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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Conference centralizes education

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, March 2, 2007

Last weekend, St. Olaf hosted the annual Social Science Globalization and Social Responsibility Conference, this year entitled “Another World Is Possible.” Several speakers offered their expertise on various topics relating to global issues of social and economic justice, and the event also tied in to the Worldwide Service Fair on Feb. 23.

“Our conference provides an opportunity to think about the possibilities presented by globalization,” said Assistant Professor of Anthropology Tom Williamson by e-mail. “While businesses have been expanding their transnational reach for a long time, environmental organizations, human rights groups and labor unions are also expanding across national boundaries. Our speakers explore[d] the different futures made possible by these developments.”

The conference opened Feb. 22 with a talk by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer ‘73, now a professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas, addressing possible methods of globalization other than those dominated by global corporations. In the afternoon Professor Wing Thye Woo, an economist at the University of California-Davis, lectured about changing currents of thought in development economics. “We are at a juncture in history which could see a change in global power,” Woo, a native of Malaysia, said. China, India and the former Soviet bloc are on the rise, he said, but, “it’s almost like we have given up home on Africa emerging.” Most of the continent, he noted, is poorer than it was 30 years ago, despite the transfer of trillions of dollars in development aid to its nations, and the death rate is higher as well.

But, Woo said, the good news is that “solutions exist; the bad news is that we haven’t moved.” He advocated a two-pronged solution to Africa’s poverty: The first prong was to invest in more human and less physical capital: universities rather than structures, people rather than sectors. The second prong, he argued, should be a further infusion of external aid as per the Millennium Development Goals. The trillions of dollars given to Africa already, he noted, work out to only about 50 cents spent per person.

The conference resumed Friday afternoon with a videoconference with Columbia Professor and Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, author of the well-known book, “The End of Poverty.” Sachs gave his talk in real time from his office in New York City, saying that “globalization is good in general, and that it’s working, in general, but there are several problems.”

The first, he said, is that development doesn’t reach several poor, landlocked regions of the world: central Asia, the Andean region in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. To redress development inequalities, he advocated increasing public investment to address country-specific challenges, since solutions to these sorts of problems “don’t yield a market rate of return but a social rate.”

Sachs also mentioned the environment, saying that “this is very complicated because human beings are like weeds.” To address such problems as land clearing, overfishing, diversion of water from river systems and climate change, Sachs said, we must begin conserving energy and shift to non-carbon or renewable sources of energy, and perhaps as well to begin storing liquified carbon emissions underground. The third problem Sachs identified was learning to live together and avoiding historical trends by “overcoming this sense of a clash of civilizations:” using connective technologies and helping less developed societies before they are consumed by “wars of desperation.”

Friday, attendees participated in a banquet, a student poster session and a talk by Dean Darlyne Bailey of the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development addressing the need for multidisciplinary multicultural higher education.

The conference concluded on Saturday morning with several events. The first was a talk by Carleton College’s Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Science John Barry, a reader in politics at Queen’s University-Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Barry addressed ways to “green” global citizenship by urging his listeners to create a socially as well as environmentally sustainable society, saying that “a balance must be struck between what we value,” and that “you have no right to criticize your government if you haven’t done something.” He repeated these themes in the plenary session that closed the conference after the final talk by St. Olaf’s 2007 Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Gretchen Handwerger, the World Bank’s long-time representative to the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, as well as a former acting and deputy director of the Peace Corps.

Handwerger argued for a national program of military or civilian service in her closing lecture, a position Barry agreed with when he had the conference’s last word: “The price to be paid [for liberty and citizenship in the developed world],” he said, “is activism, not to sit back and be apathetic.”

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