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Historical Outlook

(written 2000)

In attempting to do our part to rectify complex global and local imbalances, we believe it necessary for us to have a conceptual framework that locates what we are doing in its historical context. The problems we are interested in are generally so complex that a “long view” helps one identify and isolate the various chains of causation in order to know where and how to intervene effectively. The Synchronicity Foundation is fortunate to benefit from the world economic system through its partnership with certain investment funds. Our comfortable position is a major reason that we accept a responsibility towards those of Earth’s inhabitants whose positions have become more precarious as a result of recent changes in the global economic game.

More specifically, the Foundation profits from free trade market capitalism. Since the fall of communism around 1990, the dominant economic model has called for minimal governmental interference with the flow of capital and the international exchange of goods and services. That trend is part of what has come to be known popularly as “globalization,” which could be described more generally as a process characterized by the removal of barriers to human interaction worldwide. Globalization, or at least the part of it relating to finance and trade, is a highly controversial issue. Supporters claim that it will increase world productivity and hence prosperity for all. Opponents predict that it will concentrate even more power in the largest nations and multi-national corporations and thus skew the distribution of local and global wealth even further.

We believe that globalization, however defined, is a generally irreversible historical force. Although we hope that it is a generally positive force as well, we are well aware of and increasingly concerned about its negative effects. We are not as interested, however, in taking an evaluative stand on globalization as we are in accepting it as a given and using its benefits to remedy its shortcomings. We applaud the efforts of those who protest in various ways to ensure greater transparency in the rule-making process for world trade, to find ways for developing countries to defend against massive and instantaneous flow-throughs of speculative capital, to allow developed countries to maintain the quality of their food and environment, and so on. We trust that the role we have chosen has equal validity.

Globalization holds the potential for the emergence of a more integrated, prosperous, and peaceful world. That outcome is not automatic, however. Similar hopes were expressed more than a century ago. It was thought that nineteenth-century free trade legislation had finally created an interdependent world of sovereign states in which wars would be increasingly irrational, and thus unthinkable. The unprecedented violence of the twentieth century dashed such optimism, of course, and should have taught us that structural changes provide nothing more than an opportunity for a better world. The actual result depends on how people respond to the new possibilities.

The early twenty-first century is seeing changes in the very concept of state sovereignty. Its erosion is already evident in the voluntary cession of various rights and powers by member countries to supranational organizations and in joint international interventions in matters that were once considered off limits due to the sacrosanct nature accorded the sovereignty principle. The break up of empires and struggles for independence and other forms of self-determination by various ethnic groups are part of the same process, notwithstanding the fact that a greater number of ever-smaller countries result. All twenty-first century nations will operate in a world of ever more open borders and societies. Meanwhile, at another level, the cyberspace communications revolution chips away at the power of the state to control its citizens. Internationally negotiated rules will gradually replace national boundaries as the structure within which the people of the world interact.

Globalization, then, involves nothing less than a shift in historical paradigm, political and economic, and no facet is more dramatic than the move toward universal market capitalism. A process of such magnitude is inherently destabilizing. Not everyone or every country or every species is equally positioned to prosper from this phenomenon. Individuals without resources and states without developed financial and economic institutions are at constant risk of being overwhelmed. The suffering of the planet’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable will worsen – in the short term, at least – as the result of measures that countries are forced to take in order to survive in the new world economic system. Structural adjustment strategies imposed by international donors and lenders mandating interest rate hikes and cuts in social spending are the most prominent examples. Power elite within those countries are then able to control the internal distribution of benefits from the international marketplace, thus exacerbating the already inequitable and dangerous imbalance between rich and poor.

We believe, however, that breakdown of boundaries offers great opportunity for betterment. Developing countries and individuals within them will again have access to more capital and more open borders will focus the world’s scrutiny on what goes on behind them, which will increase the chances for good governance. Synchronicity is optimistic that a more livable planet can be achieved as a result.