14 Globalization


The challenges in the face of globalization

Albert Sagués

Nobody living in today’s society can ignore the fact that we live in a globalized world. There are, of course, those Amazon tribes who live completely cut off from what is happening in the world, Eskimos who carve out an existence far away in Greenland, and even remote African tribes who know nothing about the Internet, social networks or multinationals. But even they are beginning to find out that they are living in a globalized world, especially when loggers come to cut down the trees from their tropical rain forests to take wood or to make new plantations, when they see how the polar ice is melting, the polar bears are disappearing and they hear about global warming, or when they suffer from droughts that last for year after year due to climate change caused by run-away globalization. Let there be no doubt, globalization affects all of us and we have to face up to it and adapt to it as quickly as possible or we will become old-world dinosaurs in danger of extinction.

The main problem to deal with, at an individual level, at a social level, at a country level and at the collective level, is that we live in a globalized world and yet we poor citizens continue to think at a local level.

By that, I do not mean that the solutions should not be local ones – in fact they probably should be. I am speaking about looking beyond our immediate environment when considering what we can do locally to face this global challenge.

My occupation is a good example, as are many others. I am a specialist in taxation, which involves precisely looking beyond the immediate horizon. Taxes are applied as established by countries and, in certain cases, by regions, making them local tools. These taxes relate to companies which have clearly understood what globalization means and they are therefore seeking ways to establish themselves in countries or territories where they can pay the least amount possible in taxes. Companies seek profit and paying the least amount possible in taxes is one way to increase profits.

A few years ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, launched the ambitious BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) project. This came about as a response to the relocation of business profits and it seeks to reach a consensus among the member countries, as well as measures that are both coordinated and globalized, to ensure that the big multinational corporations pay tax where they really generate their profits.

It must be said that reaching a consensus among countries is a difficult task. Countries act to defend local and private interests, while in today’s globalized world, large business groups are no longer simply multinational in nature (i.e. present in many countries) but rather transnational (i.e. they have transcended the concept of country). This is particularly the case because they have overcome the mental incarceration of the concept of border and country, which is why thinking about taxation on a local scale is, in my opinion, not only wrong but moreover outdated.

The tools we have available to us are the key for us to be able to face globalization with some degree of certainty. To do this, we cannot simply go out into the world with sticks and stones as if we were in the Paleolithic era, while the world around us is filled with laser swords (I trust you will forgive me for the comparison later).

With regard to education, I believe that the sensitivity to change and understanding the challenges of globalization have been tackled in a more courageous manner. I think the education sector has begun to react and is reinventing itself in this globalized world. I am not referring to Erasmus, which is a separate point and has other results that are more, shall we say, red-blooded and leisurely.  I am referring to the design of new curricula that incorporate the concept of globalization and new technologies at all levels. Languages are becoming a necessity, while moratoriums, advanced computing, programming languages, self-learning abilities and networking with other universities should be an indispensable and necessary part of the education process and should, in fact, be introduced at pre-school education levels.

Many of the current courses of study will have to adapt to both globalization and new technologies. It will not be possible to understand a lawyer without advanced computer skills, or an engineer or doctor without excellent knowledge of at least two languages (not including Catalan and Spanish). New subjects and new ways of teaching and learning will have to be introduced.

In fact, I must admit that as a teaching professional, I am learning a lot about the new ways of working from my students. I know it is strange to talk to a classroom where, rather than seeing faces, you see the back of laptop screens, with their white apple logos and the stickers the students use to personalize their computers. While you are talking, they are typing, checking what you are saying online, sharing documents (and obviously some of them are on social networks or even watching some online series). These are the new times, information flows freely and uncontrollably, and education must begin to create people with principle and critical thinking who know how to interpret and understand this global information. While you are talking, they can be checking what you are saying against a conference given by a Nobel laureate at MIT in Boston. This is globalization.

Globalization is already among us and has already been affecting us for some time. The main challenge is acknowledging it at the individual level (the most difficult), as well as at the collective level, and starting to think about how we can deal with it in all areas of our lives and our society. I cannot help thinking that in a few years, our children or our grandchildren will think of us, with a condescending smile, and will wonder how we managed in our time, just as I have done on some occasions thinking my grandparents. In short, evolution and globalization go hand in hand.

Albert Sagués

Albert Sagués

Teacher of the Tax System Programmes, UPF Barcelona School of Management


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