King Solomon, that biblical figure who was credited as being the wisest man that ever lived, once disenchanted, commented that there is nothing new under the sun; the things which have been done before are the same ones being done now, and shall continue being done ad infinitum. In today’s political and economic environment, Solomon is not far off the mark. countries still conduct trade with each other, those who are stronger create modern day empires that the weaker pay tribute to, maybe not in gold or human slaves but in the formulation of policies and trade agreements.
Globalisation is a concept that is older than we actually make it out to be. What has changed, perhaps, is the rate and the scale at which globalization is taking place. Solomon’s philosophy, written more than two millennia ago, still holds true, and that in itself is evidence that globalization, like a lot of other things in the world today, is no new phenomena (Bordo, 2002). Working from the definition of globalization and an understanding of the ideologies from two schools of thought: liberalism and realism, we can draw the conclusion that globalization is just old wine poured into new wineskins.
What is globalization?
Globalization is a term that has been used in reference to the progressive interconnectivity and interdependence of global markets (Woods, 2000). However, globalization does not only impact economically because it has brought about the cross over of cultures and social settings that has been termed as cultural hegemony and is discouraged by some. According to Woods (2000), globalization in recent times has come to be regarded as a way in which to gauge the changes that are taking place in international economies as well as politics worldwide. Woods (2000) further explains that through the nineties, there have been great advances in telecommunications infrastructure and the popularization of the world wide web that have literally shrunk the world, bringing people from countries and continents into closer contact than they ever have been before.
World economies are more than ever tied up with each other, the interdependence of countries on each other, heavier than it has ever been before.
History of globalization
Nye (2004) notes that globalization, if viewed in the context of the integration of regional and global markets, is a trend that has at some points in history been more prominent than others because of a given number of factors. The most recent waves of globalization were during world war two, and another surge that started in the seventies and is being experienced to date.
The Agrarian revolution in Europe happened way back in the 19th century. The stimulus for it was the improved technology available in the cotton ginneries, British colonies that were both a source of raw materials and ready markets for the finished product and the invention of the steam engine that facilitated travelling. It is important to note that the three things which facilitated these periods of immense domestic growth were new technology, easier and cheaper transportation and new markets across international borders (Galpine, 1987).
The revolution did not only lead to internal migration within European countries, but it also led to movements between these countries and across continents as well (Galpine, 1987).
Woods (2002) points out that one of the key features of globalization that has been observed through the cycles of globalization is that it leads to reduced barriers to trade, which consequently result in greater volumes of trade and finally a more amalgamated global market.
Nye (2002) points out that the trends of globalization, though having the same overall characteristics, have changed through the times. He says that though countries can greatly benefit from aspects of globalization such as free trade, cheap alternative labor and accessible foreign markets, there need to be concrete macro-economic policies in place to govern growth.
Masson (2001) observes that though globalization in recent years has led to increased international trade and rise in nations’ GDPs, this does not necessarily mean an improvement in the quality of life for individuals. Furthermore, he says, there are countries that have been reluctant to adopt the concept of free trade harboring the genuine fear that other countries might trample their young economies.
Extreme realists see globalization as what will be the death knell to international relations as we understand it today, with the state playing the central role. They are of the opinion that globalization will continue to detract from the power of the state more so the influence that the state has within its own domestic region and abroad (Jackson & Sorensen, 2007).
One way in which this might happen, argue the realists, is by the delegation of more and more power to international neoliberal institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and a limited capability to make independent decisions. Another fear that realists have is that globalization may in the long run water down the independence accorded to sovereign states’ legal, social and political capabilities within their own domestic frameworks (Jackson & Sorensen, 2007).
On the other hand, the liberals reduce what realists see as potential threats. This is because liberalists do not rank the sovereignty of the state highly in the first place. To the liberals, globalization is just an avenue through which the integration of trade and communications across boarders can be increased. However, they still distinguish the state as the principal player in international relations. Impacts of
Globalization – blessing or a curse
It seems that globalization has as many supporters as it has opposers. There are those who think that its impact has done more harm than good; globalization has acted as an avenue for developed countries to brazenly exploit weaker economies, with the insistence on free trade and demolition of trade barriers (Nye, 2004).
