According to a new World Bank publication, by the year 2050 world income will reach more than $135 trillion, up from $35 trillion today. For many analysts this growing wealth is proof that "globalization," the term generally used for adopting a free-market economy and integrating into world markets, is improving the lives of many people around the world. But critics say fast economic growth has been, at best, uneven in many parts of the world and has had a negative impact on the environment, energy consumption, social justice and international security.
The effects of globalization were discussed at a conference earlier this month at the Austrian Embassy in Washington. One of the speakers, Kurt Bayer of the World Bank, cautioned that globalization should be viewed more calmly.
"My hypothesis is that globalization is neither good nor bad," he said. "It’s a social-economic process like any other social-economic process. It can have positive effects. It can have negative effects. But which effects it has on certain areas or certain groups of people depends not on globalization itself, but on the policy framework by which it is shaped."
Economic data indicate that countries that have adopted market economies in the past decade, including China and India, have experienced faster economic growth than those that have remained closed. At the same time, levels of primary and secondary education in the economically successful countries have risen while extreme poverty has declined.
However, the World Bank’s Kurt Bayer acknowledges that some countries and groups of people have benefited from globalization more than others and that problem must be addressed. "Like every social process, it is long-term sustainable only if we find systems where the winners in some respect compensate the losers," he said.
For example, Mr. Bayer said rich countries should open their markets to the developing world. Since agricultural products are the major export of most poor countries, the United States, Japan and western Europe must stop subsidizing their farmers so that agricultural products from the developing world can be sold at competitive prices.
The World Bank official said poor countries also have to take steps if they are to benefit more fully from globalization.
"They have to work against corruption," he said. "They have to improve the capacity of their governments. They have to do regulatory reform. They have to do judicial reform. They have to do institutional reform, so that the growth in their countries also can become pro-poor, or can help alleviate poverty."
Some opponents of globalization criticize it for focusing exclusively on economic growth, which, they say, comes at a heavy price. Brent Blackwelder, president of the Friends of the Earth, an international organization devoted to protection of the global environment, listed some of the adverse effects of unchecked global economic growth.
"It is transforming forests into deserts. It is gobbling up the ocean fisheries. It is destroying and ruining and losing precious farmland. It is polluting waters -- surface and ground water -- that people need to drink. Indeed, the very life support systems of the planet and its climate are being challenged now by the global economy," he asserted.
However, even Mr. Blackwelder says globalization could become a positive force if it is used to promote other important causes. "Namely, tolerance. Namely, a globalization of better environmental standards and protections, better food safety, greater human rights. Many, many things would benefit from globalization," he conceded.
Opponents of globalization in developing countries said they fear that international companies would exploit their resources and their work force and replace their ancient cultures with western ones. Both sides in the globalization debate agreed these fears need to be addressed.
Until recently, globalization was viewed strictly as a tool for economic growth. But if people come to understand that it can do more than that, that it can help their families out of poverty and enable them to give their children a better education, it could become more universally accepted.
And if that happens, the massive anti-capitalism rallies that once rocked Seattle, Genoa and Washington may indeed become a thing of the past.