Education And Debate

Globalisation is good for your health, mostly

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7311.504 (Published 01 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:504
  1. Richard G A Feachem, director (rfeachem@psg.ucsf.edu)
  1. Institute for Global Health, University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley, 74 New Montgomery Street, Suite 508, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
  • Accepted 8 August 2001

We live in extraordinary times. Since December 1999 in Seattle, every meeting of the leaders of the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the world's richest nations (the G8) has been met by increasingly large and violent demonstrations against global processes that are manifestly beneficial. The protestors comprise such a diverse array of groups and opinions that it is impossible to capture their message in a single phrase (how simple were the anti-Vietnam war protests by comparison). The central theme of the protests is discernible, however, and is something like: “Increasing global economic and social integration is a conspiracy by the rich and powerful to exploit the poor and underprivileged.”

Beyond this central theme one hears strands that are against capitalism, economic growth, multinational companies, international institutions, and the governments of wealthy countries. Strangely, the protesters are muted or silent in their objection to the corrupt and inefficient governments of some low income countries or to the massive human rights abuses that occur daily in some poorer countries.

The protestors are right about two things. Firstly, poverty is indeed the most pressing moral, political, and economic issue of our time. Secondly, the tide of globalisation can be turned back. However, to reverse that tide would be, in the words of an Economist editorial, “an unparalleled catastrophe for the planet's most desperate people and something that could be achieved only by trampling down individual liberty on a daunting scale.”

Many formal definitions of globalisation have been proposed. I think of it as openness: openness to trade, to ideas, to investment, to people, and to culture. It brings benefits today, as it has for centuries—and it also brings risks and adverse consequences, as it has for centuries.

There are three main flaws in the protesters' positions. Firstly, …

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