The Upside of Globalization
On the plus side, globalization delivers the many benefits of interconnection, starting with global infrastructures to deal with crises and foster cooperation that transcends national boundaries. These include telecommunications, international governmental and regulatory bodies, multinational corporations, and both profit and nonprofit organizations operating around the world. Add personal relationships among national leaders, nurtured by state visits and exchanges at every level of government, along with ongoing contacts involving business leaders, academics, consultants, and experts of all kinds.
Gone are the days when, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the White House had to scramble to find people living in Washington, D.C. who personally knew Fidel Castro and could advise the administration on possible Cuban moves. Today, American presidents know national leaders personally, exchanging visits that are supplemented by frequent telephone conversations. As necessary, they send personal emissaries to hot spots at a moment's notice. From the United Nations to the Red Cross, the world is tied together by organizations working full time on the world's problems and needs, their efforts facilitated by personal relations between individuals at many levels of government.
While some observers worried in the 1980s and 1990s that national governments would collapse in the face of the growing economic power of large corporations, nothing of the sort happened. In fact, the historic trend has been toward more national governments. Nearly 200 now exist, almost double the number after World War II. In many nations, decentralized governmental entities, such as in Italy and Spain, add to the mix of governance and spread connections around the world.
The results are striking. When President George Bush put together his coalition to go after Iraq in 1991, it took him several months to organize it; his son created a worldwide coalition in less than 30 days. One could argue that the issues were different, that the players were the product of a different generation and so forth but in the end, what sped up the process was a sense of global community. Of course, the glue that held it together, a war against terrorism, was enormously appealing to nations that had experienced the horrors of such violence and those that feared it. But there was more to it. Nations have become conditioned to mobilizing their resources in joint efforts. They have been acquiring the habit of working together on global issues.
Free trade, international monetary policies, environmental protection initiatives, and now antiterrorism all have become global projects. The implications are enormous. For one thing, it suggests that Americans do not necessarily have to bear alone the full burden of dealing with thorny diplomatic and military issues in the decades to come. Other countriesnot just the U.N.can work on these issues by cooperating via international channels that already exist. We can envision a situation where national leaders might hesitate before launching an initiative that would offend the rest of the world.
As the interdependence of economic, monetary, and political conditions increases, already a major consequence of globalization, increasing numbers of nations will have reason to work together in protecting standards of health, economic well-being, and environmental conditions. Political scientists have long noted that the best way to create a democracy and keep it going is to ensure the creation and preservation of a thriving middle class. While the critics of world trade point out that Earth's resources are dominated by wealthy nations, they forget that, even in the poorest nations, standards of living are higher than in their past. Poverty in such countries is magnified in comparison with rich nations. The historic trend has been a slow rise in the standard of living of many parts of the world, particularly in that middle tier around the Earth that straddles the Equator for a thousand miles above and below it. Meanwhile, a disturbing imbalance troubles the waters as wealthier nations get richer faster than the poorest improve their economies. This creates tensions because all countries compete, and those that fall behind resent the prosperity of the wealthy nations. This goes a long way to explaining why anti-Americanism is more evident in poorer countries than in wealthier ones.
To be realistic, there are limits to the positive, facilitating features of globalization. The world is still a competitive arena. The distinguished historian, David S. Landes, in his book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), points out that the benefits of trade have always been unequal. The comparative advantages of nations never remain fixed but shift over time as those who respond to economic conditions tend to do better. According to Landes, in all societies, "some people find it easier and more agreeable to take than to make." He also points out that advanced economies can protect themselves, although not completely avoid the pain of doing so, by pursuing trade, exploiting innovations in technology, learning from others, creating new knowledge, and pursuing new markets for goods and services. He ends his lengthy, well-reasoned book with a simple statement that captures an essential feature of citizens living in industrialized nations: "Educated, eyes-open optimism pays; pessimism can only offer the empty consolation of being right." Globalization facilitates our ability to apply that perspective. Given the nature of capitalist societies and recent trends, globalization can be leveraged in the years ahead to preserve and enhance the economic standards and cultural values of more and more countries around the world.