Friday, June 24, 2016

Rejecting Globalism

On May 5, 2016 Secretary of State John Kerry, in a commencement speech at Northeastern University said, "You’re about to graduate into a complex and BORDERLESS WORLD." [emphasis mine]  This is a profound statement, particularly from the Secretary of State of the United States.  It turns on its head a system of political organization in place since the 1600s in which each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, within the borders of the state.  Kerry’s globalist viewpoint may be out of step with a nationalist moment in history.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders reject the notion of a borderless world through their condemnation of international trade agreements.  They revile a political, economic, financial, and media elite that have advanced a global economic system that increasingly operates outside of the controls of the state and the interests of U.S. citizens.  Large corporations move production to the lowest wage labor markets and shift headquarters to escape taxation.   The resultant loss of whole industry sectors like manufacturing in the United States or stagnation of wages in the middle class are the tangible experience of many citizens.

Trump further links unfettered migration to globalization.  When he says, “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country,” Trump is indicting the establishment for aiding, abetting, and accelerating the “borderless world” to which Secretary Kerry refers.   Many citizens within the U.S. see these policies directly impacting their economic opportunities and unalterably changing their culture.  They blame both Democratic and Republican Administrations of the recent past.

The rejection of globalism was also evident in the recent vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union.  This first departure from the borderless EU is likely to be followed by additional departures and potentially the collapse of a key regional body in the move toward globalism.   A historical inflection point may be brewing within the entire Western World.

One wonders if Trump and Sanders (and Brits) are paddling against an unstoppable tide of globalization.  Some say it is the destiny of human beings to ultimately organize and identify principally as a global society, just as societies evolved from clans, tribes, and city states. Both Trump and Sanders’ appeal in part results from large segments of the population strongly rejecting globalization, and the vote in Britain may indicate a historical return, in both the U.S. and Europe, to nationalism.

The underlying force behind the drive politically toward globalism is corporate globalism.  Multi-national corporations are the primary beneficiaries of national policies skewed toward a global economic system.  Establishment politicians from both major political parties have advanced this agenda for decades at the behest of corporate interests.  The Internet has further enabled globalism in that it is a system of economic and social engagement that operates beyond most national borders.

The advancement of a high minded view of globalism largely emerged from the United States and Europe, but the corporate, political, cultural, and academic advocates fail to recognize that much of the world is not interested in globalism.   Russia and China view globalist trade and foreign policies as opportunities to advance strictly national interests – often to the detriment of the interests of the U.S. and its citizens.

Many third world states remain in a tribal state of social evolution.  Their governments view globalist border policies and good will as opportunities to unload dissenters and the poor from within their borders to the U.S. and EU.   Many of their citizens, understandably, see globalist good will and lax border enforcement as an opportunity to escape variously despicable conditions in their place of birth.

The rejection of globalism in the U.S. and Europe is recognition that the high ideals of a globalist viewpoint are inconsistent with the interests of much of the citizenry and the reality that much of the world is uninterested or incapable of moving beyond a nationalist or tribal interest. Many in the U.S. and Europe perceive globalism as diminishing their economic interests and open borders as fundamentally changing their culture.  They perceive the uncontrolled migrant influx not as an orderly assimilation of new citizens, but as the chaotic creation of ghettos, some of which breed violence.

The push back against globalism in the U.S. may well result in a rejection of the political advocates of globalism as just occurred in Great Britain.   The underpinning discontent is there.  The establishment advocates of globalism are known.  The question remains if Donald Trump can prove himself worthy of leading the revolt.  The question for Hillary Clinton, an advocate of globalist policies, is just as profound - can she escape a possible historic inflection point?


  1. David Lipton of the IMF presented the case for globalization in a speech last month. He is a good friend of Larry Summers. His argument is strong, but where he makes the case that a rising tied lifts all boats, I think he fails to recognize the scope of discontent politically for those who suffer the negative consequences of change inherent in globalization. In a later question and answer period he admits that it must be tended to, but does not seem to recognize fully that the economic programs he wants to implement globally cannot move forward without political support. The middle class in advanced economies are revolting and he needs to give that some more thought.

  2. Interesting article and I tend to agree with most of it. My opinion is that a long view (very long) of human history is that our destiny is to spread intelligent life throughout the universe. But that will require common identity, purpose and effort we are not yet able to achieve. Progress is two steps forward and one step back. The step back is for course correction. I think we may be stepping back in the current decade to take stock, but ultimately will resume forward momentum toward a unified globe. Leaders need to keep us on course and speed to the future, but they also have to recognize when they are taking on water and do a little baling.


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