The impact of globalisation and its consequences for the individual and society

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Published: 21st June 2010
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When we think of the term globalisation, we think of it as a popular phrase that is coined by the media, the government and in society to describe the state of affairs; in what Anthony Giddens, a renowned British Sociologist describes as the "period of late modernity". In this investigation we will firstly look at exactly what globalisation is from an economic, technological and socio-political perspective. Secondly we will look at the origins of globalisation and the impact globalisation has had upon the individual and society. We will then look at the advantages and disadvantages globalisation has had.

Finally we will then draw conclusions based upon the ramifications that globalisation has had from a social, economic and political viewpoint.

Globalisation can be described as a "process by which regional economies, societies and cultures have become integrated through a globe-spanning network of communication and trade". Globalisation can be thought of as the 'coming together' of nations to form a global community. Barriers to trade are broken down (such as with the GATT agreement), capital controls are reduced or abolished and transportation costs are reduced such as with the container based ocean shipping. Anthony Giddens (1990: 64) has described globalisation as 'the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa'. This involves a change in the way we understand geography and experience localness.

Globalisation also sees the creation of supranational intellectual property restrictions, for example patents that are recognised from country to country. The phrase the "global village" has been used to describe the result of globalisation, where particularly through technology such as the Internet we have all become inexorably linked. When we look at globalisation we can, it can be argued be mislead into thinking of it as a modern phenomena. It can be said that the origins to globalisation date as far back as the industrial revolution where the social and economic changes in Europe, for example the moving from an agricultural and rural economy to a capitalist economy. This was only made possible due to the technological advancement made during the 12th and 13th centuries.

The development of the European economy it can be said during the industrial revolution was a significant factor in the development of what we now know as Glidden's post modernity version of globalisation. It can be argued that there are principally three main catalysts of globalisation they are:

1) Technological factors 2) Economic factors 3) Political factors

Let us consider the technological factors firstly. The internet that was created in 1973 by the United States defence advanced research projects agency (DARPA) to investigate techniques and technologies for interlinking packet networks of various kinds. It has steadily evolved since then becoming available in the 1980s, becoming more mainstream in the public arena in the early 1990s. The Internet has resulted in an 'explosion' in global communications and information. Through technologies such as email and instant messaging information can be transmitted around the globe virtually instantaneously.

Information is easily accessible online and can be shared easily. What once took days or weeks to share can be shared globally within seconds. People have subsequently become more informed due to the increased availability of information.

The 24 hour media has also been made possible through satellite technology. Events happening in other countries such as the war in Afghanistan can be transmitted around the world on a 24 hour basis to people who have access to a cable or satellite TV service or even the internet. Individuals have become more aware of other news and are aware of events happening elsewhere.

This increased level of awareness during the post modernist era has resulted in the transformation of individuals thinking from the level of the nation state to the global stage. For example during periods of natural disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti there was a collective global response, as it suddenly became a 'problem of the world'. This is because individuals increasingly perceive these situations as a collective response rather than a problem for a single nation state to deal with.

Economic factors have also been a catalyst for globalisation, for example the formation of institutions such as the International Bank for reconstruction; and development of the International monetary fund which has been "on the front lines of lending to countries.

These institutions provided the framework for internal commerce and finance to help the economies of nation states develop. Economic and financial globalisation and the expansion of world trade have brought substantial benefits to countries around the world. The current credit crunch as resulted in globalisation to effectively stand still with capital flows reversing and global trade shrinking due to the reduction in the availability of credit.

Manuel Castells (1996) has argued that in the last twenty years or so of the twentieth century, a new economy emerged around the world. He characterizes it as a new brand of capitalism that has three main features:

1) Productivity and Competitiveness 2) Management and distribution 3) Networks of production

Since the end of the Second World War globalisation has largely been orchestrated by politicians. It can be argued that political factors have been one of the most significant factors in the creation of globalisation. The motivations for creating globalisation were to prevent further world conflict and to break down barriers to trade. In July 1944 a conference was held known as the Bretton Woods conference where 730 delegates from 44 allied national assembled. This is where the plans for the world financial framework were created. Plans were drawn up and agreed to create the international bank for reconstruction and development, the international monetary fund and the general agreement of tariff and trade.

