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ECLAC’s 2017 Summer School Began with a Debate on Globalization and its Impact on the Region’s Economic Structures and Sociopolitical Conflicts

Alicia Bárcena, the regional organization’s Executive Secretary, headed a seminar in which prominent international specialists participated.
Press Release |
25 July 2017

The ways in which globalization manifests itself in Latin America and the Caribbean today, along with its impact on key areas such as work, productivity and social inclusion, must be understood in order to design strategies for moving toward sustainable development with equality in the region, specialists contended during the inaugural seminar of the eighteenth edition of ECLAC’s Summer School on Latin American Economies.

The event entitled Globalization in Latin America: Structures, Conflicts and Strategieswas organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in conjunction with the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) and the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency, InvestChile. The opening remarks were made by Alicia Bárcena, the United Nations regional organization’s Executive Secretary, and Mario Cimoli, Director of the Division of Production, Productivity and Management.

“The international political economy underwent striking transformations between June 2016, when a narrow majority voted in favor of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (the Brexit), and May 2017, when the United States formally announced that it would abandon the Paris Agreement on climate change. These are two symbolic moments that represent, for many of us, a globalization backlash and the dangerous disenchantment of voters in diverse countries,” Bárcena said at the start of her presentation.

These mileposts mark a worrisome trend not only toward a reduction in the degree of global economic integration but also toward a reduction in multilateralism, meaning the symmetrical cooperation among nations, ECLAC’s most senior representative stated as she welcomed 35 students from 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Asia to the Summer School.

The concentration of capital and inequality have multiple expressions that intersect and reinforce each other, Bárcena said, calling for a debate on the sustainability of a model that increases disparities.

“The culture of privilege (which is manifested in tax evasion and avoidance, in influence-peddling and corruption) is incompatible with a culture of effort, innovation and cooperation. It is incompatible with productive diversification and an increase in productivity,” she emphasized. “There is not a scarcity of liquidity in the world, there is a scarcity of integrity.”

The reduced productive diversification seen in the region favors inequality because it keeps a significant proportion of workers in activities that are low in productivity and in situations of labor informality, Bárcena explained. At the same time, she sustained that inequality generates a political economy that reproduces privileges and lowers competitiveness and productivity.

In this context, she said that “not just any State will do to confront the challenges that Latin American and Caribbean countries are experiencing.” For the region to be able to grow more and better, closing the gaps that persist in diverse areas, “what is needed is a return to politics and to a State that is capable of redistributing, regulating and overseeing but with an eye to increasing equality,” Bárcena stated.

The speaker on the seminar’s first panel was Beverly Silver, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at The Johns Hopkins University and Director of that same educational institution’s Arrighi Center for Global Studies. Carlos Álvarez, the Director of InvestChile, moderated.

In an effort to contextualize the debate, Silver upheld that “we are at the end of a long 20th century, at the end of a period of global hegemony by the United States and at the end of a systemic cycle of capitalist accumulation that began in the 19th century.” The scholar described a scenario of growing inequality and social discontent and of a change in the geographic center of capital accumulation (which is moving eastward).

Today, she said, the focus of the discussion on inequality is moving from trade-related issues toward the risks of automation and artificial intelligence, especially regarding the world of work. Silver called for avoiding extreme positions in the debate, since the phenomenon of globalization involves numerous contradictory elements.

Additional participants in the seminar, which will conclude on Wednesday, July 26, are Luis Felipe Céspedes, Chile’s Minister of Economy, Development and Tourism; Eduardo Bitran, Executive Vice-President of CORFO; Ben Ross Schneider, Ford International Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Director of the MIT Brazil program; Jan Kregel, Director of Research at the Levy Economics Institute and Head of the Monetary Policy and Financial Structure Program; and Bart Verspagen, Director of UNU-MERIT (The United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology), along with ECLAC Directors and senior officials.

ECLAC’s Summer School, which is supported by the Institute for New Economic Thinking and ends on September 30, is an educational program aimed at post-graduate students. Since it began, more than 500 professionals from different universities worldwide have participated.