It has been largely debated whether or not this process of globalization can be stopped or even slowed now that it had begun. Some economists, such as Thomas Friedman in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, say that globalization is an unstoppable force that will continue to forge on and reshape the world.
Globalization is not a phenomenon. It is not just some passing trend. Today it is an overarching international system shaping the domestic politics and foreign relations of virtually every country, and we need to understand it as such (Friedman 7).
He acknowledges a backlash to globalization by some, such as those hurt by economic crises or those who feel threatened by homogeneity, but he does not think that these protestors will be able to stop globalization’s merciless processes of change.
Others, such as Keohane and Nye, who could be considered the founders of the neoliberal school of thought, posit that globalization can indeed be slowed down, possibly stopped, and maybe even reversed. They agree that globalization is increasing in the present world at a different degree than in any point in history. However, they argue that “[s]uch trends can be set back, perhaps even reversed, by cataclysmic events, as happened in earlier phases of globalization” (Keohane and Nye 118). Pankaj Ghemawat, an economist and global strategist, argues in “Why the World Isn’t Flat” that globalization is not as “increasingly wired” (Ghemawat 54) or “informed” as many globalization proponents say. He does not believe there is any evidence that it is in any way irreversible. On the contrary, he says that “[t]he policies that we fickle humans enact are surprisingly reversible” (Gehmawat 59). While globalization is occurring in today’s world to some extent, whether it is on a small or large scale continues to be debated.
Friedman, in The World is Flat, describes his view that the world is flattening because of globalization, meaning that it is becoming increasingly possible for individuals to get ahead on their own. With the increase in and the spread in availability of technology, more individuals are able to connect to a greater amount of resources and other people from all over the world.
[Globalization] can be incredibly empowering and incredibly coercive. It can democratize opportunity and democratize panic. It makes the whales bigger and the minnows stronger. It leaves you behind faster and faster, and it catches up to you faster and faster. While it is homogenizing cultures, it is also enabling people to share their unique individuality farther and wider (Friedman 406).
He argues that this evens the playing field, making individuals as strong as powerful multinational companies. According to Friedman, it also means that the big power countries such as the United States no longer have a definite spot at the top. Developing countries can now develop faster and will soon have as many resources to compete with core powers.
Others believe that individuals are not becoming more empowered than big multinational companies. Since large companies still have more money than any individual, they still rule in his opinion. Individuals now have the ability to share their ideas and connect to people all over the world, but they don’t have the money to be more powerful and they still don’t have the same connections. Still others would argue that as the world is shrinking, it is not flattening. In other words, as the world becomes more interconnected it is not allowing more to get ahead, but instead it allows more people to be exploited. For example, outsourcing is using the shrinking world to exploit low labor costs and low labor standards.
Globalization analysts also debate on whether globalization is making distance and time unimportant. Many authors that write about globalization agree that this trend will compress both distance and time. Once everyone has the Internet and overnight shipping, they logically say that any business can be run from anywhere on the globe. Friedman especially backs up this argument in his book The World is Flat. He writes about his trip to India on which he learned more about the new technology and business boom going on there. He says that, in India, they are now able to do all things that any American or European could do. With all their new technology, newly qualified and informed workers, and their giant video screens that allowed them to hold real time, virtual meetings with men and women from all over the world. These things have made it possible to do business without worrying about distance.
Ghemawat and others, however, disagree by asserting that distance is not impenetrable. He poses the question as to why many businesses have so many different locations around the world, instead of just one, if the world is truly flat and business can be done anywhere and distance doesn’t matter.
[R]easons related to the tyranny of time zones, languages, and the need for proximity to clients’ local operations loomed large in that decision. This is a far cry from globalization proponents’ oft-cited world in which geography, language and distance don’t matter (Ghemawaut 56).
In this view, distance still matters. With great distances, the human and personal qualities of business are lost, and thus the direct connection which is often a selling point also disappears. Moreover, although travel time has been significantly reduced it still exists.
Finally, one of the biggest debates about globalization is whether or not it means the demise of big government. Will the big governments of the Cold War get smaller or larger? What does the world want from their leaders? Friedman would argue that the world wants smaller governments and that globalization actually needs smaller governments in order to be managed properly. This is his idea of “the golden straitjacket”. If a country wants to join in on globalization and profit from it instead of being trampled by it, it must conform to smaller government. Free-market, open borders, and less regulation are the things that Friedman sees for the future. Moises Naim agrees that this was the way people thought and wanted their government to be run up until the early twenty first century.
Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Minimalist government went out of fashion and demands mounted for the state to provide security at any cost. The financial crisis has amplified this trend. Laissez-faire is out and activist governments are in; deregulation has become a four-letter word and the cry for more government control of the financial sector is universal (Naim 3).
He doesn’t think the world is asking for smaller governments. He thinks that globalization, at least at the current time, has scared many back to the safety of big government. Nationalism is becoming a more important and influential force, which people are turning to for comfort in an increasingly deregulated world.
To be a leader in the current world, it’s increasingly important to be aware of the world as a whole and not just of the country that you are leading. Many things are now interconnected so deeply that they are hard to see from the surface, but globalization is a driving force in the modern world.