1: Waves of Globalization in History
1.1 Six Major Globalizations
- When did globalization actually start? Is there a specific point in time, or were there different waves of globalization?
- In the context of this course, what does globalization mean?
Welcome to this mini course on globalization, past and future.
We’re going to take a very quick romp through the history of globalization, starting in the deep past, at the beginning of our species and ending with reflections and thoughts and guesses about globalization in the 21st Century.
My theme is that we have always been globalized as humanity. During many epochs, global scale change, changes in technology, changes in governance, changes in politics have affected the whole world.
And understanding the dynamics of global scale change is therefore, fascinating, because it tells the story of humanity, and also useful because it gives us some grounding, some sighting, some idea about how change may occur in our time and indeed how we should work to guide the kind of change that we’re going to need in the 21st Century.
I might have called this mini course, globalizations, because we have in fact had distinct eras or distinct epochs, or you could call them waves of globalization.
And in this first module, I want to introduce those six major waves of globalization that I’m going to be discussing in this mini course and then start to take a look at the fundamental principles of how global change occurs, what are the main drivers of global change, what are the channels or pathways by which change in one part of the world diffuses to the rest of the world.
And in general, what kinds of lessons might we take from history to give us some help in understanding the tumultuous changes that are underway in our world today.
So let’s start in this first chapter about the waves of globalization.
And while one could allot history into different bins or different datings, I’m going to propose six globalizations for us to study.
The first of these is the beginning of humanity, what might be called the great dispersal of homo sapiens, our species, out of Africa and spreading throughout the whole world.
The second globalization is the Neolithic Revolution. We began as hunters and gatherers, but around 10,000 years ago, an increasing proportion of humanity became sedentary farmers. And that was the so-called Neolithic Revolution, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, from a nomadic life to a settled life in villages, and then eventually in towns, and eventually in cities.
The third globalization are the great land based empires of roughly two millennia ago. The Han Empire in China, the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean region. And the trade in between. And of course other large land-based empires of that age.
The fourth globalization that I’m going to want to discuss is in a way, kind of beginning of the modern world that we know today, it’s the globalization that took place with the discoveries of Christopher Columbus on the sea route from Europe to the Americas and Vasco da Gama on the sea route between Europe and Asia, which connected all parts of the world through ocean navigation. And that led to profound changes in geopolitics, in the world economy, in ideas and in many ways was one of the most tumultuous eras and events of human history.
The fifth globalization that I want to discuss is the Industrial Age. But I’m going to note that it’s also the Anglo-American age. It’s the period when first, the United Kingdom and then after World War II, the United States, were the dominant powers of the world and really shaped the world institutionally, in language, in the use of English as the common language for business and science throughout the world in knitting together the modern, highly integrated world economy that we live in and know of today.
And the sixth and final of these waves of globalization that I’ll discuss, it won’t be the last one, but it is the globalization that is underway today. I believe it’s a new globalization, after the Anglo-American period in which we have yet another geopolitical environment. We have yet a new technological age. We have yet new challenges for our generation and the generations to come in the 21st Century that really define this period as being yet the start of another new wave of globalization. Exciting, it’s the story of humanity.
Let’s get into it. First, what do I mean by globalization?
Of course, what I mean is the integration of basic structures of society over large geographical areas. And in the modern world, across national boundaries and regional boundaries that may include a number of nations in one part of the world. How are our societies linked together?
They’re linked together in multiple ways, obviously. They’re linked together through the trade of goods and services. When we buy a product from halfway around the world, or when we buy a service, for example, as a tourist visiting another part of the world, they are linked together through a now-global financial system where banks in one country lend to banks in other countries which then on lend to buyers and sellers of goods and services, linking together finance of course in a trillions and trillions of dollar global financial system.
It’s a system so intertwined that when a bad accident happens in one place, a financial panic such as exploded in September, 2008 with the failure of a bank in the United States, it quickly spread throughout the entire world.
We’re linked in production systems, a major company, say one of our iconic companies in the world today, Apple, producing iPhones and computers and many other products may produce the components of those products in dozens of countries, assemble them in multiple countries, ship them around the world in what we call a global value chain.
And that’s a value chain across companies and across countries and across stages of development and stages of production of a particular product.
We’re linked together in ideas. An idea that emerges in one place in the world, whether it’s the scientific idea, an artistic idea, a new ideology, a new concept, a new kind of entertainment, nowadays spreads rapidly throughout the world, but throughout human history, ideas have spread. Religious ideas, philosophical ideas, scientific ideas spread throughout the world.
We’re linked through migration. People move. And while we’re very much aware today of refugees and migrants often trying to escape war or environmental disasters and find their way to safety, migration has been absolutely at the essence of the human experience for as long as we have been homo sapiens, as long as we have been human beings.
