It seems unfair to draw similarities between antiglobalists and opponents of the black immigration in western societies. After all, anti-globalisation activists are generally presented as politically progressive and socially conscious people. Nevertheless, there are striking similarities between the assumptions of left-leaning critics of globalisation and right-wing racists.
A few years ago, speaking at the World Economic Forum trade a British unionist, Philip Jennings, boldly declared that outsourcing white-collar jobs to low-wage developing countries, especially India and China, would provoke a middle-class backlash in the West. The transfer of millions of jobs to the Third World, he warned, would give politicians in the developed world a huge headache as the middle classes realise that outsourcing would lead to wage deflation.
Mr Jennings' message, which reflects the general thinking of the anti-globalisation movement, can be put more simply - cheap Third World workers are taking First World workers jobs and lowering wage levels in developed countries so western governments should stop the outflow of jobs and compel local companies to employ only indigenous workers . Thus the call is for "First World jobs for First World workers, Third World workers keep out!" In this age of ideological ambiguities, it is unclear whether this view be labelled left-wing or right-wing
Such sentiments are reminiscent of the utterances of white European workers who not so long ago complained that black immigrants were flooding their countries and taking white jobs; thereby undermining white living standards. The demand was for government to repatriate non-whites and stop more entering their privileged land. The clarion call was "white jobs for white workers, blacks keep out."
It may seem absurd to compare today's First World protectionists with people who sought to protect white jobs against darker skinned immigrant interlopers. After all, unionists like Mr Jennings seek to defend the livelihood and jobs of all local workers, regardless of race or country of origin. Besides, some of the workers in the vanguard of today's anti-immigrant protests have black and brown faces. However, what we are comparing is not the morality of old-fashion racism and contemporary protectionism but the thinking behind the two worldviews. A commonality is the nativism that underpins both perspectives.
Nativism is the policy favouring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants or people considered to be foreigners. White European workers who kicked against black immigration in the latter half of the twentieth were probably more driven by nativism than racial bigotry. Nativism intertwined with prejudice produced a white working class consciousness that perceived non-whites as undesirable and threats to their livelihood. Anti-immigration sentiment easily manifested in racism which obscured the legitimate fears and grievances of white labour over the introduction of black workers into the labour market.
The growing opposition of developed-world labour unions to trade liberalisation, especially in relation to outsourcing, imports of cheap consumer goods and labour migration, can easily fuel racism within the West in the 21st century. We have already seen growing anti-Japanese and anti-Korean sentiments among industrial workers in the United States who oppose the free trade policies of post-war American administrations. The hostility to China in much of the western media seems to reflect more than moral outrage at the poor human rights record of Chinese government.
The arguments against nativism in developed nations are in many ways similar to those applied to earlier anti-immigration movement. Firstly, there is historical moral justification for restructuring the international production system. The shifting of some jobs from developed countries to the Third World is partly the consequence of the earlier era of western imperialism. As black militants in the 1980s told white British nationalists who cried over the 'invasion' of 'their country' by 'darkies' from Britain's former colonies: "We are here because you were there." It was imperialism that set in motion the current process of globalisation by colonising the lands and resources of other races on the platform of the ideology of creating a commonwealth. Non-white workers entering the 'motherland' are simply acting on the promises that underpinned yesterday's empires. It is now too late to rescind the promises without creating the conditions for major global conflict
Perhaps more important historically is an understanding that contemporary globalisation is partly the process of removing the economic barriers that supported the economic monopoly enjoyed by the imperial powers, which subordinated the development of colonized nations for the advancement of the centre.
The imperial powers maintained economic systems that restricted their colonies to being suppliers of raw materials which the centres manufactured into goods sold to captured markets in the colonies and elsewhere. Nineteenth century imperialism had little to do with free trade. It was monopoly global capitalism. The dominant powers controlled the flow of trade, capital, people, information and ideas in a captured international economy integrated for the benefit of European centres.
