-controlled mainstream media are losing their credibility and the accompanying rise of independent blogs.]

Globalization will definitely result in major changes in the power relations between and within nations. This can be disorientating to those comfortable with or dependent on the status quo.

Globalization does not mean a decrease in international regulations and rules. This would disappoint those advocates for a minimalist government, On the contrary, in many cases there will be increased rules with respect to human and labor rights, pollution and environmental laws, and international crimes, as the various national agencies will get increasingly coordinated with those across their borders. Thus polluters in Indonesia for example, will face the wrath of not only their countrymen but also neighboring countries. Environmental groups like Greenpeace are now forging global alliances that transcend national and political boundaries.

Lastly, to those who fear that the universe would be turned into a dull monotonous cultural landscape filled with the Madonnas, Michael Jacksons, and other icons and artifacts of the McWorld, globalization will not mean cultural homogenization. The fear of globalization being just another form of Western hegemony or neocolonialism is simply delusional. On the contrary, globalization provides a much-needed leveling of the playing field and gives small fringe cultural groups hitherto isolated in their remote villages or ashram an avenue to expand its influence worldwide.

It is significant that through globalization, the 13th Century Persian poet Jallaludin Al-Rumi is now the most widely read in America. Similarly Sufism, which once was relegated to the margins of Islam and presented to the world only at exotic cultural festivals, is now fast becoming chic in the West. The public library in my small California town now carries at least a dozen books on the subject. And they are always being signed out! The Internet enables Sufism to reach a much wider audience globally.

As more nations adopt and benefit from globalization, the present cultural, economic, and other domination of the West would gradually be eroded. For example, once China becomes prosperous, it too will contribute its share of talent onto the world stage to challenge the supremacy now enjoyed by Americans. Further, once China has the market power comparable to America, manufacturers and marketers will cater to the Chinese tastes and market. And then by sheer momentum, that taste or trend will become universal. The reason America now enjoys supremacy (at least in popular consumer taste) is purely the consequence of it being the largest and most lucrative market. Producers and manufacturers everywhere cater to it. Thus by sheer mass dynamics, the American taste and style become universal.

Next: Earlier Forms Of Globalization

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