To say that globalization has not encountered its share of dilemmas would be to fool ourselves. Other than the persistent headache it has caused, all other aspects of this twenty-first-century system have encountered roadblocks that portend potential disasters on a larger scale. Still, in its infancy, globalization has shown an unparalleled capability to reshape foreign economies and multinational business markets; the expansion of the Internet will only extend that influence, not only in economics but also in global politics. At this crossroads of changing policies and technologies, we must be prudent about globalization’s effect on foreign societies, identify the risks in expansion through the World Wide Web, and delineate between business and political partnerships. Now is the worst time to choose expediency over the ideals of fairness that we have long espoused.
Superficially, the US’s endorsement of legitimate transnational trade agreements carries our message of fair and free trade, but we may be unintentionally overlooking the long-term risks of global integration that depends on information technology (IT). Many nations do not have equal access to the Internet, putting them at a disadvantage in a system more reliant on IT. A microcosm of the emerging digital divide can be seen within our own borders, where the percentage of white people able to use computers greatly exceeds the percentage for African Americans. If such a disparity in the accessibility to IT were enlarged, as in the case of Africa versus its neighbors, many would fall into the widening digital abyss. After listening to Professor Vinod Aggarwal, Director of the APEC Study Center at UC Berkeley, talk at a recent Great Decisions session about the effects of globalization, I noticed that he had similar concerns about the possibility of people in lower socioeconomic levels being left further behind.
This, however, does not mean we should grind globalization to a screeching halt. The expansion of IT has promoted the exchange of free ideas in countries with oppressive governments, including China, where behind rigid authoritarian barriers, the Internet is opening new conduits of free speech. Additionally, trade agreements are bringing the issue of human rights back on the table for discussion. I hope I can have a chance to hear more of what experts have to say about these challenges at this year’s conference. Expanding businesses online carries huge implications, and oftentimes, computer networks are enormous bubbles waiting to burst. The “I Love You” computer virus, which crippled millions of computers worldwide last year, reaffirmed the volatility of the digital medium through which we are conducting more and more transactions. A single Filipino hacker managed to spread chaos on a global scale; all he needed was advanced knowledge of computer networks.
In turn, such hackers can instigate a form of “online terrorism,” disabling global markets by exploiting security flaws. As an editor of my school newspaper, I have pushed for the publication of several articles in the paper on the topic of computer hacking; I feel that in this digital age, the public needs to be more informed about the vastly unexplored dangers of transferring sensitive information through the Internet. One of the discussion topics for our school’s web development team has also been online security. As I have come to learn, the brick and mortar business model is becoming less appealing to entrepreneurs, but dealing primarily or solely in e-commerce elevates the risk of a massive shut down due to hacking, with apparently little risk to the digital assailants themselves. Illegal transactions can also be expedited online, another challenge for global law enforcement.
The US, global trade groups, and Interpol need to address the problem together, something I am interested in hearing more about at Asilomar. Since our business practices send strong messages about our policies (economic sanctions for our enemies and partnerships for our allies), the growing ambiguity in our ties to non-democratic states needs to be resolved. Our support of China’s entrance into the WTO needs to be followed by a reaffirmation in our opposition to China’s human rights abuses. In an essay published in the school paper, I addressed the issue of unclear policies towards China in regards to China’s WTO application. I have also written on the topic of human rights around the world in general. Similar to China’s problems, as African nations step up to do business with us, the US cannot condone the acts of gender abuse and ethnic cleansing that their governments ignore.
Economic policy shifts do not necessarily warrant political policy changes, and if globalization is to fit our vision of fairness and freedom, we must continue to support policy towards that end. I am interested in gaining more insight into current US policy concerning its business ties around the world at the conference. The shapers of globalization, as the keynote speaker William Maynes designated world superpowers at last year’s Asilomar conference, now may impact global policies for decades to follow, making it crucial that we decide with conviction and purpose. Expanding IT is a necessity, but we must transcend our Western perspective and truly examine the effects from a global standpoint if we are to be an effective leader in global integration. Finding a compromise between our own interests and the needs of the rest of the globe is not a new challenge; it is simply a growing challenge.