Meaning of Globalization–May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012

Before signing up for the SOAS Masters program, I naively thought that globalization was about the movement of people. I thought it was most significant in what we see here in San Francisco, or even in my home town of High Point, North Carolina, a much smaller town. In every place we visit in the US and in the world, we find a wide array of languages, ethnicities, customs, dress, behaviors, that were not prevalent when I was growing up. I though globalization was a social issue–dealing with how do we all best “get along” with each other, accept each other, and cooperate in making our communities meet our needs.

It is about that, of course, but it turns out to be much more, as defined by many scholars and authorities. It’s also about trade (and trade tariffs, embargoes, restrictions, etc.). It’s also about economics. This is a very big part of the study and understanding of globalization, as our jobs, wealth, and many of the benefits of our lives are defined in terms of economics. It’s also about how governments collaborate or fail to do so, and about the rules of the road in terms of how we best maintain the quality of the planet and share the burden or maintenance in a fair and rational way. It’s about culture and faith and whether we are drawn more to homogenity or whether we can protect the valuable elements of our individual beliefs and cultures. It’s about all of this and more. And, it’s not new–we have been trading and moving around this planet for thousands of years. But, it does seem to many that the pace of globalization is accelerating rapidly and bringing with that heightened pace, a whole new set of opportunities and challenges.

In starting the reading the half dozen books I am into now, I began with the presumption that the invisible hand of the market would be the best way to deal with the issues of globalization. As an example, I started with feeling exasperated that some Americans blame China for “stealing” their jobs, while failing to acknowledge they they shop at Walmart and save significant amounts of spending money by buying quality products made extraordinarily cheaply in China.

I still feel that way, but I do now see that there is much more to consider. There is another side to all of this. The interests of corporations are rightfully in their own betterment, and so are those of countries, and if we don’t find better ways to resolve some of them, we’ll have huge problems in our world. One example–our agricultural subsidies in the US are enormous, and those (as well as a variety of trade restrictions, tariffs, etc.) make it impossible for some poor nations to supply us with food at prices which would be (a) well below our cost for domestic production; and (b) lifesaving sources of income for certain poor countries which only have agriculture to offer to the world.

May 22, 2012

My perspective is that of a beginning student of the vast subject of globalization. I am currently reading about 10 books on various aspects of this subject. I simply must stop and take the time to recommend this one to any of you who may want to better understand the condition of the world today.

The word “globalization” is not in the title, but globalization is about trade, about movement of people, and about every way in which we interact globally. What could be more relevant to globalization than an outlook on the key issue of world leadership in the next decade or two?
Ian Bremmer has written a captivating book on that subject. He argues clearly that we are likely to be leaderless for a time. The US is neither able nor willing to play the role it has played (not to say that that role was played well or poorly in the past few decades–it was some of both). There is no other country or group of countries or world organization which is properly designed, equipped, and prepared to take on that role.
Some might say that China is prepared to do so, but Bremmer clearly explains the issues that China, in the words of its own Prime Minister only 2 years ago, “still a developing country,” must maintain as priority. China has major internal challenges which it is rightly dedicated to managing. We will all benefit greatly is Chinese leadership only does that well for another decade. Neither is Russia, India, or Brazil ready. Clearly the European Union has years of financial struggle ahead before it could consider spreading its wings.
The implications of a world which is spinning rapidly in terms of trade and migration toward more and more globalization, but yet has no leader and no vehicles for agreement on a wide array of critical issues, such as water, technology, the internet, trade, and on and on, are indeed vast.
The book does not seek to frighten us or to mollify us. I am usually distrustful of arguments which take to those extremes.
I highly recommend this book to those who want to understand the risks and opportunities that lie ahead of us in a world that is struggling to find the answers to cooperation in ways that will be of greatest benefit to all of us.