Globalization is a contentious word. The debate at Hart House last week between Stephen Clarkson, Jack Layton and Michael Hawes rehashed the arguments on all sides of the political spectrum. In order to put globalization in perspective, it is necessary to examine its past.

Globalization is not new—that, everyone can agree on. As early as 1850, Great Britain and the U.S. were creating a more integrated world by dropping tariff barriers. The simultaneous revolution in transportation, with the creation of the steam boat and the proliferation of railroads, hastened the planet becoming more “globalized.” But while that era is said to have impassioned the principles of free trade and laissez-faire economics, today’s situation is equated with unmistakably negative consequences. Climate change, the proliferation of weapons, and poverty are the ideas attached to the twenty-first century. In fact, any discussion of globalization today is like talking about the Apocalypse.

Notwithstanding important issues like the environment and third-world poverty, the discourse on globalization has gotten out of control. It seems as though every social problem—from higher tuition to the attacks of September 11—is automatically blamed on globalization. The definition of “globalization” is so vague that it is possible to account almost every wrongdoing to it. The problem with assigning every misdeed to this terrible, ominous monster is that the real culprits are left behind. Transnational corporations are clumped into one monolithic bad guy. Issues like lackadaisical governments are not adequately addressed. Clarkson focused on this point, demonstrating that the Mulroney government is as much to blame for the negative consequences of free trade as the business interests that supported him. The positive attributes of globalization are also forgotten. What about the communications revolution? What about information technology? Are we to trash every single aspect of globalization because we do not understand how to mitigate its shortcomings?

This latter trend was clear in Tuesday’s debate. Jack Layton professed all the wrongs of globalization without pointing to any positive elements. From the woes of the municipal government, to the spread of Aids in Africa, globalization is ultimately to blame. It is clear that some aspects of the anti-globalization argument have become so fundamental, they resemble the very far right-wing advocates they seek to criticize.

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required