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Globalisation a mixed bag: Patten

Lord Chris Patten says, “Globalisation has not been an impoverishing conspiracy by the rich against the poor,” reports Amit Baruah.

business Updated: Nov 02, 2007 03:16 IST
Amit Baruah

“Globalisation has not been an impoverishing conspiracy by the rich against the poor,” Lord Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, said while delivering the sixth Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture at Teen Murti House here on Thursday.

Bringing out the paradoxes of globalisation, the former British governor of Hong Kong stated that globalisation had not helped every country, nor reduced inequity within every society that had benefited from it. Speaking on the theme ‘Globalisation — Friend or Foe?’, he was heard with rapt attention by an audience comprising senior Cabinet ministers, political leaders, captains of industry, top officials and diplomats.

Patten, who referred to Nandan Nilekani of Infosys as one of the leaders of “onward and upward” progress, prompted Vir Sanghvi, advisory editorial director of the Hindustan Times, to point out that Nilekani was present in the audience. Responding to an issue raised by Patten, Nilekani said previously, a country with a young population tried to colonise the world; today, India was embracing jobs for its people by sending skilled people abroad.

According to Patten, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that faster trade and economic growth in the last 25 years took millions out of poverty. “Globalisation increases trade in goods and services, yet also encourages protectionism. It disseminates the truth while spreading disinformation and lies… globalisation is about choice, but sometimes it seems we have more choice than we can easily handle,” he said.

Through the transmission of information, globalisation can make us more liberal, but it can also provide a global soapbox to hate groups and a pervasive outlet to pornographers. Patten believed the main threat to globalisation came from rich and powerful states losing their nerve and belief in markets and making corrections in the system that would benefit all. “Having pressed the benefits of globalisation on poorer countries, it now seems richer countries are rejecting a process which has increased the competition the rich inevitably face.”

Growing protectionist sentiment in America and Europe was particularly “noisome” because it reeked of hypocrisy. “We preach free trade to the poor while shutting their goods out of our markets, or slapping prohibitive tariffs on them.”

Patten was firm that modern global governance couldn’t be a project driven by a single state. “It (America) has to recognise that we will not solve any of the major economic or other problems in the world without the cooperation and shared leadership of India and China.”

“For America to avoid the headache of anti-Americanism, except on the political fringes, it is necessary for it to stop hitting its head against the wall,” he said while arguing that the US alone had the strength to assemble the alliances necessary to tackle the problems thrown up by globalism. There was scarcely an international challenge to which the world could rise without America’s enthusiastic support. Also, Patten felt America’s status as sole superpower was not challenged by the ascent of India and China.

On why globsalisation restricted the movement of people while permitting free flow of goods and capital, Patten conceded this was causing a distortion in the process. While America’s population was growing, Europe was facing a recession.

Arguing that the debate about migration should take on a more utilitarian as opposed to moral tone, Patten said the ability of politicians to combat those who offered racist answers to problems was key to ensuring the success of controlled immigration programmes. He was puzzled why Switzerland, which faced no threat from immigrants, had voted a right-wing party to power. Patten felt there was no contradiction between controlling illegal trafficking in people and accepting regulated immigration.

Paying rich tributes to Indian-origin doctors, who constitute 30 per cent of the British National Health Service, he pointed out that one-third of engineers in the American space programme were of Indian origin.

Earlier, Madhavi Raje Scindia, wife of the late Madhavrao Scindia, said her husband had strived to create a more tolerant world. “He was foremost among the new generation that believed in democracy and pluralism,” she said. The Madhavrao Scindia Foundation, she added, was focused on expanding public welfare in the fields of education, scientific and medical research.