Current globalisation is related to political change across the globe. For example, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Globalisation played a significant part. Greater political, social and economic freedoms instituted by Gorbachev resulted in open criticism of the communist regime. Without free market forces operating in Russia the economy was unable to develop significantly. Since the collapse of communism Russia has been integrated into the global community and has been seen as a valuable trading partner with its vast oil reserves.

Globalisation has seen the development of international and regional mechanisms of government. The European Union and the United Nations are the two most obvious. The European Union has seen not only political integration but economic integration with some member states adopting the single European currency. Trading tariffs do not exist for member states and common European legislation binds members together in political unity.

Globalisation has also seen the rise in IGOs and INGO's. An IGO is a body that is established by governments to give responsibility for a given activity or area, for example with waste disposal. INGOs differ as they are not related or affiliated to any national level of government. INGOs are independent that work alongside government bodies in making policy and addressing international issues. So what has been the impact of globalisation on developed countries? From an economic point of view the Internet has brought about a revolution in how we can trade. Goods can be purchased online and shipped to anywhere in the world. Small businesses have more easily been able to trade online and promote their products and services. This ease of trade has brought about significant wealth particularly for Internet based entrepreneurs such as the founders of Google and Hotmail to mention but a few.

There have been negative impacts though as a results of globalisation. The increase in trading has taken its toll on the environment. Developing countries such as China although have taken advantage of the outsourcing of work there have seen increased levels of pollution. According to the sources china is "opening two coal power stations per week". This is to meet the ever increasing demand for energy needed by industry and domestic customers alike. Other economic consequences as a result of globalisation are the loss of jobs to developing countries such as China and India, where labour costs are cheaper. A lot of American and British based countries opt to have their products manufactured abroad to save money and hence increase profits. The globalisation of the world is stimulating massive amounts of investment by the transnational corporations which are "acting like a dynamo to produce more jobs and higher profits world wide". Often workers rights are not agreed and working conditions of those in developing countries manufacturing work out sourced by that of developed countries is poor. Brands such as Nike often portray a false image. Branded goods are manufactured in the far-east in 'sweat shops' where employees work for very low wages. Jobs are often moved from country to country by large trans national organisations so therefore employees are often only employed on a temporary basis, money therefore flows from one country to the next as factories and jobs are transferred from one to country to the next, with investment being given and taken away.

Globalisation has attributed to the gap between the rich and the poor widening. Unskilled workers suffer mostly in developed economies, as the bargaining power of the worker has been significantly decreased by globalisation. Governments are subsequently being pressured to provide 'safety nets' for unskilled worker in the forms of benefits, by institutions such as the organisation for economic co-operation and development.

In contrast underdeveloped nation states such as India and China are seeing the benefits of globalisation as transnational corporations are keen to take advantage of the vast pools of cheap labour. China, Russia, India and Brazil account for 45% of the world labour supply compared to countries such as the United States, Japan and much of Europe.

So we have seen that globalisation has lead to individuals being exploited in the job markets, but what other impact has globalisation had apart from economic? Certainly the information revolution has lead to more public awareness, global community and responsibility that can only be deemed as a positive consequence to both the individual and society. The internet has emerged as the fastest growing communications tool ever developed. It currently has over 1 billion users. There has been a shift to the global outlook society is more aware of events in other countries due to the increased information flow. It can be argued that those with access to information can potentially be more educated and more informed. Individuals as a result of globalisation and the electronic economy can purchase goods more easily. Money can be transferred more quickly at the 'click of a mouse', business transactions also such as the buying and selling of shares. Social media has evolved around the information age to allow individuals living across the world to keep in touch, by sharing regular updates and photos with friends and loved ones.

Other negative effects of globalisation are the emergence of the 'big brother state' with government institutions able to keep more information about individuals through use of modern technology. Political unity brought about by globalisation such as with the European Union transfers sovereignty away from the nation state into the hands of a central body such as the European parliament. Developing countries such as China have unwelcomed this and have seen this as a negative result of globalisation. Google, the search engine giant was recently asked to censor search results but refused bringing it into confrontation with the country's authorities. To conclude we see that technology and political orchestration have been paramount in bringing about globalisation. It has had a profound effect on developed and undeveloped countries alike, with there being a multitude of advantages and disadvantages ranging from loss of political sovereignty of nation states with the political integration such as the European Union, the creation of jobs in undeveloped countries, the loss of jobs in developed countries and the explosion of information exchange.


Steven Britton is a senior tutor at Maths Tuition agency Top Grade Tutoring

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