John Micklethwait on the Unevenness of Globalization

Question: What most surprises you about globalization?

Micklethwait:    I think, a thing like globalization is its unevenness, it’s not a… people always assumed it’s a fact, it’s not, again, as I said earlier, business people see globalization as just there and it’s never going away, they should go and read history books very quickly because the answer is, it can get reversed and in the end, globalization relies on political decisions.  It relies on tariffs being down, it relies on people being… and goods being able to cross borders and just to give you a sort of frightening example, what happens if there is a dirty nuclear bomb in Delhi or in Manhattan? What would that do to shipping stuff around the world?  People will be far more paranoid, it’s those sort of things which could yet unstable it, the underlying bits of globalization, I mean, the… I think you have to look at it as broadly as possible, I see globalization as an ever freer movement of goods, capital, people and also ideas around the world and that is generally why, you know, we are hoping, a kind of great, liberal newspaper, that is why we’ve always been sort of four-squared behind it, for us, it’s economic freedom and individual freedom, they don’t absolutely go together but they come from the same source.   

Question: What’s the biggest downside of globalization?

Micklethwait:    I think there are lots of downsides in a sense of individual people who get caught out by this kind of often cruel process, a particular group of people who had always been vulnerable, have tended to be the workers in richer countries who are more vulnerable to foreign competition, you shouldn’t push that too hard, I mean, if you look at most things, there’s been big arguments about wages in America, why wages in America get down and globalization is usually figured to be the culprit and that’s… most of the evidence is no, it’s not.  The real thing which has kept wages down is technology and the problem is that it’s very hard for a politician to blame computers for people’s jobs going off of pressure on wages, it’s much easier to say it’s the Chinese or the Indians but again, just think through your life and if you think about the difference between banks when there were a lot of tellers and now the fact that you have ATMs to go and get stuff, that had a colossal effect on the industry, far greater than, say, NAFTA, which I remember was sort of going through roughly at the same time but NAFTA attracted all the headlines and that’s the problem with globalization, the basic economic logic of it is always disturbed by the politics of how it’s pushed forward.

The Economist editor on the challenges and opportunities of a flat world.

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