Jagdish Bhagwati on the Age of Flux

In 2004, renowned economist Jagdish Bhagwati published his highly acclaimed book, In Defense of Globalization (Oxford University Press). As the title suggests, Bhagwati argues strongly for globalization, but he also seeks to balance his viewpoint by considering the social implications of the phenomenon.

Bhagwati, who is University Professor of Economics at Columbia University and a senior fellow in international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently spoke with CIO Insight editors Ellen Pearlman and Edward Baker about his book, and about his views on the future of globalization.

“Essentially, my book is not about things like offshoring, or the strict economic debate about whether outsourcing and free trade are good for us, or our workers,” Bhagwati says. “What I was really interested in was focusing more on the social implications. I wanted to address those issues and the effect on gender issues, the exercise of democracy, mainstream culture, individual culture, and a whole slew of the stuff that economists can respond to. And basically I argue that globalization can actually advance these social agendas, that the complaints and the fears are not really justified.”

But the growth of international trade raises other issues for Bhagwati. As he points out, “You might think something is good, but somebody else thinks it’s bad. There are too many different interpretations of the same international transaction.”

So how do you deal with all that? Bhagwati is currently thinking about and working on ways to implement some kind of government regulation, or intervention, to come up with better answers. In the edited transcript that follows, he talks about his view of a “flat world” and the questions that still concern him.

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