Fair Distribution and the Internationalization of the Economy

Amartya Sen on global justice and globalization, in the Little Magazine.

The achievements of globalisation are visibly impressive in many parts of the world. We can hardly fail to see that the global economy has brought prosperity to quite a few different areas on the globe. Pervasive poverty and ‘nasty, brutish and short’ lives dominated the world a few centuries ago, with only a few pockets of rare affluence. In overcoming that penury, extensive economic interrelations as well as the deployment of modern technology have been extremely influential and productive.

It is also not difficult to see that the economic predicament of the poor across the world cannot be reversed by withholding from them the great advantages of contemporary technology, the well-established efficiency of international trade and exchange, and the social as well as economic merits of living in open rather than closed societies. People from very deprived countries clamour for the fruits of modern technology (such as the use of newly invented medicines, for example for treating AIDS); they seek greater access to the markets in the richer countries for a wide variety of commodities, from sugar to textiles; and they want more voice and attention from the rest of the world. If there is scepticism of the results of globalisation, it is not because suffering humanity wants to withdraw into its shell.

In fact, the pre-eminent practical issues include the possibility of making good use of the remarkable benefits of economic connections, technological progress and political opportunity in a way that pays adequate attention to the interests of the deprived and the underdog.[1] That is, I would argue, the constructive question that emerges from the anti-globalisation movements. It is, ultimately, not a question of rubbishing global economic relations, but of making the benefits of globalisation more fairly distributed.