“Globalization,” the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf wrote in his book-length defense of the idea, “is a hideous word of obscure meaning, coined in the 1960s, that came into ever-greater vogue in the 1990s.” If globalization still seems somewhat ill-defined today, more than half a century into its existence, it is due to the enormity of what the word has come to represent. Attempting to fit the total worldwide flow of capital and people, goods and services, data and ideas, diseases and greenhouse gases, and so on, all under a single, readily comprehensible heading is an exercise bound to come up short.
The forces that have made the world flat, to use New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s description, are too big, too varied, and too dynamic to be easily pinned down. Nor are these forces the result of any single policy or set of policies undertaken with the intention of ending up where we are today. No one willed the world’s present interconnectedness into existence. No one individual, party, institution, or country is to be praised or blamed for globalization, or appealed to for a course correction. Instead, it is nearer the truth to see globalization as the present state of affairs, as the story that best explains the reality of our age. It is a reality that cannot be reversed, except as the result of a global calamity.
Yet some prefer a different story and a different reality. Nationalist and populist movements have emerged in recent years to challenge globalization’s inevitability. In Europe as in the United States, the impulse toward protectionism and exclusion has too often found a ready audience. Those adversely affected by globalization, economic inequality, and cultural intermixing have eagerly accepted these alternatives. Enterprising politicians have further stoked this sentiment, offering a range of dubious policies that promise to reverse the worst offenses of globalization and return national interests to the forefront. These policies are, almost without exception, fantasies. Increasing tariffs and decreasing immigration will do little to curb globalization as it charges ahead through ever more sophisticated technology, new modes of travel, and the spread of ideas and data.
Globalization cannot be stopped, yet we can do a much better job dealing with its consequences by addressing the needs of those most adversely affected. While the answers offered by those exploiting the populist and nationalist reaction to globalization fall way short, their realization that something needs to be done to address the cause of these grievances is very much on point.
As This Week’s Reads show, beginning with the TIME cover story on pandemics, the interconnectedness of the world is now a given. Pulling up the drawbridge to exist in isolation is not an option. Instead, concerted global cooperation, be it in combating a deadly virus or in addressing human-made problems, is the only way forward.
There is no more vivid example of how interconnected the world has become than the threat of a virulent pandemic. As Brian Walsh explains in TIME, a virus originating in China could quickly reach and decimate large urban hubs such as Beijing, New York, London, or Lagos. The recent cases of Zika, MERS, and Ebola are merely harbingers of the potential a deadly infectious disease, indifferent to national borders, poses to millions around the world. “Make no mistake,” writes Walsh, “for all our high-tech isolation units, top-tier doctors and world-class scientists, the US heath care system is not ready for the stresses of a major pandemic.”
Jane Perlez/The New York Times
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump was quick to criticize China. Since coming to office, however, President Trump has warmed to his Chinese counterpart. President Xi Jinping is, Trump said, “a man that I’ve gotten to like and respect.” Neither Trump nor Xi lacks in self-confidence, and both govern through a small coterie of close advisors rather than through large bureaucratic instruments. Yet, Perlez warns, North Korea sits as a sizeable stumbling block to the bond forming between Trump and Xi. When push comes to shove, China will resist putting the maximum economic pressure on North Korea, even at the direct request of the Trump administration.
Anthony Faiola and James McAuley/The Washington Post
“Blame it on Merkel” has become a common refrain rising up among European populist movements across Europe. The long-serving German chancellor has become the main target of anti-European Union sentiment for her policies welcoming asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa and for her advocacy of austerity for EU member states left reeling after the global financial crisis. Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front went so far as to call Merkel “toxic” at campaign rallies. Yet even as the German chancellor has become a potent symbol among Euroskeptics, Merkel, who is up for reelection this year, remains popular in her own country, Faiola and McAuley note.
Robert D. Kaplan/The New York Times
Today, Europe stands as the key guarantor of stability in the Balkans, argues Robert D. Kaplan in the New York Times; that is, if the European Union is willing to accept the responsibility. “Only if Serbia, Albania and Kosovo all become members of the union can the ethnic dispute between Serbs and Albanians truly be solved,” writes Kaplan. He argues the centers of power within the European Union hold a substantial role not only in quelling ethnic and nationalistic tensions in the Balkans, but also in preventing Russia and Turkey from carving out their own zones of influence in the region.
James Kirchick/The American Interest
While the Trump administration’s ties with Moscow have received stiff scrutiny in recent weeks, it is the previous administration, James Kirchick says, that deserves a more forceful rebuke for its handling of relations with Russia over the last eight years. Beginning with the ill-advised “reset” in 2009, President Obama and his administration were too “half-hearted” in response to provocations that came because of the latitude President Obama too willingly afforded Russian President Vladimir Putin. Well before Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin showed no interest in working with the United States, and Obama’s reluctance to accept this came at the cost of American influence abroad, Kirchick concludes.
Mervyn King/Financial Times
The former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, comments on the organization’s 20 years of policy independence. After a brief anecdote on his role in the formation of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, King outlines the advantages of disentangling the Bank from governmental control. Lowered interest rates, reduced politicization, improved relations with the treasury, and increased public trust are mentioned as positive outcomes of the change. King concludes that, while the Bank of England is hardly an infallible institution, the existence of the bank’s Policy Committee allows for an active response to changing conditions in the global economy that might otherwise not occur.
Edward Glaeser/The Wall Street Journal
Richard Florida, professor of Urban Studies at the University of Toronto, predicted the “information economy” in his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Now he is raising the alarm against increasing economic segregation and income inequality in urban communities. Summarized in this article, his new book, “The New Urban Crises,” contains his insights on the role of zoning laws and property taxation in gradually reducing the space for an urban middle-class. Described as “delightful” and “wonderful,” Glaeser’s call for “comprehensive and coordinated place-based investments in disadvantaged neighborhoods” is evidently presented with literary style and panache.
In the new world economy, data have become the central resource. “Digital oil” has powered evolutions in marketing and advertisement, as well as the creation of “cognitive services” tailored directly from individual experience as a potential source of revenue. While vital to current business trends, data goes largely untraded; pricing models for the sale of data are still in their infancy. Additionally, large properties like Google and Facebook have taken advantage of a lack of regulations to establish industrial territory bordering on monopoly. Quantifying the value of data, and compensating the masses currently generating it for free, will be necessary for limiting the power such organizations gain from it.
Ruchir Sharma/The New York Times
While there is much to say about the strength of American innovation, its commitment to the ideals of capitalism, and its entrepreneurial spirit, these are only components of what makes the United States an economic powerhouse. The United States has an advantage in its labor force’s steady growth. While populations have hit an uncomfortable equilibrium in Europe and Japan, the US population continues to grow. However, increased anti-immigration sentiment could potentially threaten this asset. Immigration accounts for nearly a third of US population growth. Stymying immigration may prove disastrous for the economy, writes Ruchir Sharma.
Roger Cohen/The New York Times
Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency represents an important opportunity for the wider European Union. Recently marred by economic woes, an immigration crises, and weakening international bonds, the European Union has been at a disadvantage for some time. Macron, the youngest president France has ever elected, has met the uncertainty of recent years with understanding, compassion, and truthfulness, in contrast with the highly volatile global political climate. While the most difficult work still remains ahead, if Macron’s movement continues to maintain its forward momentum, then his work to strengthen Europe against xenophobia, nationalism, and economic stagnation may yet succeed.