Globalisation has resulted in the “increased interconnectedness and interdependence of peoples and countries”, and has been defined by the World Health Organisation as “the opening of international borders to increasingly fast flows of goods, services, finance, people and ideas.” This concept has virtually become the tag-line for this century. Nevertheless, it is important to re-evaluate this concept amidst a global pandemic where economic activity has come to a standstill, and Globalisation has seemingly been halted. This article will explore the origins of Globalisation and evaluate whether it truly is a positive phenomenon that should be embraced.
Globalisation, the idea:
To understand where the idea of Globalisation comes from, we can trace it back to international relation theories. Earlier thinkers, orthodox realists, regarded states as individual actors which were always hostile and competing with each other for security. But as history progressed, a new understanding of how states interact with each other emerged. For example quoting Karl Marx, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.” He recognised how capitalism and market expansion fostered national inter-dependence even back in the 19th century.
This concept was further accelerated by the two world wars, following the League of Nation’s path, a surge in international cooperation can be observed. The number of inter-governmental organisations surged from 1,081 (year 1981) to 7,657 (year 2016), according to the “Yearbook of International Organizations 2017-2018”. Liberalist and other revisionist thinkers started proposing the potential of using international cooperation to mitigate the hostility that comes with the anarchical structure of the global community. In other words, cooperation is seen as a way to bring lasting peace after the trauma of the world wars. These interactions and cooperation comes in all forms, ranging from Economic, Diplomatic, Military, etc.
Figure 1 (statistica 2021 https://www.statista.com)
Apart from this new-found diplomatic climate, technology allows information to become more accessible and populations are mobile than ever. According to Figure 1, we can see how internet traffic surged throughout the years. The advancement of communication and transportation, along with the increase in interdependence, has developed into a phenomenon known as Globalisation. Resultingly, nations, economies, cultures and individuals share more and more in common with each other. The European Union is a good example, where member countries share a set of laws, currency, and even have free borders with one another.
Some began speculating about the future of Globalisation, stating that we may be moving towards a world-Polity, or a world-society. Where actors like individuals and states are governed by a global norm rather by other known powers like sovereignty. However, many nowadays hold the opposite view, saying that Globalisation is going backwards, making up the term “De-Globalisation”.
Are we going backwards?
From around 2016, the narrative of “De-Globalisation'' became increasingly popular. With articles like The Economist March 2017, stating that “The next era could see Globalisation in retreat for the first time since 1945”. The rise of this narrative is not out of the blue, but shaped by the political climate around that time.
A string of events may suggest that we have reached the optimum with Globalisation and are now going backwards: Trump’s announcement of more protectionist America First Policies, US and China imposing trade tariffs on each other, nationalists / populists gaining popularity in Europe, UK exiting the European Union. In 2020, the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated this trend. Countries closed borders, companies relying more on their domestic markets, and governments putting more emphasis on local policies. For example, the United Kingdom implemented the National Security and Investment Bill (NSIB) in November 2020, which addressed the growing concerns within the UK security agencies about protecting critical infrastructure from potentially risky Chinese investments. This prevents foreign firms in taking over and purchasing a large shareholding of UK firms in 17 sensitive industries, creating hurdles for international businesses in the UK.
Despite these events, data and forecasts seem to indicate otherwise. For example, imports into Asia and South America are both expected to grow by 6.2% and 6.5% respectively in 2021 in the World Trade Organisation Press Release. Some may say we are economically moving forward but diplomatically backwards. Is the narrative of De-Globalisation just a myth or is it actually happening?
Regardless of its legitimacy, most regard De-Globalisation as a problem or a negative issue to be solved. This leads to the next question, is the acceleration of Globalisation necessarily beneficial?
Globalisation has always been associated with economic growth, liberation and peace. But does it mean it must be positive? For instance, it can be said that Globalisation polarises the rich and poor. According to the the UN Development Program, “the richest 20 percent of the world’s population consume 86 percent of the world’s resources while the poorest 80 percent consume just 14 percent.” Some claim developing countries or poorer populations in general are the victims of Globalisation. The growing labour exploitation in developing countries by international businesses is a good example. In Bangladesh, a developing country with a lot of sweatshops, the average hourly wage of workers is 0.13 USD.
But these are not the only victims of Globalisation, some diffused cultures can also be classified under the same category. The spread of certain businesses and culture, a homogenisation of diversity and westernisation cultures can be observed as populations, business and cultures interact more with one another. For instance, Starbucks has grown to nearly 20,000 shops in 60 countries in less than 50 years, making a lot of local small drink businesses hard to survive. This generates a group of “forgotten” people as the world progresses.
Image 1 (euro news: "From Bangladesh to Leicester, the fashion industry is built upon mass exploitation."-2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Whether Globalisation is good or bad, progressive or regressive, we cannot deny that the world has become more interconnected than before. After reading this article, you may have more questions than answers about Globalisation. Perhaps it is time for us to find a new way to live together at peace as a global community. How we bring out the benefits while minimising the cons of Globalisation may be the question for the coming century.
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 Topic: Globalisation, World Health Organisation, https://www.who.int/topics/globalization/en/  Marx, Karl, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) 23-24  The Yearbook of International Organizations, Union of International Associations, https://uia.org/yearbook  862 Press Release, World Trade Organisation, 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres20_e/pr862_e.htm  Goal 1: Reduced Inequalities, 13 SDGs, United Nations, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/inequality/