Even our ancestors to homo sapiens, other human, members of the human genus were of course migrating and moving around the world for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years, millions of years indeed.
And finally we’re linked together by geopolitics. Politics does not stop at a national boundary, it could never stop at a national boundary. The issues of national security, war and peace, safety from dangers from other regions and so forth, this is again, a part of humanity.
Globalization means the interconnectedness of goods, services, finance, ideas, people in their movement, geopolitics and the interaction of nation states.
And we feel today this strong interdependence but interdependence has been a feature of human society forever. We didn’t invent globalization, but we do have, as has been true throughout history, our own distinct version of globalization.
What you’re looking at here is one rendering of the great dispersal, the first wave of globalization, the out of Africa dispersal. While anthropologists and archaeologists continue to uncover new and very surprising facts about the evolution of our species, it remains the overwhelming view that homo sapiens are our species, emerged in Africa in evolution of the recent hundreds of thousands of years.
And then dispersed from Africa to the rest of the world. And the genetic record increasingly is helping us to decipher that dispersal. But what this map shows is the estimated timing of arrival of the modern human species, homo sapiens into Europe, into Asia, and into the Americas where it’s believed that part of humanity from Asia crossed a land bridge perhaps 12,000 to 15,000 years ago when the sea level was much below the current level because more water was impounded in the ice sheets, before the end of the last ice age.
And then these populations dispersed throughout North and South America and became what we today would call the indigenous or native Amerindian populations of the Americas.
The point is humanity during this dispersal reached all parts of the world from an out of Africa dispersal that may have started 125,000 years ago or a 100,000 years ago, still debated. And that culminated in the arrival of populations to the Americas, perhaps somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
Much still to learn on the details. One notable point when humanity arrived almost anywhere, it seems to have contributed, perhaps together with climatic changes, to the extinction of other species.
In Australia, when populations arrived in Australia, perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 years ago many of the unique megafauna, the large animal population in Australia was driven to extinction. Best guess, humanity did it. It shows we may have a tendency towards environmental destruction.
While we sometimes think romantically that indigenous populations live in harmony with nature, there is a lot of evidence that indigenous populations destroyed nature just as we are destroying nature in our own time.
This seems to be the case as well in the Americas. When the Amerindian populations, as we would call them today, arrived from Asia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, date still debated, it seems to coincide with the extinction of the great megafauna, the large land mammals of the Americas, the wooly mammoth and the wild horse being two dramatic examples.
Why these species went extinct is much debated. Was it climatic changes at the end of the last ice age? Was it the arrival of humanity?
Nobody knows for sure, best guess; a combination of the two. But it is a warning. The Americas, North America was filled with horses. But those horses went extinct around 10,000 or 11,000 years ago.
And that meant that the populations of the Americas did not have the benefit of horses for work and for transportation for 10,000 years, until the European conquerors came on horseback and had such advantages of power and military force that they were able to repress and even commit genocide on the local populations.
It seems to be the case that homo sapiens, our species, also may have been the leading cause of the extinction of our closest relatives, other human species, especially the Neanderthal.
We now know that homo sapiens and the Neanderthal coexisted in Europe 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals went extinct but they remained part of us, modern species, in that almost all of humanity outside of Africa still carries in our genes, a fraction, small fraction of genes distinctive to the Neanderthal population. So there was interbreeding, but also perhaps mass murder, or at least a competition for food and other scarce resources that ended up with homo sapiens driving the Neanderthals to extinction.
The second great wave of globalization is the Neolithic Revolution. And here you’re looking at a map where the green-shaded areas are the places where agriculture started. What do we know?
We know that agriculture was a kind of invention. It was a process of learning and invention and breeding of wild species so that the humans began deliberately to grow and cultivate crops rather than simply to gather the natural output of crops.
And this process of developing the capacity for settled agriculture occurred independently in many parts of the world. So this is a case of multiple discoveries over a few thousand years, roughly at a similar time at the end of the last ice age and the beginning of the modern climate period called the Holocene, agriculture began to develop.
In the Eurasian context, in two major sites, the Fertile Crescent of what is now Iraq and between the Tigris and Euphrates, where wheat cultivation began. And in China, both in the Yellow Sea and the Yangtze River basins where millet and rice began to be cultivated. In the Americas, the invention of agriculture in North America was around maize. In the southwest of what is today’s United States and in parts of Mexico and in South America in the highlands of the Andes, the basis of potato cultivation. The idea is that agriculture was invented and then diffused.
Diffused means that an invention spreads geographically. This is a fundamental part of globalization; invention in one place, diffusion to other parts of the world.
When it comes to crops, the diffusion is guided by geography because crops like wheat can grow only in cool places but not in the tropics. Grains like rice grow especially in certain ecological areas, the subtropics, or monsoon environments with plenty of water and so forth. But the diffusion is carried by observation, imitation and the migration of people themselves.
