Quick: who’s the last person you’d invite to shed light on the issue of ethics and globalization?
Thomas Friedman, that’s who. The University of Notre Dame has chosen the right topic but the wrong person at the wrong time.
According to the campus newspaper, the focus of the Notre Dame Forum this year will be “The Global Marketplace and the Common Good.” The idea is to spend the year addressing the role ethics and morals should play in the reshaping of the global economy. Now, that’s a good topic, which might involve plenty of critical thinking about capitalist markets, globalization, inequality, and so on—especially in the aftermath of the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and in the wake of Caritas in Veritate (see Nick Krafft’s commentary)
But the university has sent the wrong signal by choosing Thomas Friedman as the keynote speaker. Yes, the very same globetrotting pundit who hasn’t met a problem the solution for which doesn’t involve more globalization. There are plenty of people—activists, intellectuals, and so on—who could raise questions about contemporary forms of capitalist globalization and get us thinking about alternatives. Alas, “Lexus-and-the-olive-tree” Friedman is not among them.
Finally, the timing of the event is extraordinary: the initial announcement occurred at the same time that Notre Dame was deciding to abolish the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, the main place on campus where the ethics of globalization were being raised on a systematic basis. Now that the discussion is actually taking place, the only remaining department of economics on campus defines itself as being purely neoclassical. The only perspective the campus will therefore receive, from “approved” economists (e.g., here), is that free international trade encourages development.
It is ironic that, at this point in time—just two years after the global economy was brought to the brink of collapse, which, according to Caritas in Veritate, provides “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future”—the opportunity may be wasted on Friedman’s paens to globalization and a one-sided discussion of the economics of globalization.