Part 1 – It's all about Globalization, mate!

Let me begin by quoting from a recent article in the International Herald Tribune on the greying population of Europe – “It’s the demography, stupid.”

Let me add another twist or angle to that statement – It’s all about Globalization, mate!

To address these issues, let us first understand the context of ‘globalization’.

For hundreds of years and especially from the middle ages onwards, it was the ‘Global-Tailwinds’ that carried goods, persons and ideas across the seven seas. It was these sea-winds that resulted in organised and sustained international trade and its corollary – migration. Today we refer to ‘global-tailwinds’ as being the economic or political forces that may develop and start from any corner of the planet but have a global impact.

Recent examples are the financial crisis of 2009 that started with the housing and financial bubble in the US, or more recently the ‘jasmine revolution’ which led to the on-going phenomenon referred to as the ‘Arab spring’. In economic terms, the ‘global-tailwinds’ that emanated from the USA and Europe are slowing down due to western economic decline and economists are now arguing that the tailwinds are flowing from Asia.

So what do we understand as Globalization? Simply put, it is a ‘Coming Together’ or the reconnecting of the human community. Webster”s dictionary has defined ‘Globalization’ – as a process that renders various activities and aspirations “worldwide in scope or application”. This has in fact been going on from time immemorial. As the famous expert on globalization, Nayan Chanda of Yale University explains, “The exponential growth in the exchange of goods, ideas, institutions and people that we see today is part of a long-term historical trend. Over the course of human history, the desire for something better and greater has motivated people to move themselves, their goods, and their ideas around the world”.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had already spread across the earth. In fact, the process by which they migrated and populated all of the continents except Antarctica was a kind of proto-globalization. In a sense it was the mobility of persons, and subsequently of goods and ideas that has been the core of ‘globalization’ as it has emerged.  Migration has always been the other side of the coin of globalization. Then and to this day.

Some 50,000 years ago, early forms of Homo sapiens, who developed in east Africa began to travel to the far corners of the world.  First the Middle East and Asia and eventually the continents of North and South America. Quite simply, we all are descendants of a common ‘African Eve’!

Rising sea levels at the end of the ice age separated the Americas from the Eurasian land mass, creating two worlds that would remain cut off from each other for centuries, and would only be reconnected with Christopher Columbus”s famous landing on a Caribbean island in 1492. The discovery of the New World brought together peoples who had been separated for over 10,000 years.

This reconnection is referred to as the “Columbian exchange,” and it is acknowledged as a landmark in the history of globalization. No less significant has been the exchange of plants and animals. For example, a Peruvian tuber, the potato, has become a staple throughout the world; Mexican chili pepper has taken over Asia; and an Ethiopian crop, coffee, has found new homes from Brazil to Vietnam – to name just a few.

The famous spice trade from India and the ‘silk route’ from China are all examples of the interconnectedness between continents and peoples. Meanwhile societies not only evolved in radically different ways and developed different economic and political structures, but they have also invented different technologies, grown different crops and, most importantly, developed different languages and ways of thinking. It is that diversity that makes the job of reconnecting civilizations both challenging and rewarding.

Nayan Chanda in his book “Bound Together” has argued that historically there were four main motives that drove people to leave the sanctuary of their family and village: firstly, conquest (the desire to ensure security and extend political power), secondly, prosperity (the search for a better life), thirdly, proselytizing (spreading the word of their God and converting others to their faith), and finally a more mundane but still powerful force – curiosity and wanderlust that seem basic to human nature. Therefore, the principal agents of globalization were soldiers (and sailors), traders, preachers and adventurers.

In today’s world, the principal agents could be said to be, investors, financers, workers and students and of course the information and communication technologies that have created a virtually single global humanity.

Just as globalization became all pervasive by the end of the last century, so did criticism of it. As Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University has opined, “today globalization is seen as the worldwide extension of capitalism”. In the last few years, there has been a growing and increasingly stronger anti-globalization movement that has resulted in putting the concept, idea and hypothesis of globalization on the map.

From the infamous WTO Seattle meeting cancelled due to protests in 1999, to world-wide opposition to international meetings including against the IMF, there has been a growing and continuing opposition to aspects of globalization. But the economic march of globalization has not been and will not be stayed. Whether it be the realities of ‘out-sourcing’ and ‘off-shoring’ or the impact on agricultural subsidies, market forces cannot be halted.

A churning of the world economy is at hand. China has already become the world’s fourth-largest economy and third-largest trading nation. India with its software and IT power has managed to corner half the world’s outsourced service jobs. Viewed in historical perspective China and India, which in 1700 accounted for some 22% and 24%, respectively, of the then world’s gross domestic product, are but climbing back to their prominent positions after two and a half centuries of decline.

That is the reality of globalization.

This is Part 1 of a three-part article, written under the title of Migration in a Globalized World: Going and growing beyond Borders

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