For decades now, globalization has become a central topic of discussion in the fast-paced world. Understanding it means realizing what forces underline it and what changes this will bring. Should we embrace the changes associated with it or should we stand firm against it?
Why all this fuss with this wave? Why have governments, citizens, large corporations and organizations become so fascinated with understand the forces that lie behind globalization? Where did all this interest spur from? To logically answer these pending queries, one must explore in depth the process that has been steadily engulfing our societies, changing the way our economies operate and redefining decision-making forever.
Even though it has been very much challenged over the course of global history, we are undoubtedly living in an era of globalization – no movement or political development can question this. What has come under the microscope, however, is whether we are experiencing a de-globalization or a slow-balization, as many experts suggest.
With economies being more interconnected than ever and governments aligning their policies to their allies’ interests, the cyclical movement that emerged even before the First World War has altered the course of global social developments forever. Despite the long history of such waves of globalization, they never seize to bring along large-scale changes in the political and economic sector.
Globalization has experienced accelerations that have led to progressive changes: new technologies, more interconnected financial systems, evenly harmonized policies and more similarly oriented political leaders have allowed countries to thrive and pursue significant developments. Though often perceived as strongly propelled by Western culture, globalization has gone hand in hand with Westernization only in some cases, for instance in 19th century Japan. For the rest, it has been mostly about multilateral exchanges of cultural features. However, many now ponder whether globalization has entered a long phase of reverse, accelerating the pace of de-globalization. Scientists and economists already suggest that globalization might indeed be coming undone.
Yet this argument carries a lot of weight with it. Once thought of as an unstoppable wave, the forces of liberalization that spurred many decades of cross-border trade and national policy alignment are now faltering, and the consequences might be disrupting.
The malaise of interconnectedness appears more profound than ever. With the growing trade war between the United States and China and the rapid efforts of Middle East nations to dominate in the resource sector, the international tensions have become more palpable than ever. Political decisions are now aligned with trade ones, in order to pursue a path of self-sufficiency and independence from external influences. What was once perceived as necessary for economies to thrive is now considered an impediment to national growth.
We are already starting to see the consequences. Flows of overseas direct investment have fallen to levels not seen since the 2008 global financial crisis, trade restrictions and tariffs are rising, multinational companies are less numerous and profitable than before and the internet, once the most free-spirited and border-free zone, is now brought to heel by autocrats poisoning the rivers of unbiased information with propaganda.
Though the benefits of integration and mutual exchange are undisputable, the political, social and economic tensions that have accompanied this wave are under the microscope. Wondering what went wrong leads to questions about the fundamental existence of the world as we know it.
Many point to capitalism and its inability to keep generating prosperity, dismissing it as an outdated political and economic system. Others view migration as the root of the problem. Massive waves of both legal and illegal movements of people across borders and continents spurred populist cultural backlashes in many countries. With populist leaders still dominating the political scene, many also point to the growing income and political inequality that followed the exchange of populations.
Could the crisis that globalization is currently undergoing simply be a trick of the light?
In criticisms of the movement, many forget about the conditions that allowed Asian nations to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The dyad of capitalism and globalization allowed economies to emerge as winners in the complex game of world trade and to sustain economies that were in severe crises for decades. Emerging markets, prominently in Asia, led to the development of new ideas in the fields of technology, medicine and culture.
Despite the growth in physical goods that marked the recent waves of globalization which is slowing down, other waves are taking their place. The markets of data analysis, information dissemination and communication filtering continue to expand in directions that cannot be guessed. Though old ties are disintegrating, new forms of cross-border interactions are taking their place. The world might be experiencing less porous borders and rising nationalism, economic protectionism and threats to democracy, yet the result is far from a closed-off world, one in which national borders limit the scope of national activity.
The world is too much of an interconnected and interlinked place to allow this segregation and atomization to take place. No one questions the desire to build more protected economies, which will be immune to large-scale effects like wars and pandemics; yet the formation of more self-sufficient economic systems doesn’t necessarily require the establishment of independent and isolated political entities. The challenges for the survival of liberalism, democracy and capitalism are here to stay, but the new waves of globalization that have emerged as a result of the current crises spark some hope for the future of this phenomenon.
Though this might seem like some formulaic political response, the end of globalization is not here yet. As optimistic as this may sound, it is considerably hard for a movement of such international scope and liberal perspective to disappear. As it is, globalization has become linked to well-functioning of financial markets, international bodies, governmental organizations and social constructs. It is too hard to disentangle ourselves from all of this. What is possible is the redefining of this wave; the adoption of a new character, one which is aligned with the current developments.
As globalization takes a new turn, hopefully for the better, the question to ponder is how long this new wave will last and what will come next.
Article taken from Tra i Leoni n.92, October 2020. You can read the whole edition here.