Returning to themes discussed in the first of these articles, political scientist Professor Yves Schemeil, who lectures at Sciences Po Grenoble, highlights the four waves of globalization through our recent history and asks: will the present wave finally roll back? Words by Stuart Pallister.
“Globalization has always been a source of opportunity and a source of risk,” said Professor Yves Schemeil as he opened one of his series of lectures to Les Roches and Glion students.
Prof. Schemeil outlined the successive waves of globalization over the past five centuries, stating that the phenomenon may even have stretched back some five millennia. But, he said, “what we can see is that it’s now more challenging than ever”.
He added, “Interdependence between countries is now the rule. No country can just think they can be on their own somewhere and live quietly, not even North Korea which has communications with China. And the most important thing is probably ‘individuation’ which means we’re personally responsible for the welfare of the planet and we cannot be completely disinterested from that.
“We must control the sources of power and of wealth, because they can easily get out of hand and become a pure catastrophe. Also, we can mitigate every sort of excess.
“Globalization is an old story because it’s not only the story of flows of resources, goods and services. It’s also the story of how people change their mindset and become more and more concerned with the choices they have to make, without relying on anyone to do this on their behalf. Each phase of globalization has eventually achieved the same end: it has enlarged, franchised, emancipated and enriched individuals – step by step of course.”
Globalization Wave #1 (1453-1815)
The first wave highlighted by Prof. Schemeil started in 1453 with the discovery of the Americas by Columbus and ended with the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Conquests and long-distance trade (plus protectionism – “you have imperialism outside and democratization inside”) marked this period, along with wars.
Prof. Schemeil noted, “The core meaning of globalization is the acceleration of the rhythm of social and economic change.
“It was the beginning of the massive, speculative import-export of luxury goods. Globalization comes with luxury” (for example, gold, silver and jewels as return on investment in the Columbus expedition).
England, the US and France democratized during this period “with three great revolutions” (the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England, American Independence in 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789).
“They all had the same objective: to allow the rulers get some power but at the same time stop misuse of power and protect citizens’ liberties.”
Professional diplomacy is invented during this period, due to the Utrecht peace treaties of 1712. Mutual tolerance of regimes is guaranteed, and sovereign states are to be treated equally. However, the peace did not last and in 1815 the ‘great powers of the time’ met in Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon and “imagined a world in which there would be no more wars”. Although the foundations were laid for an ‘ordered world’, problems remained as the “majority of people remained poor and lacked mobility”, unlike the elites who could buy luxury goods and travel everywhere.
Globalization Wave #2 (1815-1920s)
This period is marked by the rise of labor and the masses. “Access is more open than ever because it’s the beginning of globalization for all, not only the elites: those who have power and are affluent. Mass consumption, low-cost products and hedonism are increasingly legitimate and available. It’s now time to enjoy life and have fun,” Prof. Schemeil said.
People are no longer content to invest in the future through their children and grandchildren. “Impatience is now there, and this is the engine of globalization.”
Globalization Wave #3 (1919-1990s)
1919 marks the “restart of globalization with new aspects”. A new world is promised with the great powers that won the first world war opting for a ‘democratic peace’. Having come close to disaster, they “tried to redesign international relations and restart globalization”.
The League of Nations was founded, which was regarded by some as a “first step towards world government, which it was not”. It was, though, the precursor to the United Nations which was created at the end of the second world war in 1945.
Prof. Schemeil also highlighted what he termed “some moments in the timeline” that are important during this period, such as the oil crisis of 1973 and the creation of institutions like the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Group of Seven (G7). “After victories (such as the end of the Cold War), there is a re-organization and you find new institutions,” he noted.
Globalization Wave #4 (Late 1990s, early 2000s-date)
“The fourth wave is characterized by the idea that democracies don’t go to war because they trade with each other.”
Trade has to be de-regulated, Prof. Schemeil said, so “free trade is advocated”. This had been partly implemented in 1948 with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), he added, “but it was mostly achieved after 1995 with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its first achievements in the 2000s”. Now, along with the notion of free trade, “the idea that fair trade is also important and has become more and more popular”.
He continued, “International trade must boost growth because this enriches everyone.” This includes those who are already wealthy as well as the poor. Societies need to be democratized and transformed. “Everyone must be rewarded by globalization, whatever their position on the social ladder, whether belonging to a rich, less rich, or even a poor country.”
In conclusion, Prof. Schemeil said, “This current wave of globalization, which shares a number of aspects with the previous ones and is probably the heir of the earliest waves, is nonetheless very specific. Why? Because expectations are higher and higher. This is a period of time where people think they can be more affluent, happier, freer, etc.”
However, although expectations will continue to increase, “resources are not growing exponentially”. Although everyone now thinks they have the right to travel, not everyone will be able to stay at a luxury hotel like the Raffles in Singapore, go on safari, or climb Machu Picchu in Peru.
“So, because everyone wants to get all these resources at any time, it becomes more difficult to find the natural resources that would be necessary to accommodate them.”
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