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Eureka: Defining globalization
by Jay Gutman
2017-01-26 10:48:37
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Trans Pacific Partnership repealed. Brexit. Walls, NAFTA, the European Union. Politicians here and there are talking about rejecting globalization. What did different countries actually mean by globalization? Having travelled around the world, here’s what I observed about globalization.

globe01_400_02To North Americans, globalization mainly meant Americanization. It meant travelling around the world where everyone speaks English. It meant following North American legal reasoning meaning that in case of conflict witnesses need to come forward and the verdict needs to be based on consensus. It means a North American education system where most people are taught to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. It means fighting slavery, discrimination in all its forms and equality between ethnicities and gender. It also means fair distribution of wealth, and fair trade deals.

The problem with the North American view is most people don’t understand English and that in some countries it’s actually rude to stop people in the streets and talk to them in English. Common law is not common in the rest of the world, and in case of conflict witnesses are not always told to come forward. Most education systems around the world have teacher teach “what to think” and not “how to think.” American values like freedom and equality are foreign concepts in many countries. These factors meant only the most adventurous Americans ventured to do business abroad and that many North Americans did not take the importance of learning languages seriously. One never ending debate I had with North Americans, along with the British and Australians, was that you were better off learning local languages and customs. My English-speaking friends would always insist “in times of globalization, we are the messiahs who are going to teach them the language and customs of globalization: English.” Given this globalization worldview, globalization has failed. Few countries adopted Common law and English, and those who did quickly realized that most people were comfortable with their original ways.

The European view is more interesting. Europe has become a major destination for tourism, many small businesses cater to tourists, Europe is proud of preserving its countryside and treats farmers rather decently in most cases, while bigger industrial complexes are located in the peripheries of capitals or large cities and have migrant workers and polyglot managers. What is being argued these days is that globalization benefited big business, but that small business could no longer compete with big brands and that too many non-European or European conglomerates were “stealing” small businessmen’s clients. Big French business, big Belgian business or big Italian business also got tired of competing against each other. The only ones saying that globalization’s a good thing are polyglot hipsters who like to grow beards and long hair and like sipping beer and conversing in several languages. So the European view was mostly about tourists and managers speaking 7 or 8 languages every working day, while transportation costs, housing costs and logistical costs along with a painful EU bureaucracy has meant globalization is no longer as enchanting as it once was.

In Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and to a certain extent South Asia globalization meant inviting foreign capital to invest in short-term projects that would help the economy become dynamic in the long-run. Building highways, ports, airports, hotels and other venues with foreign capital that could build a foundation to invite long-term business investors. The projects were mostly successfully built, although bureaucracy and corruption sometimes meant unfinished projects or investors being stuck inside the country because they can’t cash out their expenses and send the money back home.

BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia) are informal consortiums who were very active in a lot of the short-term investment projects around the world and were formed to lobby in favor of global trade when some rules seem to favor Europe and North America, that is some projects demand the kind of capital that is only available in Europe and North America. Their view of globalization is one that tries to push the rest of the world to have lower quality norms for example, or lower barriers regarding what kind of industrial products can or can’t enter certain countries.

In some countries such as India, China, South Korea and Japan, globalization is viewed with nationalist lenses, that is one where the country gets signs as many deals as possible with the rest of the world. Tune in to Korean or Japanese news, and you will hear a succession of business deals that were signed by say, Koreans, with a succession of countries in the rest of the world. Only when your products don’t directly compete with local products are you technically allowed to invest in such countries, meaning globalization is not always a two-way street. However, when viewed with nationalist lens, it means these countries have often been the victims of scams, since many were eager to please their boss that they had signed a deal, sometimes with countries that don’t even exist.

This was a rough description of globalization at the macro level. The next few articles will describe globalization at the micro level, that is at the school, corporate, government or even at  the religious level. Stay tuned.  

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