There is still debate about whether the coronavirus pandemic will intensify or weaken globalization.
Richard Haass argues that governments and managers should exercise caution when examining isolationist strategies, and that "de-globalization" could prove itself a serious mistake.
The growing interconnectedness of the globe has become a hallmark of the modern world, with people, goods, energy, e-mail, television and radio signals, data, drugs, terrorists, weapons, carbon dioxide, food, dollars, and viruses (biological or electronic viruses) are growing across borders. However, the question is whether globalization has reached its peak? If globalization has peaked, will it be welcomed or boycotted next?
To be sure, people and goods have been moving around the world, whether on the high seas or the ancient Silk Roads. What is different is the scale, speed and diversity of global flows in today's world. The effects of globalization are already significant and increasingly evident. If competition between great powers and their level of governance has shaped the history of the past few centuries, the current era is more likely to be defined by global challenges and how the world responds to them.
Globalization is driven by modern technology (from jets and satellites to the Internet), but also by policies that open markets for trade and investment. The stability of these drivers has contributed to the growth of globalization, the former promoting the development of commerce and tourism, and the latter the flow of migrants and refugees. For the most part, governments see globalization as a net benefit, and in general they are happy to let it run its course.
But it is evident in all its forms that globalization can be both constructive and destructive. In recent years, more and more governments and people around the world have come to see globalization as a net risk. When one talks about climate change, pandemics, and terrorism, it's not hard to see why globalization is seen as a risk, since these problems are all exacerbated by it. But in other areas, growing opposition to globalization is more complicated.
Let's consider trade, which can provide high-paying jobs in export-oriented factories or agriculture, as well as consumer goods that are often of higher quality, less expensive, or both. But one country's exports can also be another country's imports, and imports can displace domestic producers and cause job losses. As a result, opposition to free trade has grown, leading to calls for "fair" or "managed" trade, giving governments a greater role in restricting imports, promoting exports, or both.
On the information front, a similar trend is developing. The free flow of ideas may seem like a good thing, but authoritarian governments have proven to see it as a threat to their political control. The Internet is increasingly being "Balkanized" as a "segmented web" rather than an "Internet". China's "Great Firewall" has led the way, blocking domestic requests to access online news and other questionable websites and ensuring that Chinese netizens cannot access content deemed politically sensitive.
Traditionally, it is accepted, even welcome, for people to cross borders on a large scale. Immigration to the United States has always been the foundation of the country's economic, political, scientific and cultural success. But now, many Americans are choosing to be wary of immigrants, seeing them as a threat to their jobs, public health, safety or culture. Much of Europe has experienced similar changes.
All of this combined has caused the world to turn "de-globalization", a process that is both costly and limiting. Blocking imports can lead to inflation, reduce consumer choice, slow the pace of innovation, and cause other countries to retaliate with their own import restrictions. Blocking creativity can stifle creativity and leave policy mistakes uncorrected. Those who choose to block their borders also become a robber, ruthlessly plundering a society of talent and workers, exacerbating the suffering of those who flee (mostly forced from their homes by political or religious persecution, war, gang warfare, and famine).
In some policy areas, "de-globalization" is bound to fail. National borders cannot be climate change barriers. Closing border facilities does not protect a country from the threat of disease because infected citizens can easily bring the virus home. Sovereignty guarantees neither security nor prosperity.
There is a better way to meet the challenges and threats of globalization. Effective collective action can address the risks of disease, climate change, cyberattacks, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. No country can ensure its own security; unilateralism is by no means a serious policy path.
That's what global governance (not global government) is all about. Arrangements for global governance can and should be tailored to the threats we face together, and to those willing and able to cooperate – but at the end of the day, we seem to have no choice but to “multilateralism”.
Isolationism is not a strategy, and denial is not a viable approach. We can bury our heads in the dunes like the proverbial ostrich, but the tide will eventually overwhelm us. Globalization is a reality that cannot be ignored, nor is it a curse that will disappear sooner or later. The only choice is how we should best respond.
The critics are right in one sense: globalization brings problems, but also benefits. Society needs to become more resilient. Workers need education and training throughout their lives, and they need to be prepared for the risk of obsolescence posed by new technologies or foreign competition. Societies also need to be better prepared for inevitable epidemics or extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Globalization is not a problem for governments to solve, but a reality that calls for better governance. Embracing full-scale "de-globalization" means choosing the wrong kind of treatment, which is far more dangerous than the disease.
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