“Things are real there,” quotes the Wall Street Journal* of a Chinese millionaire, referring to America. “Here you don’t know what to believe.” Well, there is one thing one can believe: some 30 years on, expansive globalization is reconsolidating. What has been proffered as a burgeoning “economic interdependence” has been in fact a dependence on draining off the creative and monetary energy from freer and more democratic nations. Now it would seem that tide is beginning to change. The successful within China see the approach of the limits of a closed and corrupt. They, including many of the princelings, the heirs of the old guard, have sent their children on ahead to be educated in the west.
America had been at the forefront of this modern episode of globalization, particularly beginning with the 1970’s. So it at there that this brief examination of the motivating ideas behind globalization and it current manifestations begins.
The 1970s does indeed mark the beginning of the modern concept of globalization, particularly as it relates to the most influential economic and military power of its time, the United States of America. That said it is important then to briefly review some of the major events that shaped America’s attitude towards itself and towards its relationships to the family of nations.
It would seem that a discussion about globalization is at its core a discussion about societal values. Certainly for America, the 70’s were a time of reexamining what it was and what it stood for. For instance, it can well be argued that the “Age of Globalization”, certainly in the United States, really derived from the 1970’s mantra “It is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” To the beat of tambourines and bells on dancing feet, our culture was assured that a “New Age” was dawning, “when peace shall guide the planets and love will steer the stars.”
For America, the decade of the 70s was a time when its self-confidence was shaken to its core. Actually, the 70’s was in many ways simply an extension of what is often referred to as the 60’s, a time when the “counter-culture” and its “back-to-the earth” narrative held sway in our society. It was a time when the focus was on seeking the “exceptions” in “American Exceptionalism”; and in those times, they were not all that hard to find.
The war in Vietnam, with its bloody images and body counts brought into our living rooms on the nightly TV news, kept hammering our nation’s morale farther and farther into the ground. The free-speech movement introduced shocking words once only written on bathroom walls. Images of beaten civil rights workers introduced many to a cruel and shocking reality. The assassination of yet another Kennedy, the shooting of Martin Luther King, and the burning and looting in many cities of the United States left the nation numb and shaken as it greeted the new decade of the 1970’s. But there was much more ahead to try a nation’s soul.
The American decade of the 70’s had bookends of major tragic events. That first spring, four students died at Kent State University, as inexperienced National Guardsmen attempted to control an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. In the autumn of 1979, Iranian militant students seized 66 Americans at the United States embassy in Tehran, keeping a nation hostage and its president impotent.
And somehow, in just those ten short years, America managed to squeeze in a whole lot more societal-altering events: The First Earth Day often called the launching of the environmental movement. Daniel Ellsberg broke his pledge of secrecy and revealing pentagon secrets at a time of massive antiwar demonstrations. Arab terrorists killed nineteen Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The Arab oil embargo probably shook the American society its core more than any other single event since Pearl Harbor. A vice president resigns. A year later, the president of the United States resigns, leaving behind a legacy of governmental mistrust and an increased influence of the press that lingers to this day. Then there was the Three Mile Island release of radioactivity into the atmosphere and the revelations of dumped pollution percolating up through the ground in the community of Love Canal. Given all these events and many others, where was a disoriented society to turn? A craving for a “Peace in Our Times” gave an opening to those organizations and individuals who held a more utopian vision for America, and for the globe.
“Globalization” for some might almost be viewed as a “share the wealth” of America’s perceived unfair advantages. It was promoted as having the theoretical advantages of allowing the “efficiencies” of each nation and culture to contribute to the rise in the globe’s total economic wealth. Well, in many ways it did, but now viewed from the advantage of hindsight, this global engine of prosperity needed a driving energy force. And that force? The American consumer’s prosperity and demand. To some observers, there exists the irony of promoting globalization through such things as lowering trade barriers; often as a “temporary” one to aid so-called “disadvantaged” nations and NAFTA, certainly raised the wealth and power of other nations, with China of course being a prime example. Those advantages, with its initially lower labor costs and the artificial restraint on the value of its currency are clearly evident today. What is also evident is the dimming of the economic fire in recent years that fueled much of the apparent Chinese and Global wealth: the American consumer.
