I studied economics in college, and in the upcoming weeks I will probably post some stuff from that field that gets a little technical. I won’t be boring though! This post will be addressed from the economic lens that I am most familiar with, but it will not be technical. Furthermore, it is on an issue that goes well beyond simple technical economic analysis.
I am talking about globalization. Needless to say, this will a surface scratcher of an article, but I hope it is interesting.
Globalization is a massive term, concept, action, and as such is hard to define. For what it is worth, Merriam-Webster defines the word in this way, “the act or process of globalizing : the state of being globalized; especially : the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets” and says that the word was first used in 1951.
I think that to say that globalization goes back only to the 1950s would be mistaken. My version of history would place globalization’s beginning at the time that that humanity left Africa and began to colonize the rest of the continents. Do not take this to mean that I regard globalization, at least in its current form to be inevitable, natural or inherently good. I simply see the current movement called ‘globalization’ to be consistent with humanity’s history in terms of its ambition, promoting interconnectedness and its severity.
We have a lot of archeological evidence that the nomadic tribes of pre-history traded with one another and that these economic networks became more extensive and geographically far flung as humanity began to engineer the anthropocene. By the time we reach the era of agriculture and then written records the drive towards economic integration is a clear one. As population densities grew, trade routs proliferated and it became possible to sell silk from Japan to merchants in England.
Europe’s ‘age of exploration’ may be seen as the beginning of modern globalization, but I think one could just as easily argue that Europe was catching up with China and the Ottoman’s in terms of establishing trading routs and domination. The real change to me would be when the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese, later joined by the French and British, began to fight over areas that were impossibly remote. Non-contiguous empire on the global scale is a truly european invention, and one that would be fundamental stepping stone for the modern incarnation of globalization. A preoccupation with foreign markets is a hallmark of the modern business mindset and one that has obvious and direct roots in that period.
Modern globalization certainly has its roots in the post World War Two western consensus. Powerful state and business interests envisioned a world where market capitalism extended itself across the globe and established itself as the way human societies are organized. Unlike the colonialism of eras past, this new movement focus far more on economic institutions and cultural paradigms than governments. This was indeed a radical change. These are incontrovertible facts, but they do not diminish the truth that the general trend towards greater cultural and economic ties across the globe are a phenomenon as human as any other.
If we want to focus on the nature of globalization since the second world war we have a serious discussion on our hands. It is really too broad an issue to tackle right now, and it is further complicated by the fact that the process is going, the outcomes are undetermined. Globalization’s defenders say it has brought people across the globe higher standards of living and done more to bring citizens of the third world out of poverty and into the global middle class than any other force. The nations that have chosen to resist globalizing trends like North Korea or Cuba have seen their living standards fall because autarky is generally inferior to situations where gains from trade may be made. The defenders of modern globalization argue that there are too many people and there is too little economic prosperity for everyone on the planet to enjoy a comfortable life; the global GDP per capita is only about $10,000. They believe that to alleviate human misery we must grow the economy fast, far faster than population growth, so that there is more prosperity to go around for everyone. Thus, they believe, it logical to put economic growth above all else.
Detractors of globalization come from many different backgrounds, but their main arguments are relatively easy to sum up. There are two main camps, those who disagree with the process that modern globalization is using to achieve its goal of achieving human happiness through internationally integrated markets, and then those who disagree with not just the process, but also the goal of international capitalism.
The issues people have with the methods that globalization has used to achieve its successes are usually some combination of the following: the breakneck pace of of globalization has resulted in the destruction of the environment, traditional cultures, legal systems of third world countries and though wealth has often increased, so has wealth inequality, meaning that the poor people who need the new money get the smallest share of it. Some believe that people and nations should be able to enter into globalist free trade agreements if they want to, but that the current system is coercive, and strips people and nations of their agency. I could flesh these critiques out for ever, but they are the bones of this type of anti-globalization argument.
The arguments that disapprove of globalization and its intended end game argue from these positions: globalization is bad because we should not try to propagate capitalism, certainly not globally. They argue that capitalism perpetuates class conflict, racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry. Others argue that capitalism is dehumanizing and that the basic economic structure it is founded on reduce humans to wage slaves, alienate the person preventing them from reaching self-actualization or that it is simply an system that will never be able to meet the human needs it intends to. Whatever the merits of this second positions, I think that it has lost because it does not galvanize those with power.
I personally am sympathetic to the second view. I think that market liberalization has done fantastic things for people in mostly East Asia. The middle classes of Korea, Japan, China and their neighbors are testaments to the material quality of life that globalization can bring people in a single generation. It is also clear that this material success alone is totally insufficient at solving human needs, and the pace of growth has come at the expense of sustainability. I will flush out my beliefs over the coming months when I have time, and I will use figures and theories to lend credibility to my position.
I cannot promise that I will do much in the way of copy editing unless you want to pay me 🙂