Jesuit social ethicist urges "globalisation of morals"

Visiting Jesuit social ethicist, Professor John Coleman, argues globalisation presents ethics with new challenges and argues for "globalisation of morals".

Fr John Coleman SJ delivering the Globalisation — Ethical Challenges public lecture at the Octagon Theatre, UWA

In a provocative public lecture at the University of Western Australia on Wednesday, 13 April 2005, Jesuit Professor, John Coleman, argued that the positives in globalization outweigh the negatives but that "the most important task is to bolster forces for moral globalisation". Professor Coleman argued that the world order which governed states and economies for years has irretrievably broken down. He said, "we are not yet sure what kind of order will take its place, but we know we live in a new kind of enormous mutual risk society".

In his well-attended public lecture, Fr Coleman - who is Professor of Social Values at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and visiting Perth as the St Thomas More College Chair of Jesuit Studies which is jointly sponsored by the University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame Australia - sought to delineate what is meant by the term "globalisation" before presenting three specific ethical challenges to the current institutionalisation of globalization.

Dr Coleman explained these challenges are:

  • A challenge for adequate global governance for the common good;

  • A challenge for a sustainable environment; and

  • A challenge for solidarity with the poor and developing world.

It was a nuanced, beautifully balanced, informative lecture seeking to examine the positives and negatives of the various interest groups who are increasingly vocal in the community today arguing for or against globalization.

©2005Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Published: 14April2005

Some excerpts from Dr Coleman's address...

Following are two excerpts from Professor Coleman's lecture.

From his overview on what is meant by globalisation:

There are both positive and negative short term effects of globalization. Positively, we have become conscious of being one world. Information flows are now more democratically available. Human rights language increasingly permeates a wider global consciousness. Among the alleged negative effects of globalization is its gross insensitivity to short term human suffering and dislocations. A second negative effect entails polarization (political and economic and in terms of life chances and life expectancies) between and within nations. The gap between the poorest and richest nations has been steadily growing, not declining under globalization. The inequalities within sectors of the developed world, itself, have also been growing. .

The facts, once again, are glaring: less than one percent of Africans have ever used the internet and there are more telephones in Tokyo than in all of Africa. Forty percent of Latin Americans still can not read or write. As the Canadian social scientist, Pierre Hamel, puts it: " Uneven development trails globalization like a shadow. The buzzword is globalization but we inhabit a divided world". A strong fear is that the poorest countries of the world ( and in the case of Africa, entire world regions) will become marginalized to the process, so that there will be both eater world integration and permanent loser societies, in a kind of globalization apartheid.

Finally, people fear the erosion of the abilities of governments to provide the societal goods classically expected of the state: physical security (especially in the growing number of failed states), economic opportunities for human betterment, a social safety net, distributive justice. The ability of states to deliver on social goods, or counter the negative faces of globalization, has eroded. Change in our social and economic realities has far outpaced change in the political institutions and processes which once firmly embedded them. To the pressing question: "Is the earth still governable?"-the empirical facts of globalization-whatever one's varying project for it-force the answer: clearly not with the old rules and the old cast of characters. Multi-lateralism is the new game since no one nation can, on its own, address and solve a host of trans-border issues. Yet as Yale ecologist James Spaeth puts it in a stunning new book on the environmental crisis, Red Sky in the Morning: "Addressing the global environmental threat will require a global effort in a world where international cooperation on the scale that may be required is seldom achieved." So, we turn now to the first ethical challenge of globalization: secure and humane institutions of governance.

From his arguments on the ethical challenges posed by globalisation:

Fr John Coleman SJ

Rather than get bogged down in detailed suggestions for reforming global governance, we are better served by looking at the core moral principles to bring to this ethical challenge of short-changing, indeed failing the global common good. The first principle, one deep in Catholic social thinking but now a widespread 'secular' plank of the European Union as a community and not just a common market, is called subsidiarity. The term has kinship to the more British sounding devolution or local powers. Subsidiarity assumes that the agents closest to problems should not be eclipsed or by-passed by higher governmental forms. They have legitimate voice in solutions. Subsidiarity also prescribes that problems which can be handled at lower levels not go up to higher authorities, more distant from the problem. Thus, the more we see the urgent need to consolidate or grant new responsibilities to world bodies, the more it is necessary to recognize and insist on the limits of their contribution. No one, except utopians, envisions a world government. No one wants states to wither from the scene.