The third great era of globalization that we would like to study are the ancient empires, the Roman Empire that you see on the map around the Mediterranean basin. The Han Empire that you see in east Asia where China was unified as a great nation with boundaries that are similar to China today. The Parthian Empire of today’s Iran and a civilization that has played a rich and great role in human history for 2,500 years plus.
What’s notable about this wave of globalization is massive empires. No longer small villages, but now great empires and global scale trade, massive trade between Asia and Europe, over land, over the famed Silk Roads and land routes. Of course, not the scale of trade and integration made possible by modern transport, but still already 2,000 years ago a real globalization, not that connected the Old World and the Americas, that would still take 1,500 years more to arrive with ocean-based navigation, but connecting Europe, Asia and parts of Africa in global trade already two millennia ago.
With the discoveries of ocean-based navigation between Europe and the newly Americas, following Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage and then all of the voyages that followed with the sea routes between Europe and Asia that Vasco da Gama first pioneered in 1498, the entire world became integrated in an era of globalization that one could say was really the beginning of modern globalization, in which all parts of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America were now part of a global system of trade and increasingly a global system of technology and ideas, as well.
In the last 200 years, a new phase arose, mainly because of a dramatic breakthrough of technology that we’ll be looking at, the arrival of the modern era of energy, starting with the steam engine and the progenitor of that breakthrough, the United Kingdom, really became the major power of the world.
And I would say, overwhelmingly because of that technological lead. And with the advent of the modern industrial age, Britain became the predominant power for 150 years, roughly from the start of the 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century and then handed the baton to the United States, a country that had its roots in Britain, of course.
And one could say that the Anglo-American world, first the U.K., then the United States, dominated the world scene in an industrial age that lasted from roughly the beginning of the 19th Century, say 1800, till the end of the 20th Century, at roughly the year 2000.
Then I believe we have entered a new era, an era of the 21st Century, no longer an Anglo-American world, now a world in which power is diffuse, in which there are more centers of power and in which yet a new wave of technology, information technology is again changing the nature, the meaning, the drivers and the patterns of globalization.
What do we learn from this very, very quick overview that extends for a 100,000 years?
What do we make of this? First, change is global scale and it has been for our species from the start. The mechanisms of innovation and diffusion are fundamental. What gets invented in one place diffuses widely, maybe according to ecological characteristics where food can be grown or maybe globally, such as when the invention of the mobile phone became a worldwide technology within a very short period of time.
Change comes very, very quickly. And this I think is very important for us to understand. We have seen many unexpected changes at dramatic global scale take place that were almost unanticipated and yet with global repercussions in a short period of time.
I’ll just cite a few that we’ll look at throughout this mini course.
We went from the age of European imperialism in Africa, which began in the 1880s, to the decolonization of Africa and the rise of independent nation states in Africa roughly in three-quarters of a century.
Dramatic, fundamental, geopolitical change. We went from the invention of the Soviet Union with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the birth of the Soviet Union itself in the early 1920s, to the sudden end and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a shocking event, little anticipated, global ramifications.
We went from British supremacy with great British power and influence and seeming predominance around 1913 to essentially the end of the British Empire just four decades later. Unimaginable. Unthinkable.
And yet it’s part of our most modern history. And perhaps we’re in a similar way seeing a rapid relative decline of American power. America thought it would run the show after the decline of the British Empire, but America’s power and weight in the world is clearly being challenged and in relative terms, other parts of the world, and notably east Asia, are becoming major, major forces of geopolitics, of technology, of the world economy and that too has proceeded very rapidly.
These are the forces that we need to grapple with. What is the nature of global change? Why does it occur? Why does it occur so suddenly? What are the dangers that take place when these mega disruptions occur?
One thing we can say is that a lot of these disruptions have been occasioned by war. And that is a reality that I believe has to be fundamental to our investigation. We can’t afford another global war. We’ve had several of them, global scale wars, but now we have the technology in which another such war could be the very end of our species.
And I often refer to the wise words of President John F. Kennedy who almost defined our modern existential reality: “The world is very different now, for man holds in his moral hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
That is our globalization. We can’t afford to have the kinds of disruptions that we had in the past lest we lose everything.
With that in mind, with the risks that disruption brings, conflict, I want us to keep in mind three great questions as we use our backward look at globalization to try to gain insights for the future of globalization in this century.
- First, can the world truly choose a path of shared prosperity, social inclusion for all, and environmental sustainability in this sixth wave of globalization of the 21st Century? That we could say is the challenge of sustainable development.
- Second, how should our global governance, our geopolitics be organized if it is true as seems likely that the Anglo-American age has ended and we are now in a truly multi-polar world where there are important powers throughout the world that need to find new ways to cooperate?
- And third, and fundamentally, is global peace possible? And on what model of statecraft and on global cooperation can we build an era of global peace?