|Eco-restructuring: Implications for sustainable development (UNU, 1998, 417 pages)|
|Part II: Restructuring sectors and the sectoral balance of the economy|
|8. Global eco-restructuring and technological change in the twenty-first century|
Darwin's identification of competition as the mechanism for natural selection was influenced by the ideas of Malthus. The mutual reinforcement of the dominant role assigned to competition as the mechanism for change in both the biological and economic world views assured its fundamental role in Western thinking over the past century. It is significant that at the present time this view is being substantially moderated in our understanding of both the natural and the social spheres, as these reinforcing changes in perspective will be more influential than either one could be alone. Increasing numbers of contemporary biologists are subscribing to Margulis's view that accommodation through symbiosis is a major mechanism for evolutionary change: life "did not take over the world by combat but by networking" (Margulis and Sagan 1986, pp. 15 and 18). The parallels are striking with the emergence of the global economy.
The global economy is emerging at a time of great transformation as the ideological confrontation of East and West is replaced by economic conflict and negotiation (largely over trade and aid) between North and South.1 The countries in transition to a market economy are aiming to join the ranks of the developed economies over the next several decades as Europe - Central and Eastern, as well as Western - proceeds toward increasing unification along various dimensions. Regional economic blocs, based initially on trade and investment agreements, are also developing in America, in Asia, and among the Pacific Rim countries. The international competition associated with laissez-faire capitalism is if anything more fierce than ever. At the same time, it is undeniably operating within a context of long-term regional integration and emerging global institutional arrangements and constraints.
Environmental concerns about the "global commons" will strongly reinforce other pressures toward global dialogue and negotiation. Only a small number of environmental disputes has so far been brought to court within the international trade community, but it is already clear that these conflicts raise questions far more complex than what conventional trade law can readily resolve. In anticipation of the avalanche of cases to come, the Secretariat of GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was led to call for discussions about multilateral consensus on environmental objectives in the hopes of bypassing bilateral, case-by-case haggling in instances where new environmental concerns conflict with the older objective of removing barriers to trade to promote growth independently of any other considerations. The tuna and dolphin dispute between the United States and Mexico or the Danish bottle law and the reaction to it in Europe are two early examples (see Lee, 1993, for a brief description of 22 such cases). In surprisingly blunt language, the GATT Secretariat stated that it is "no longer possible for a country to create an appropriate environmental policy entirely on its own" (quoted in OTA 1992, p. 24).
Environmental concerns (coupled with the attempt to protect domestic producers) are leading countries to erect barriers to trade based on the production process and not just on the characteristics of the traded product. (This is true in the tuna and dolphin case or in potential restrictions on imports of electronics components manufactured using CFCs that are being analysed in connection with the Montreal Protocol.) These pressures to provide a product produced using a particular technology are a potent force for the further globalization of technology. There is already a tendency to adopt modern technologies in new manufacturing sectors in developing countries, especially in foreign-owned factories. But the pressures for international use of common techniques are likely to spread beyond manufacturing into areas that have until now been largely shielded from globalization by cultural differences. For example, trade-related requirements about the use of recycled materials affect people's lifestyles because recycling involves common procedures to be followed by individuals in their capacities as citizens and consumers; likewise, legislation governing water pollution is bound to be similar in different societies because it will need to promote compliance with common process specifications.
Other pressures toward uniform social practices can also be observed. One example is a universal concept of human rights; another is the state's assumption of responsibility for social welfare, which today absorbs roughly similar proportions of national income in the rich economies and in the formerly socialist economies but is virtually non-existent in most developing countries.