Thursday, September 13, 2007

Knowledge and globalisation

Nayan Chanda's book 'Bound Together' attempts to show that globalization stems, among other things, from a basic human urge to seek a better and more fulfilling life and that it has been driven by many actors who can be classified, for the sake of simplicity, as traders, preachers, adventurers, and warriors.

Listen to the podcast of an interview with Nayan Chanda.

Answering a question put to him by Manuel Gilberto Rosas, Columbia, he relpied:

Throughout history, knowledge has been power that its owners have always guarded jealously. The Chinese learned how to make silk from cocoons and paper from tree bark and succeeded in keeping that know-how secret for several centuries. Yemen lost its centuries-long monopoly in the coffee trade and Brazil its rubber when those plants were spirited out by competitors. The American industrial revolution was launched with stolen textile technology from Britain. But in recent decades, patents and copyrights have been protected more tightly than ever.

The consequence has been hard for developing countries, especially in the arena of pharmaceuticals. This knowledge gap has been growing, caught as it is in a vicious cycle. The technology needed to bridge the gap is itself out of the reach of many because it contains proprietary information.

While the originators of technologies are right to demand that they be paid for the time and money invested in developing them, there have to be limits to how much and how long they can carry on claiming an exclusive right.

Alternatives also have to be found to bridge the digital divide, and make certain basic technologies like computers and the Internet available to people of developing countries. One such effort comes from the non-profit One Laptop Per Child project, which plans to sell computers with wireless capability for $100 in developing countries.

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