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The Problems of Globalization

As positive as these three trends are, globalization and the new normalcy present problems. Open borders make it easy for terrorists to move from country to country, as became evident when police organizations all over the world began tracking down individuals involved in 9-11. They were popping up all over Western Europe and across North America, the two most wide-open land masses in the industrialized world. As already noted, the excellent infrastructure for communications also makes it possible for terrorists to stay in close touch with each other. Communication and transportation, when coupled with the long-standing trend of making information increasingly available, accessible, and inexpensive, make it possible to learn what to blow up and how to do it, and to stay in touch with fellow conspirators.

Globalization, therefore, presents a problem for governments, particularly for liberal democracies. The problem is simple to state, difficult to resolve. Over the past 200 years, governments have been increasing the free flow of information and increasing the civil rights of their citizens and foreign nationals. Periods of totalitarian rule, such as in Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain, or Mussolini's Italy, were discredited exceptions to the broad pattern of liberalism. Even the Soviet Union, which fell apart because it could not compete economically or politically in ways that globalization called for, is in the process of participating in this new trend. The problem is, how do we retain and expand civil liberties and access to information in the face of terrorist threats that can be addressed more efficiently by restricting the free flow of information and curtailing civil liberties?

No country has been more tested on this issue than the United States, which clearly and unequivocally laid out its basic position in a series of documents in the late eighteenth century with the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and myriad state laws protecting freedom of religion. Over the course of the next two centuries, this nation expanded the availability of information, freedom of speech, and civil liberties, curtailing them only in times of war. During the American Civil War, for example, President Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus, locked up newspaper editors, and censored telegrams. In World War II, U.S. officials placed Japanese Americans in internment camps and censored all correspondence by its military forces in combat zones. During the Vietnam War, some protestors were thrown in jail for expressing their views, and in October 2001, Congress passed legislation increasing the authority of state and federal law enforcement agencies to conduct wiretaps and read e-mail. Every generation of Americans has been willing to curtail some of its personal freedoms for the duration of a national crisis, most notably in time of war. Afterward, they were persistent in regaining those constrained freedoms. A healthy sign.

What do we do in the current situation, where normalcy means living on a wartime footing for an extended period of time in a struggle against global terrorism in all its elusive dimensions? First, let us recognize that in no war in American or European history did anybody know how long it would last. Overwhelmingly, forecasts on duration have been wrong, underestimating the length of a conflict. According to European military experts, World War I was supposed to last two to three months. Earlier, American officials thought they could wrap up the Civil War in 90 days or so. Who would have predicted that the Vietnam War would last seven years? What a surprise it was that the Gulf War lasted only 100 days! Arab-Israeli wars are often seen as a continuum, marked by pauses that are interrupted by low-level fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.

Among industrial nations, Americans and Europeans now live in a time of persistent peril—the danger of minor and extensive military action, concerns about physical security at home, and threats to the welfare of the global economic infrastructure. How do we reach a balance between personal security and free movement? How do we leverage the benefits of free trade while restricting the movement of terrorists, dangerous materials, and their funds? These are not easy questions to answer, in part because the specific circumstances involved in formulating policies and practices shift. If the past has anything to teach us, it is that we will tolerate constraints to personal movement and access to information. We will also monitor the physical movement of people and goods, with increased cost to all economies and reduced flexibility of action. Watch then for products and services that become less attractive to sell and buy.

What became obvious in the wake of 9-11 were the unintended consequences for globalization. The New York Times on October 14, 2001 published a photograph of a bar in Tijuana, Mexico. It was empty. Prior to 9-11, that bar, along with many others in that community, would have been packed with tourists and Americans going south for the day to have a good time. But with the fear of traveling, the owner of that bar, well over a thousand miles away from New York and Washington, D.C. and in a different country, was in financial trouble. All over Latin America, currencies dropped in value within days of 9-11; sales of raw materials, such as copper and zinc, came almost to a halt; and around the world, airlines from the U.S. to China experienced 20 to 80 percent declines in sales. The economics minister of Argentina, Domingo Cavallo, summed up the impact on globalization: "What is approaching is a deceleration of the United States and European economies in the context of a war against terrorism." He was pointing out the perils of the interconnectedness brought about by globalization.

Negative, unintended consequences rippled rapidly through a globalized society. Within two weeks of 9-11, airlines, hotels, shipping lines, and restaurants around the world saw sharp, dramatic declines in business. Airlines began laying off tens of thousands of employees; hotels accustomed to 80 percent or more occupancy rates either closed whole floors or entire buildings. People around the world saw the Twin Towers blow up and reacted quickly and simultaneously to protect their economic assets and to improve their physical security. What is different from earlier decades is the speed with which positive and negative by-products of an event emerge.

For Americans, that means we will personally have to know more about international affairs, keep up with and be a part of activities of many other countries. We will have to learn foreign languages, more world history, and political science. We cannot leave it to diplomats or senior executives in our largest corporations. Americans as a whole must become more worldly as they make voting decisions, support various issues, take actions on behalf of their families and careers, and better understand the potential consequences of their actions. The day may come when some Americans will ask the kinds of questions globe-trotters and families living abroad have always asked—In what society should I raise my children? In which economy will my children and their children be best off during the 21st century? Americans rarely ask those kinds of questions, but their immigrant forebears did. That is how they made up their minds to come to America in the first place.

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