Globalisation must have an ethical dimension

From a lecture by the Swiss theologian and president of the Global Ethic Foundation, Hans Kung, given at St Paul's Cathedral
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The Independent Online

Globalisation is much more than an economic concept. It differs from previous forms of world economic development facilitated by free-trade agreements: the dynamics generated by the rapid expansion of technological progress are unprecedented.

Globalisation is much more than an economic concept. It differs from previous forms of world economic development facilitated by free-trade agreements: the dynamics generated by the rapid expansion of technological progress are unprecedented.

All actors who operate internationally are affected by, and must respond to, these changes. To ensure that economic performance is subordinated to human and social goals, globalisation needs political underpinnings and an ethical framework.

Of course, there are no easy, and certainly no quick, solutions to the complicated problems linked to globalisation. And certainly, there is no alternative apparent to the free and social market economy. But recent experiences all over the world show that the market economy functions effectively only if it is based on a sound democratic civil society, rooted in basic ethical standards.

First example: Russia. The magic potion recommended by Western advisers and the IMF - "free markets" and "free exchange of goods" - led to a relatively chaotic situation in which Russia is no longer an important player in the global economy.

A conversation with a former adviser of President Yeltsin, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, confirmed my opinion. The market economy cannot be successful, as Sachs said, if first there is not even one public personality with moral integrity with whom people can identify - not the president, not the prime minister, no single member of parliament, no scientist, no writer. Sakharov had died, and Solzhenitsyn was out of the picture. Neither can the market economy be successful if there is not one public institution that is morally trustworthy - not the government, or the Duma, the High Court, the central bank or the church.

Another example: China. Even an official Chinese magazine recently published an article strongly criticising the Communist Party's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, saying that the tenacity of the organisation underscores a moral vacuum in China: "Falun Gong is the biggest challenge to China's ruling party since the founding of the People's Republic of China. This is because in today's China, the most profound challenge is not unemployment, inflation nor corruption. The most profound challenge is that there is no effective ideology." The article concludes: "This is a time when beliefs totally collapse. Tradition has become the garbage of history. There is not a legitimate ideological system."

The article said that a way out of the trap set by Falun Gong was "to rebuild China's spiritual home". "It is a mistake to think of religions as an alien force," the article said.

Certain guidelines for a fair dealing with conflicts and a just reconciliation of interests are recognised throughout the world by most religions and philosophies.

But, despite the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, we still face the reality of severe violations of human rights across the world. This shows how much a declaration and explanation of human rights comes up against a void wherever people, particularly those in power, adopt one of the following widespread attitudes to human rights: they ignore them, or neglect them, or fail to perceive them, or simply pretend to fulfil them.

The "weakness of human rights" is in fact not grounded in the concept itself, but in the lack of any political and moral will on the part of those responsible for implementing them. To put it plainly: an ethical impulse and a motivation to accept responsibilities is needed for an effective realisation of human rights.

Many human rights champions active on the fronts of this world who said "Yes to a Global Ethic" have explicitly endorsed that point of view. All those who work for human rights should welcome a new moral impulse and a framework of ethical orientation.

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