What is globalization?

“Globalization” has been going on for a very long time, but in the last quarter of a century the degree of globalization has increased dramatically.

The ancient “Silk Road” trade route connected East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Sailors, caravan drivers, missionaries, and the odd tourist carried word of one civilization to another. (Bits of Roman armor have been discovered in Vietnam.)

The “Voyages of Discovery” created European empires of Trade in Asia and of Settlement in the Americas. Europeans (willing) and Africans (unwilling) moved to the Americas; cotton, coffee, corn, tomatoes, tobacco, potatoes, and Aedes aegypti all crossed the oceans for the first time.

Industrialization in the 19th Century spread Western power, ideas, and patterns of economic development all over the globe in new ways and to a greater degree than before. European investment poured into American, Indian, and Chinese railroads, and into the Suez and Panama canals; the telegraph eliminated time in sending messages; millions of people migrated.

The rise of Communism between 1919 and 1989 sealed off much of the world from Western Capitalism. These places needed scientists, doctors, and engineers, so they built up an educated elite. Then the collapse of the Communist model led to the opening of Russia, Eastern Europe, and China to the world market. Countries like India, much of Africa, and Latin America had all copied parts of the Communist model. After 1989 they also opened up. Low-skill jobs flowed toward low-cost producers who had to employ and feed poor people as best they could. Making steel, sneakers, T-shirts; assembling computers; and processing chicken all migrated.

The collapse of Communism roughly coincided with the development of the Internet for commercial uses. This, too, wiped away barriers. Call centers in India sprang up, making my afternoons a living hell. At the same time, angry Russian techies who had lost their cushy jobs with NepoCom went in for cyber-crime against Western businesses.

The whole world suddenly became more like One World than ever before.


It always has been driven by economic forces, but it always has had huge effects in every other aspect of human life. Here are a few examples.

On the one hand, the world is organized into nation-states, but there aren’t any borders in the atmosphere. Green-house gases emitted by one country affect every country. On the other hand, hundreds of millions of people live in environmentally-fragile places, but they are driving for industry as the path to a better life. What happens when 1.3 billion Chinese decide that they all want a car, just like 300 million Americans? I suppose we could tell them to stick to bicycles, but that seems kind of racist. Maybe we should go back to bicycles to set a good example?

Millions of people in poverty-stricken “failed states” want to get to some place that is successful. Even if they don’t speak the language, can’t read or write beyond an elementary school level, belong to a traditional culture that devalues women, and have spent their working lives behind a water buffalo. It will get worse if their country is about to go under water.

You can get a kidney transplant done for $5,000 in India (plus airfare and hotel); you can get SRS done for $16,000 in Thailand (plus airfare and hotel).

Rihanna is from Barbados; Frankie Joe Rukundo is from Rwanda; “Narcocorrida” is popular on both sides of the Mexican-American border; some of the most interesting American students consider themselves “otaku”; three French brothers produced “Assassin’s Creed.”

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