Volume 16 Number 5
Only Connect
01 October 2003

On a recent trip to Lviv, Ukraine, I stayed in a hotel just across the street from an Internet cafe. Also close was a McDonald's. But the café and McDonald's had more than proximity in common. They symbolized globalization.

Internet cafes feed the urge, indeed the necessity for many, to stay connected. McDonald's, by contrast, exemplifies the leap of corporations across national boundaries, and the burger chain's anti-globalization critics are legion. But globalization isn't new. It began years ago as industries sought new markets–and often lower wages–abroad. Computers, cell phones, jet travel, satellite communications and high-tech wizardry of a near-infinite variety have only increased its pace.

This phenomenon has been especially apparent in America. It originated with the country's industrialized north chasing lower wages in the south. For instance, the textile industry, once rooted in New England, moved south. But eventually cheaper textiles from China and elsewhere impelled the industry to move to lower-wage countries while downsizing domestically. Other industries have faced similar choices. Meanwhile, the technological revolution sent many jobs abroad (to India, for example) even as it created many at home. The process works well for workers abroad, not so well for those at home.

But this is the age in which we live - one that for all its progress leaves millions of people behind. Thus the relevance of – a new website launched by the Institute for Humane Studies, an affiliate in Arlington, Virginia, of George Mason University. The site 'promotes innovative thinking about how we can achieve a world that is peaceful, prosperous and free'. It invites suggestions and stories from anyone anywhere. Since its January debut it has been getting up to 50,000 hits a month.

One was from June Arunga, a student at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, who contributed her story of seeing her middle-class family's living standards decline over 20 years. 'We quit eating breakfast as bread, butter and milk became too expensive, and we quit doing monthly household shopping since we could not afford it any more.'

She and 'millions like myself' became involved in anti-globalization organizations. Then her younger brother, Owuor, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, began to talk to her about 'how freedom worked'. She 'was very sceptical since the anti-globalization arguments had reached me first, and I was actively involved in promoting them'. Further study, including an internship at the Foundation for Economic Education in New York, convinced her, however, of the potential economic fruits of free markets. She now works assiduously to help young Kenyans 'understand the power that freedom has to improve opportunities for all Kenyans'.

In an e-mail message, June Arunga told me she runs an outreach programme in Nairobi for university and high school students and also organizes seminars and debates for law students. These enable participants to learn about the role of property rights, rule of law, individual liberty and free markets 'in creating wealth by enabling individuals to make gains by doing what they are best at and trading it for stuff other people are better at making'.

Since the 1960s the Institute for Humane Studies has tried 'to educate young people about freedom, individual responsibility and liberty', says Damon Chetson, director of its education programme. Their website says, 'Aworldconnected looks at the lives of real people who are being affected by the processes of globalization. We celebrate the successes, and we seek to understand the failures. We strive to identify successful models that may be replicable elsewhere.'

Websites, of course, are more the province of the young than the old. But one could hope that older people visit this site if for no other reason than to see—and perhaps learn from — young people's ideas.

Robert Webb is a former columnist and editorial writer for the 'Cincinatti Enquirer'. He lives in Alexandria, VA, USA.