Subsidiarity looks to the capacity for effective and legitimate decision-making and lawfulness at the global level. Some of this governance can take place without a concrete organ of government, through systematic sharing-often dubbed 'transgovernmentalism'-across varying nations' police, central banks, judiciary etc. Some of it can even be supplied outside governments, altogether. Standards and Poors, after all, is an effective monitor of the bond market. Supple global policy regimes (often involving states, IGO's and corporations and/or NGOs) , such as that represented by the Basle Convention on Banking and the World Convention on Dams, embody subsidiarity. Subsidiarity suggests: no bigger, more intrusive or more permanent anent than necessary to get the global job done.

Almost every proposal for reformed global governance signals the following gaps in currently institutionalized forms of global governance:

  1. A Democratic Deficit. Neither inter-governmental organizations, such as the UN, which represents only states, many of them non-democratic in structure nor the specialized Bretton Woods organizations-the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organization-which consist of technical experts in law, finance, developmental economics, often unanswerable to any elected officials, are fully democratically accountable. Detailed reform proposals such as, for example, the Commission on Global Governance's suggestion of a UN Petitions Council which would allow citizens to by-pass their governments to bring complaints about human rights abuse or other violations of international law directly to the UN are stabs at addressing the democratic deficit. One ethical way of putting this point is caught in the slogan, "globalization without marginalization". This can be restated as global justice entails rights to participation and voice about decisions which affect us. The World Bank already recognizes this principle by a regular scheduling of consultations with NGO's which work on development issues. Some have demanded that similar procedures be instituted at the WTO and the IMF.

    Other calls for greater transparency and accountability in the IMF, WTO and World Bank (with something akin to a freedom of information act about their inner decision processes) entail analogous attempts to address this democratic deficit. What is obvious is that nothing quite parallel to a world democratic parliament or truly global representative social movements, now exist or are likely soon to emerge. Yet, as thedocument, Our Global Governance states its version of globalization without marginalization: "Poverty reduction will not be achieved without sound economic policy; equally, economic policy is not ultimately sustainable if patent inequality and poverty are left unaddressed. The necessary popular support for a stable economy and reform efforts cannot be guaranteed unless the whole population, including the poorest, is able to have its say in the formulation of the policies adopted and, of course, to benefit from them". The core ethical principle here is justice as participation.

  2. Lack of Secure Sources of Revenues for Global Governance. Almost every treatment of global governance raises the issue of its adequate financing. Presently, financing for global regimes depends entirely on the good will of states and lacks secure provisions for dealing with the classic free-rider problem (i.e. those who gain from the global governance schemes but do not pay for them). Global governance without adequate funding is merely conversation! The ethical principle here is fair distribution of burdens.

  3. Unequal Treatment of First World (or OECD) Countries and the Majority of Poor Nations. A number of key international institutions ( e.g., the IMF) do not follow a one nation, one vote principle but grant voting rights in accord with the monetary contribution of the nations. Dollars determine votes. This eclipses the input of voices of the poor nations into global policies deeply effecting them. In a similar way, the WTO has come to a kind of stand-still since the Doha round in 2000 because, while the rich nations have demanded freer access for their capital and goods in the developing nations, they refuse to move forward toward a true fair-trade agreement by removing agricultural subsidies which disadvantage the products of the third world. The core ethical principles r driving these debates are equity and fairness. There is some truth to the complaint that currently institutionalized forms of global governance systematically favor the first world.

  4. Striking Disparities in the Authority and Mandates of Differing Global Governance Units. Some global governance organizations (mainly the IMF, World Bank and WTO) have effective enforcement mechanisms. If a poor nation does not accept the conditions for a loan from the IMF and/or World Bank ( which may mandate some far-reaching changes in the economic structure of the nation and, in a few cases, actually made the situation worse), it does not get a loan. The WTO has a binding adjudication mechanism about free trade violations by another nation's laws and can impose monetary sanctions. Note that all of the governance organizations with this kind of effective clout involve the economic order and protect capital flows, intellectual property, investment opportunities, and property. Well and good, since clearly a world of social justice needs a sound economy and policies. Poverty reduction depends, in part, on wealth creation and opportunities. Yet other equally important issues for a stable and just economy-e.g., workers' rights and dignity, a sustainable environment-lack equivalent mechanisms with clout. The International Labor Organization can set standards but lacks sanctions or even adequate funding for monitoring compliance. Ultimately, this uneven development of global governance units systematically skews the existing world order almost always in favor of capital over labor and of the economic over the environment. Clearly this disjunction needs to be addressed if workers and poor nations are to become willing stockholders in a new globalized order.