The economic evolution we are witnessing in the post-colonial era is partly the outcome of the loss of this monopoly. The former colonial powers can longer direct the flow of resources in the world but are required to compete with other nations who are independent entities able to exploit their comparative advantages. The days of one-way free trade is coming to an end.
We could say to western protectionists that after four centuries of their nations suppressing the development of foreign economies to build local industries and expand markets for themselves, it's now payback time. However, we would instead explain that following centuries of militarily enforced protectionism and one sided free trade it is now time for industrialised nations to practice a free trade policy that applies both ways. Trade and labour liberalisation, including the outsourcing of jobs to low-cost developing countries, are part of the realities of free trade.
Like anti-immigrationists in the era of overt racism, today's western opponents of globalisation exaggerate the likely negative impact of Third World encroachment. Antiglobalists paint scary pictures of millions of western workers being thrown onto the scrap heap as existing jobs and new work opportunities are grabbed by low-wage workers in Asia, Latin America and Africa. We are warned about the imminent decline of western industrialisation and the eventual subjugation of once imperial nations to new empires with centres located across the oceans.
These concerns are largely based on myths. There is no evidence that globalisation has cut the total number of jobs in industrialise nations. Indeed the overall levels of unemployment in these countries in recent years have fallen. Undoubtedly globalisation has resulted in the displacement of some indigenous workers, but most of these were re-employed in other sectors of the economy. Similarly, some workers may experience lifetime earnings reductions as a result of globalisation, but the overall effect has not been a deflation in wages. In any case, drawbacks with global integration is not reason for reversing the process but rather challenges to strengthen the safety net for people adversely affected by the changing structure of the world economy.
For the foreseeable future industrialised western nations are likely to remain the world's richest economies. Although China is predicted to soon become the world's second largest economy and India to be close to the top, these countries will for a long time remain much poorer than the poorest western nations in per capita terms. Despite its phenomenal economic growth over the past two decades China still has tens of millions of people living in severe absolute poverty.
Not only does the growth of developing countries not pose a real threat to already industrialised nations, globalisation is actually benefiting rich countries, including their workers. For instance the import of cheap goods from emerging markets has helped to raise living standards in the west, including among lowest income groups. Relatively poor households today have access to a wide range of consumer goods, such as clothing, televisions, toys and video recorders, manufactured or assembled in China, which would have been out of their reach had the domestic market been limited to high cost local producers. It is the lowest income groups in the West who would be most hurt by protectionist measures.
It is also the case that much of the revenues earned by fast-growing developing countries from trade with industrialised nations return to these countries to pay for imports, especially of machinery, components and technology. So, although globalisation may cause job losses in some sectors, it also creates and sustains job opportunities in other areas.
Anti-globalisation advocates sometimes pitch their opposition to international economic integration in terms of its negative impact on people in poor nations. While some of the concerns expressed, such as environmental degradation and brutalisation of un-unionised workers, need to be addressed, these problems require government vigilant and the enforcement of rules that promote reasonable standards of decency while protecting private property rights. They are not reason for reversing the process.
The world's poor, especially in underdeveloped countries but also lower income earners in rich nations, would be most adversely affected by a reversal of globalisation. Antiglobalists have not explained how without international trade low technology societies can acquire the capital they need to modernise their economies. The reality is that they must export to earn money to import the machineries, technologies, goods and services needed for industrialisation and poverty alleviation. How else are impoverished African communities to pay for modern drugs or the technologies to produce them; acquire equipment to pump clean water; machines to print text book; and vehicles to transport persons and goods?
Antiglobalists offer only two answers - debt cancellation and increased foreign aid. No doubt poor nations can benefit from debt relief but it is naïve to think that eliminating debt servicing can free sufficient resources to restructure and enhance the productive capacity of indebted countries. As for aid, though in the hands of prudent recipients it can help to lessen the impact of poverty; it will never be insufficient to sustain economic growth. Besides, development is not about other people making one rich, it's about increasing your capacity to produce wealth.