“Americanization” became a catchall term that encompassed all the perceived wrongs that were wrought by man and machine on human kind. America had, in the eyes of some increasingly vocal citizens, used a disproportionate amount of the world’s natural and energy resources and had grown economically and militarily too far out ahead of the other nations on this globe
While globalization is more often a term used to describe an economic model, it is at its core an expression of a collective set of values.
And “collective” may indeed be THE term that best summarizes those values.
Implied in “collective” is the sense of the sacrifice by its individuals for the benefit of the whole. Thus it is incumbent on the “haves” to “share” with the have-nots. The idea here is that through such a mechanism the cumulative average would be raised and then, all together, the whole would then prosper and increase. It would be rather like taking the varying ingredients for pizza dough, compressing and combining them into a homogenous mass, then having the baker spin them in the air to expand outward yet interconnected.
NAFTA was one of those “homogenizing” mechanisms. By freely allowing the flow of capital and technical resources, the cost of the final product from one area, Mexico for example, would make for a lower priced product that would benefit the end user American consumer. And it worked…for a while.
But always what was required was an external supply of economic energy. In this case, an “excess” of monetary “energy” that could buy those cheaper imported products while still producing and selling a product for profit within America’s own borders. Yet, just like the dream of perpetual motion, economic laws behave very much like the laws of physics and gravity. To keep this economic wheel, spinning, and external impetus of cash wealth had to be constantly applied. And as in in market, after the initial lowering of price, the ingredients into the manufacturing process rise. Labor cost, and the cost of the commodities rise. Host governments see a source of income by attaching more taxes, and manufactures also begin to see the potential profit by beginning restrict the very supply of the product that is being consumed. Also all along the supply chain, each step sees profit potential by easing upward their fees and profits.
It’s unsustainable. Ironic since one of the driving core values implicit in globalization is sustainability.
So “sharing” with the less economically endowed and “raising up” of those populations is part and parcel of Globalization.
Implied in Globalization is the “breakdown of empire”. So if you want to look at who the proponents are and what is their intent, look at the anti-empire rhetoric used. The whole antithesis to empire and the model held up is that of the British Empire. Well the sun has certainly set on it and examples abound of many of its previous colonial holdings are prospering.
Like so many things inherited form Great Britain, America now has inherited the ire of many globalists by referring to the “American Empire”, and by extension the supposed benefits that will be released to the underdeveloped world, the “Third World” countries with its demise.
There was a Coca Cola advertisement during those early years of Globalization: “And the world will be a better place.” “And see the world in perfect harmony”
The concept was that if the world were more economically dependent on each other (interdependent). Each country would have an economic stake in the continuing and expanding world trade. Thus, it was predicted, disputes between regions would be handled by negotiations, not military threats or actions
The unintended consequences have been the very use of a perceived economic edge being used as a tool, a negotiating weapon if you will, to forward a nation’s political goals. An example of this would be when Vladimir Putin’s government had Russia cut off the supply of natural gas to the Ukraine during the winter of 2006 in a price and payment dispute. The consequences reached far beyond the region because that same gas line helped supply a dozen other countries, sending a price increase jolt around the world.
The threat of a considerable increase in pollution of the land, water and atmosphere was not generally foreseen. China’s industrial expansion has increased enormously in recent decades in order to meet global demand for its products. With it has come a huge increase in its consumption of energy, supplied primarily by the burning of coal. There has been considerable soil and water pollution because of a lack of farsighted preventive regulation or out and out corrupt bypassing of existing laws.
Even less foreseen and unintended was the recent trend of thousands of wealthy Chinese who are packing their bags for the west. At first blush this comes as a surprise to many westerners. They were under the impression that the Chinese hold an ancient sense of cultural superiority. It would seem the ambitious within China see that democracy and freedom is indeed a superior environment within which to succeed.
America’s founding fathers intended it that way.