Realists strongly support the state of anarchy, where anarchy is the circumstance under which there is no higher power than the state. This means that there would be no international organizations left to see to international relations. This causes a paradox because countries must conduct trade with each other.
realists are opposed to the idea that a few select who make up neoliberal organizations such as the World Bank or the IMF have the mandate to make decisions which impinge on their lives, yet there consensus is not called for in the making of these decisions.
The rate of globalization, notes Bordo (2001) is not homogenous for nations’ worldwide. There are those who might be left lagging far behind, scrabbling for the pickings. Bordo highlights how globalization has affected some countries over the years, for example, by 1850; the hub of world trade was Britain, who was profiting immensely from her various colonies. By 1900, however, she had been joined by Western European countries, and later on, the U.S became the single dominant power. This, Masson (2001) explains, can be attributed to increasing returns to scale and the shifts in market size.
Masson (2001) highlights that from the very beginning globalization came with inequality, not only between countries, but within the countries as well. He points out that though the trends of inequality between countries are not very clear; the trend for within the countries is that the gap between the haves and have-nots has been growing bigger.
Another sinister aspect of globalization as outlined by Masson is the cyclic financial crises. These occur after ever given number of years and the ripple effect is felt globally, because world economies are so closely intertwined. The worst economic crisis was the stock market crash of 1929 that saw thousands homeless and millions out of their jobs (Masson, 2001) this domino effect can be directly attributed to the interdependence of world economies. The worst part is that the poorer economies, whole least contribute to recession, are usually the worst hit.
Future of globalization
The question is not whether globalization is going to take place; with the advances that have been made in telecommunications and transport, countries cannot close their doors to the rest of the world and remain islands unto themselves. The question thus should be, in what direction globalization should go.
Given, there are shortcomings to globalization as we know it, where young economies of developing countries are bulldozed by the stronger ones. What needs to be done is for governments of both emerging and developed economies should formulate policies that are fair, and that shield the smaller economies from being taken advantage of (Nye, 2004).
Globalization is here to stay; there is very little debate about that. There may be periods of slowed globalization but it is a process that will continue taking place (Nye, 2004).
Why realists are opposed to globalization is because they are of the opinion that it undermines the role of the state. This has triggered a reformation of how international relations are conducted by various countries in a bid to protect the sovereignty of the state. While realists take the stance that globalization remains a threat to nationalism, their attitude has led to the redefinition of what international relations are between nations (Jackson & Sorensen, 2007).
Why globalization is still following the same lines it did two hundred years ago can be broadly credited to three of its major aspects. One is the fact that globalization is fuelled by growth in technology that leads to faster communication and cheaper transport as well as increased international trade. The second aspect of globalization that has remained constant is that it has been more beneficial to countries with the stronger economies, which happen to also formulate the policies and create the institutions that govern international trade. The third factor is that globalization seems to widen existing social gaps, whether it is within the same domestic community or by lateral comparison of national economies. As Woods (2002) points out, the difference in globalization for the different eras is in scale.
As the sage Solomon surmised, there is nothing new under the sun, globalization included.
Bordo, Michael, D. ‘Globalization in Historical Perspective’ Business Economics, 2002. Web.
Jackson, Robert, H & Sorensen George. “Introduction to International relations: Theories and Approaches.” London: Oxford University Press, 2007
Masson, Paul. ‘Globalization: Facts and Figures’ IMF Policy Discussion Paper. 2009. Web.
Nye, Joseph, S. “Power in the Global Information Age: from Realism to Globalization.” New York:Routledge, 2004.
Woods, Ngaire. “The Political Economy of Globalization.” Basingstoke: MacMillan, 2000.
Galpine, Roberts “The Political Economy of International Relations.” New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.