Science & Technology

Editor's Note


Not long after the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, I got into an argument with a friend about "globalization," that vast, imprecise abstraction that has become one of the great buzzwords of our age. My friend had recently traveled to sub-Saharan Africa and had been appalled by the way people there seemed to crave not just Western clothes, cigarettes, and the like, but the latest in high-tech gadgetry.

"We're exporting more than things," he told me, shaking his head in despair. "We're exporting expectations." Why, I asked, was it such a bad thing that Africans wanted many of the things he took for granted? "Because they have a right to live their own lifestyles, free from our interference," came the reply. Then what, I asked, was he doing touring the region? Soon enough, we were at each other's throats.

I thought of that conversation often while putting together this issue, which we've aptly titled "Globalization and Its Discontents." Evan McElravy's account of the demonstrations against this spring's Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Quebec (see "Enemies of Trade," page 36) concludes that it is up to those of us who believe that "true free trade will bring great benefits to us all" to make the positive case for globalization. Mario Vargas Llosa does exactly that in "Global Village or Global Pillage?" (see page 40), arguing that "a universal culture of liberty" is a necessary precondition for widespread wealth and democracy.

In "Rage Against the Machines" (see page 26), Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey chronicles the International Forum on Globalization's February "Teach-In on Technology and Globalization." The IFG is down on both because, as its president Jerry Mander puts it, "We are in the terrifying situation in which a few billionaires colonize the minds of millions of people, teach people to hate where they live, worship McDonald's, and trust corporations."

Leave aside Mander's absurd claims about billionaires, sacrosanct McDonald's, and universal faith in corporations. He has put his finger -- or thumb, at any rate -- on a defining aspect of the increasing economic, political, and cultural trade among the peoples of the world. While that interaction doesn't necessarily cause individuals to "hate where they live," it often sows discontent with the status quo by providing alternative visions of a better life for themselves and their families.

Such discontent is blessedly destabilizing, precisely because it motivates people -- in the First World as well as the Third -- to create a place in which their dreams and hopes might be realized. Together, the cover articles make the case that for most people, the truly "terrifying situation" would be a world with less globalization, not more.