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8.5: Theories of Globalization

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    Since the end of the Cold War, there have been fierce debates about the direction of world politics and the world economy. Globalists focus on numerous integrative organizations such as the UN, WTO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund. NAFTA, NATO and the EU, global MNC activities, the rise of tens of thousands of NGOs and increased cross-cultural influences. However, Barber’s Jihad vs. MacWorld and Friedman’s Lexus and the Olive Tree point out that there is also a counter tendency for traditional cultures to resist the homogenizing effects of globalization and to preserve local power, customs and lifestyles. Traditional local bosses have re-emerged in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and many other countries and affirmations of local culture are everywhere.

    There is plenty of evidence for both tendencies. Countering all the integration is the fact that 53 of the 56 wars between 1990 and 2000 were civil wars, with local populations in Sudan, Yugoslavia, Chechnya and other regions trying to separate from central governments. This is not to mention Britain leaving the European Union and many other peaceful movements for local autonomy, such as in Quebec, Scotland, Wales, Catalonia and Northern Italy.

    As for global vs. local culture, many Iranians exchange text messages on the Internet, watch forbidden cable TV shows produced by the Iranian community in the U.S., and wear sexy western fashions at private parties. However, the Iranian government does its their best to resist these outside influences, with government thugs harassing couples who hold hands, women whose scarves show too much hair, or young people with ‘decadent’ clothing or hairstyles. Indian MTV has rap music and sexy dancing, while militant Hindus enforce traditional culture by threatening people who celebrate Valentine’s Day and killing people accused of eating beef. In Pakistan, the government has sophisticated nuclear weapons, while mobs kill people accused of insulting the Koran. The second and third generations of immigrants in many countries are torn between the culture of their ‘native’ land and the culture where they grew up. Some immigrant children start high-tech companies. Others adopt militant Islam and carry out suicide attacks. Sometimes a blend is achieved. Many marriages are now semi-arranged, with both parents and children having input.

    Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat looks at how globalization is now being driven by technology, education and government policy (in contrast to Ricardo's theory of Comparative Advantage, which emphasized climate, natural resources, capital and labor). Furthermore, Friedman points out that the increased importance of these new factors means that any country, most recently China and India, can develop very rapidly and pose challenges to the West. Indian and Chinese engineers and computer scientists not only work cheaper - many have equal or superior skills to their Western counterparts. Microsoft’s software development office in Beijing has filed more patents than any other part of the company.

    Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations says that the world’s different civilizations (eight or nine of them, depending on the analysis) have basic differences in values, and thus will always be in conflict. Critics point out that there has been just as much conflict within Huntington’s civilizations (e.g. WWI and WWII in Europe, Sunnis vs. Shiites in the Muslim world) as between them, and that ‘different’ civilizations such as Confucianism and Christianity also share many values such as hard work, thrift and family.

    In The End of History and the New Man, Francis Fukuyama claimed that the post-Cold War era of globalized capitalism and prosperity would also inevitably bring democracy, improving the political and economic life of the people it touches.

    “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

    It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. New dictators rose and communist leaders reinvented themselves as nationalists and stayed in power. Strongmen were elected in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines and Brazil. Elections installed radical Islamic governments in Egypt and Gaza and dictators like Venezuela’s Chavez and Russia’s Putin.

    After being elected, Putin took over the media, set new election rules to exclude opponents, made regional governors appointed instead of elected, and took over most of the large corporations in the Russian economy, not to mention arresting and killing opponents. So much for the inevitability of free market capitalism and democracy.

    Similarly, in 1913 the Chinese government’s Document Number 9 explicitly rejected Constitutional rights, the rule of law, free elections, the free press, free speech and other civil liberties. Since 2013, Xi Jin Ping has jailed critics and their lawyers, closed or taken over the media, increased censorship, required study of Communist ideology and increased support for government-owned corporations. Not very democratic in spite of some capitalism.

    In The Coming Chaos, Robert Kaplan is pessimistic on both politics and economics. Like Friedman, he sees part of the world as globalizing and modernizing, but he points out that much of Africa, the Middle East, South and Southwest Asia, the Andean nations and Central America remain poor, violent, corrupt and misgoverned. There are so-called failed states, where the government is corrupt and ineffective. In Somalia, the so-called government only controls a few square blocks of the capitol city of Mogadishu, a multi-sided civil war rages in the rest of the country, and piracy operates openly from its coastal cities. In Afghanistan, former President Hamid Karzai had so little power outside the capitol that he was referred to as the Mayor of Kabul, and Taliban violence and massive corruption at all levels of government continue today. Unfortunately, there are many other examples.

    In the age of modern travel and communications, it is easy for violence from these areas to spill over into the successfully globalized part of the world. In The Pentagon’s New Map, military theorist Richard Barnett acknowledges the split and sees the U.S. role as helping to stabilize and integrate these areas by giving them military assistance.


    1. Briefly outline three types of globalization and give an example of each.

    2. Briefly outline the globalization theories in The World Is Flat, The End of History, The Clash of Civilizations and The Coming Chaos. What is your opinion?

    This page titled 8.5: Theories of Globalization is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lawrence Meacham.

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