History has taught us that nothing – no technical invention, no political development, no social change – automatically leads exclusively to change for the better or worse for everyone. And with globalization, too, what counts is what we make of the new possibilities.
But many people today are asking whether one can do anything at all. Surely globalization cannot be influenced? Is it not like a natural phenomenon in the face of which we are powerless?
If that were the case there would indeed be no sense in even trying to think how we could shape it and who should do so.
But globalization is not a natural phenomenon. It is sought and made by people. That is why people can also change, shape and guide it in the right direction.
But one has to look very closely: There are amazing new opportunities – and there are tangible interests. There are people who make decisions – and there are people who have no say. There is greater prosperity and a wider cultural exchange – and there are countries and regions that are left behind.
We can and must ask: Who – thus far – are the winners and who – thus far – are the losers of globalization? Where does globalization allow us access to foreign cultures? And where does it lead to an indefinable uniformity of lifestyles, with everyone eating the same food and watching the same films? Are we not getting too close to each other? Is not distance, or the possibility of keeping some distance, part of the progress of civilization?
We are all affected by globalization – even though we are not yet all truly aware of how it actually functions. And so we must try to understand what is happening and why. We must regard globalization as a political challenge and take political action. In order to be able to shape globalization, we need new political answers.
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The phenomenon that we call "globalization" has historical roots. What we are seeing today is not a sudden dramatic change, but nor is it merely the continuation of what has come before.
We are experiencing changes of a new quality. We are seeing international relations intensifying in an unprecedented manner. This is true in terms of business, the international division of labor, transportation and communications, encounters with foreigners and foreign cultures, environmental issues and legal matters. We are seeing the emergence of international networks.
All this is particularly visible on the financial markets: Trade in stocks and shares between the industrial countries was thirty times higher in 1998 than in 1980. Foreign direct investment, in other words, the purchase or establishment of companies in another country, increased by 400% through the 1990s. This means that more and more companies are operating on an increasingly international basis.