Protecting the weak and the vulnerable

Takako Doi, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, appeals for international action where it is most needed

Issue 4, Volume 47, 1998

The light and shadow, or the positive and negative aspects of the ongoing globalisation of economic activities, have been debated by many experts in diverse fora. The subject has acquired a particular importance with the dangers which the world's financial system has encountered.

I need not emphasise that the first victims are always the weak and the vulnerable whose rights we are committed to protecting.

The globalised market economy has become the rule of the day since the end of the Cold War. Globalisation is defined as the sharply accelerated, nearly worldwide, integration in trade, finance, technology, production systems and information. It has imposed the dramatic trend away from differences toward more and more linkages among national economies as weIl as the so-called mega-competition on the global scale.

Globalisation has already exposed two dangerous elements. One is the rapid growth of global capital and the impoverishment of nations and people. It is said that on average $1.2 trillion is moving around the world daily, some forty times the amount involved with the actual trading of goods and services. This is about the size of the British or French GDP a few years back.

This flow of huge capital disrupted several Asian economies last year, and the Russian and Latin American economies recently. And even a mega-size American hedge fund with the world's best brains at the top faced a collapse. There is a country in Asia whose economic gains of the past thirty years were wiped out in a matter of several weeks. The greatest victim of such economic collapse, of course, is the weak and the vulnerable.

The second dangerous element of globalisation is the increasing number of the weak and the vulnerable who are losers in this mega-competition. The earlier fears about the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor have become so conspicuous in the United States. I am told that over forty million people live in a state of dire poverty in the United States, the world's richest nation.

My heart aches for these marginalised losers - minorities, women, immigrants, the uneducated, the unemployed, low-income older persons, the sick and the disabled, and above all, children. They are mostly concentrated in urban centres whether in the industrialised North or the developing South, and the seeds of social disruption will become increasingly visible. If the gap between the rich and the poor continues to expand well into the next century, it is very clear that social disorders, violence and conflicts will intensify.

Such violence and conflicts will not be manifested in democratic protests based on human rights. They will be directed towards different ethnic groups and nations. Paradoxically, if the rapid growth of global capital stops and the world enters a great depression, such conflicts could become even more grave and larger in scale. In fact nearly a hundred regional wars have erupted during the 1990s alone. We cannot overlook the fact that a large percentage of those arise from economic problems.

I believe the establishment of an ideology or a philosophy that goes beyond `competition' becomes absolutely essential, if we are to prevent the danger of wars. Let us stop for a moment to think now. Such a philosophy has long existed. It only requires reorientation in the new era.

I am referring to social democracy which all of us have long cherished. Since the last century, our predecessors have aspired to and made painful efforts to attainsocial justice and the right of all citizens to live in dignity. And we have followed their path during this century. We should strengthen our efforts as the voice of human conscience in the next century.

I said the reorientation of our philosophy in the new era, because whether we like it or not, the global market and global capital are here to stay. Moreover, we cannot deny that this system has an aspect of efficiently creating wealth. It can be used rationally for the development of the world's resources. It seems to me the task for us is instead of totally repudiating the globalised market we should consider how we can regulate it from the perspective of social justice and citizenry values.

And since it is impossible for a single country to regulate the global market, we must think together how such public regulation can be established internationally. As a force to counter globalised market forces, we must jointly make efforts to ensure that a public logic based on justice, welfare and human rights is reflected in our policies.



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