Globalism not flawless but things are improving
At the end of this week, the heads of state from 20 large economies will gather in Argentina for the annual G-20 summit. Perhaps no other institution symbolizes the current global economy, with its intertwined markets and dependent trade, better than this event. The G-20 was conceived of 19 years ago as a way to curtail and mitigate financial crises. It comes from the same tradition as many of the other globalist institutions that were created after the Second World War. Globalism and the collective institutions created to perpetuate and preserve it were intended to bring positive changes, but today, nearly two decades into the 21st century, few words engender so much apprehension and anger from so many people across the planet.
Globalism is the term used to describe the implementation of economic and geopolitical policy on a global basis. Some credit globalism with bringing peace, prosperity and order to billions of people. To others, the idea of globalism is odious. Supporters point to worldwide economic growth since the globalization effort began after the Second World War. They point to the relative lack of major wars, and to the benefits for strong and growing economies.
Detractors see globalism as a plot by powerful people to organize the world for their own interests. They see events like the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which was intended to regulate the global monetary and financial order, as problematic because a few powerful men made decisions that impacted us all. They take exception to global bodies such as the International Court of Justice in The Hague because they believe that these institutions interfere with national sovereignty. They point out that globalism has left hundreds of millions of people in poverty and living under repressive regimes.
According to the World Bank, we have experienced global economic growth every year since the 1960s, except for 2009. In the last 70 years, we have also experienced tremendous advances in healthcare and technology that must be credited to global industry. The jet airplane, which began as a military innovation in the Second World War, now shuttles passengers across the globe. We went from mainframe computers to personal computers to laptops. Now we have smartphones and wireless networks that allow the son of a fisherman in India to communicate and access information the same as a Wall Street banker. Hospitals worldwide now have access to life-saving technology because global commerce has spread sales of pharmaceuticals and equipment across oceans and borders.
Detractors see globalism as a plot by powerful people to organize the world for their own interests. They see events like the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which was intended to regulate the global monetary and financial order, as problematic because a few powerful men made decisions that impacted us all
Ellen R. Wald
Moreover, proponents of globalism argue that it has limited the spread of war. In the first half of the 20th century, the world was just as belligerent as it had been for centuries — except the weapons were deadlier and global alliances made conflicts much larger. It was not uncommon to see global powers and aspiring powers fight against each other. Most of these powers also pursued colonial and imperial aims. They conquered and fought over East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. They pursued expansion instead of profit. Then, in the postwar era, these countries largely turned to economic expansion through peaceful business dealings. The free world curtailed its military expansionism once the concept of globalism spread.
Today, even communist regimes like China have realized that the way to political and national success is through business. China’s greatest global weapon is not the People’s Liberation Army with its two million active personnel. Its greatest weapon is the buying power and production power of its huge population of one-and-a-third billion people. Yes, China maintains that military to exert strength, but China would be foolish to fight against another powerful country. Such a fight would only mean lost profits.
Wars are still prevalent, but 1982 was the last time a war was fought between any of the 30 countries with the largest current gross domestic products. That was the Falklands War: A two-month skirmish between the UK and Argentina fought over islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. Only about 900 people died, and this conflict was instigated by a military government in Argentina that was overthrown as a result. Since then, no state with a top economy has gone to war with another.
The cynic will say that another major war will occur between powers. It may even happen soon. However, compared to past eras, the last 70 years have been relatively peaceful. When we are busy making profits, we don’t have time for hate.
On the other hand, opponents of globalism argue that the world has only been peaceful for the fortunate. Oppressive regimes have proliferated during this time. Pol Pot killed a million Cambodians in the 1970s; Hutus slaughtered up to a million Tutsi Rwandans in 1994; Bosnian Serb soldiers murdered 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in 1995; and up to half a million people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. Moreover, the same technology that has democratized communication and information can be used to keep people ignorant and even target them. Citizens of China, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere live with internet censorship and monitoring. Globalism did not save them.
And the World Bank says that, in 2015, 10 percent of the world population still lived in poverty. Globalism has not saved them. Yet the World Bank also notes that the number of people living in poverty continues to decline. Things are improving, and there is a good chance that global trade is the reason.
- Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy