Globalization is a term used to describe how the world is increasingly interconnected through trade, communication, and technology’s evolution. It is a broad topic, which has led to various controversial debates. For some scholars, the reasons for the formation of globalization are an interesting topic of interest. But this seems less realistic for the younger generation now, I believe. Instead, what I think is important is for young people to understand its influence on other aspects of life, especially the link between globalization and sustainability. Different schools of thought view globalization through different lenses, but in this blog post, I will analyze simply and concisely how globalization links to sustainability according to liberal and critical theory perspectives and give my assessment of the persuasiveness of these perspectives.
From a liberal perspective, globalization can achieve sustainability by increasing economic growth and development through interdependence in trade, investment, and finance. This, for sure, provides more jobs for workers, reduces poverty levels, and further improves people’s living standards. People will have more access to education, healthcare, and other basic services. The government also has more sources to invest in these areas and provides more policies to support minor groups. For instance, since 1978 when China started globalization, the Chinese economy has emerged and now become one of the most powerful countries in the world. Millions of people were lifted out of poverty and provided access to basic services that were previously not available. Another increased investment that will have a large impact on sustainability is in the environmental aspect. Economic development can lead to greater innovation. As countries gain more wealth, they can afford to invest in renewable energy and reduce their carbon emissions. Thus, economic development goes hand in hand with the conservation of the environment from the liberal perspective. In addition, When there is no more poverty, a relatively peaceful era will last longer as people are less likely to be involved in major wars fighting for resources and rights. Globalization also means enhancing cultural exchange and understanding among nations, which is also a factor in maintaining peace.
From a critical theory perspective, on the other hand, globalization can have negative effects like inequality, political instability, and environmental degradation. Firstly, globalization affects sustainability through social and economic inequalities. Critical theorists argue that globalization has heightened inequality, with multinational corporations prioritizing profits over the welfare of workers and local communities. They often pay low wages, ignore labor laws, and take advantage of weaker regulations to exploit workers, perpetuating social and economic inequalities. Secondly, globalization undermines democratic institutions and creates political instability. Sometimes, a multinational corporation can be so powerful that influences the whole economy of a country and may take control at some points. I would say one case is Korea. Thereby, democratic institutions will be affected and policies that prioritize profit will be promoted. Lastly, globalization has led to many environmentally destructive practices. A lot of institutions prioritize benefits (power and profit) over the costs of the environment. They may exploit natural resources, and pollute the environment. Additionally, the growth of industrialization and the globalized economy has led to greater energy consumption, with many countries relying on fossil fuels. Despite the effort to create a cleaner and green Earth using invention development as mentioned before, the fact that globalization causes environmental degradation is more practical. The Earth cannot wait for humans until the day we “actually” have the technology to deal with all the ongoing and everyday problems. Besides, there is also a rise in problems nowadays after the invention and popularity of AI technology. Thousands of controversial debates are happening to discuss whether humans will be eliminated and replaced by AI in the industry.
Both perspectives have strengths and limitations, but I think the critical theory perspective is more persuasive in promoting sustainability. It challenges the liberal economic approach that emphasizes growth while being indifferent to social and environmental costs. Furthermore, as we can see, global economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank have been criticized for perpetuating global inequality and benefiting only a select few countries and corporations. One more example of the limit of globalization is that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that globalization has also exposed societies to the vulnerabilities of interdependence. Conversely, the critical theory perspective is a more practical approach that questions economic models that integrate social and environmental concerns to ensure that globalization creates an equitable and sustainable international system. Therefore, I believe it is important to link the issues of globalization to sustainability these issues through the lenses of a critical theory perspective.
Some references from: Nau, Henry R. Perspective on International Relations: Power, Institutions, and Ideas. SAGE Publications, 2019.