The Value of IT-Enabled Globalization

The Value of IT-Enabled Globalization

Robert A. Schultz (Woodbury University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-922-9.ch015
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This chapter, like the previous one, also deals with issues that go beyond ethics as principles for social cooperation. We just saw that the environment raises issues that go beyond social cooperation. Likewise, value does not depend directly on social cooperation but rather on interest and point of view. In Chapter 4, The Basis of Ethical Principles, I characterized a good or valuable object as one that, to a greater degree than average, answers to the interests one has in the object from a certain point of view.1 Thus a good disk drive is one that answers to the interests of a computer user in safely storing information. When an object is defined in terms of its function, the value of that object simply consists in its performing that function to a greater degree than average. That is, good antivirus software must prevent and destroy viruses well; good keyboard cleaner must clean keyboards well.
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The Economic Value Of It-Enabled Globalization

IT can contribute value to globalization in two ways. First, it can enable other value produced by globalization, mainly economic value. Second, it can contribute to the value globalization produces on its own.

There is probably no question that globalization has produced economic growth. There is considerable question about whom the growth has helped. Peter Singer cites several expert opinions and concludes that data is not currently available for a clear view of the economic impact of globalization on the poor. One study found that, although income inequality between nations has increased in the last two centuries, it would have increased even more without globalization. A second study by the World Bank found that globalization benefited the majority of the population, but made things worse for the bottom 40 percent. Yet a third study found that income inequality has decreased during the era of globalization, but cautioned that this decrease might be the result of technological advance rather than globalization. (Singer 2004, 88-89)

However, it is not clear how to separate out the value of technological advance from the value of globalization. The primary way in which economic globalization increases value is through efficiencies of integration. And much global integration is completely dependent upon IT. Supply chain integration and financial integration to the degree now present in the global economy would simply not be possible without IT. There are other important enablers of the economic integration of globalization such as government policies and trade regulations. But without IT, a significant portion of globalization could not have taken place.

From the point of view of the Global Economy Difference Principle, the concern is whether or not globalization has made the worst off even more worse off. Paul Collier’s discussion suggests that this is not the case. His “bottom billion” have missed the boat for the benefits of globalization, but they have not been driven further downward by globalization itself. According to Collier, the factors responsible for their not benefiting from globalization include a highly unstable political environment (and consequent unstable economic environment), the tendency of abundant natural resources to make democracy malfunction, poor governance, and unfavorable geographic location. (Collier 2007) These are internal factors making it difficult to have economic development of any kind. So, globalization has likely not made things worse.

A further question is whether economic development is always valuable. At first thought, the answer is yes. Income is an enabling good which makes it possible to pursue all one’s other ends. But if economic development comes with injustice, it is less valuable. Historically the industrial revolution began with horrendous labor conditions which after much struggle and sacrifice were ameliorated. At this point in history, only a few conservative economists argue in favor of sweatshops and child labor. Certainly American and European corporations are very sensitive to claims their products are produced with labor working under inhumane conditions and make a substantial effort to eliminate such labor.

A more difficult question is how to balance the claims of the environment with economic development. I discussed this issue in Chapter 14, IT-Enabled Globalization and the Environment. To the extent that economic development damages the environment, it is less valuable. Some types of economic activity are valuable only if their negative environmental effects are not taken into account. The conclusion I reached in Chapter 14 took the form of the Ecosystem Principle. This principle gives priority to actions and policies necessary for the long-term survival of humanity in its environment. Such long-term survival requires giving higher priority to the survival of the ecosystem human beings belong to. The consequence is that long-term survival of humanity as part of the survival of the ecosystem has priority over economic development.

As mentioned previously, it is sometimes claimed that technology can overcome any bad effects of economic development and so the following Technology Principle supersedes the environmental principle just mentioned.

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