What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Globalization and its Discontents"

OK, so what do I mean by globalization? Well, everybody uses that term these days, at least people "in the know," but rarely is it used in a consistent, explicit way. Yes, I know the title of this posting is not original. I stole it from Joseph Stiglitz, who wrote a book about it. But Stiglitz pretty much limited himself to the very large issue of economic globalization. Admittedly, the term is very much associated with economics and finance, and economics is a key driver of other forms of globalization. Economic globalization often focuses on the economic benefits or inequalities of the globalization process, thus its "discontents." From that, you get people and organizations that are "for" or "against" globalization. You get the globalizers and anti-globalizers, Davos vs. anti-Davos.

But globalization is much more than an economic phenomenon. I like the way that Tom Friedman addresses it in his first book about globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. For him, globalization is nothing less than the international system that replaced the Cold War as an organizing principle. That is a big, tall order, but I believe he is right. It is hard to be against the international system as such. It is what it is, and you have to deal with it. If you merely are talking about trade and financial regimes, well, perhaps yes you can be against the "Washington consensus," NAFTA or the WTO. But if globalization is simply our reality in the 21st Century, we have to figure out how we can live with and reform it. Globalization is, to use a current vernacular, "huge." And to identify globalization as the system in which we live, does not define the policy or policies we need to follow to deal with it. The Cold War after all brought forth the historic policy of containment, devised by fellow diplomat--that's about as far as the similarity goes--George Kennan.

So what is the policy for Globalization? Nobody has suggested one to my knowledge. Here is a little anecdote. Shortly after Bill Clinton assumed the Presidency, Warren Christopher arrived at the State Department and was nice enough to call for a general meeting of the staff down in the Dean Acheson auditorium to introduce himself and take questions. I asked the question of what will be the new umbrella policy to replace containment now that the Cold War was over. Mr. Christopher, for whom I have great respect, did not hesitate to say that we will not have such a policy that the world presented a series of distinct problems that could not be identified under one rubric such as the Cold War presented. I was not satisfied.

I had recently returned from a decade of overseas duty in South America and had sensed that there was a new Behemoth out there to replace the Soviet Union. I had only touched a part of the elephant's trunk and seen how the process of democratization was accompanied by a parallel set of challenges in the form of narcotics production and trafficking--yes drugs and democracy. I then worked on both drugs and democracy for the remainder of my career in Washington.

My job in the International Narcotics Bureau of State, in charge of South America, also placed me in the position of being one of the Bureau's strategists. It was then that I read a little acknowledged book by James Rosenau called Turbulence in World Politics (http://books.google.com/books?id=0yH84Nt5H5UC&pg=PP1&dq=inauthor:%22James+N.+Rosenau%22&lr=#PPR18,M1 ), which seemed to explain why the world appeared to be headed for such turmoil. Narcotics trafficking is only one of the new phenomena discussed, and although Rosenau was clearly part of a group of political scientists working on interdependence and transnational movements, they were actually discovering globalization. What I had discovered was the ugly underside of globalization. In addition to narcotics trafficking, we were increasingly also seeing human trafficking, modern piracy, the rise of radical terrorist groups, the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the dangerous increase in populations in the poorer areas of the world, environmental degradation (and the later concern over global warming and biodiversity), increasing threats from pandemics and new diseases without known cures, the growth of intra-state war, clashing civilizations and of transnational jihad. So globalization is not just economic. It is also military, political, cultural and environmental. Globalization also has its positive aspects in addition to the creation of wealth: the spreading dominance of human rights, rule of law and democracy, the growth of the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations and regimes and the expansion of a a world civil society movement, perhaps one of the most positive developments of all.

Why all this is happening now, I will leave to a future posting. But the globalization problem set has been laid out. The solution which I will develop, in bits and pieces, is called Global Governance.

1 comment: