1.2 Prime Drivers
- What are the main drivers of change that happen at a global scale?
- Is war a major driver of change? Why or why not?
In this chapter, I want to talk about some of the prime drivers of global scale change and especially the technological changes that have been core to these waves of globalization.
Where do they come from? How do they diffuse?
What are the fundamental patterns of global scale change that affect the dynamics of innovation and diffusion?
I think we can identify a kind of checklist, where as an analyst you would want to look at a variety of basic drivers of change to ask whether that particular set of drivers or that subset of the forces of change are playing an important role in a given historical period.
I’ll start with technology. The ability to use, invent and use tools to produce goods and services, to fight wars, to cure disease and to address other human needs. Technological change through innovation and diffusion is without question one of the fundamental drivers of global scale change in any era.
And one can identify with each of these waves of globalization, basic technologies that played a key role. In the Neolithic Revolution, for example, the invention of agriculture itself. In the Age of Navigation after Columbus and Vasco da Gama’s voyages of course navigation and naval technology in general, but also military technology in what’s sometimes called the Gunpowder Age played a fundamental role in the reshaping of geopolitics and the technology of war itself.
In our era, clearly the information revolution, computation, connectivity are reshaping the world economy Within technology we can think of particular categories of technology. Military technology has always played a fundamental shaping role in global change. And if one place in the world gains even a transitory military advantage for some reason it can have a sudden capacity to conquer other parts of the world. Transport technology is fundamental for trade, for movement of people, movement of goods and services.
Places that have been able to benefit from the technology of the horse, whether riding the horse or the horse for motive power, mobilizing energy for industrial transformation or for transportation has repeatedly shaped global change. And it’s not surprising that the era of industrialization, what I have called the fifth wave of globalization was fundamentally an energy revolution.
The revolution sometimes called the change from the organic economy, where energy was basically what we ate for our human power or what we fed our animals for animal traction, to the energy embodied in coal, oil and gas, which changed the world, vastly multiplied what humans could produce.
Information technology, other diffusion of knowledge, the diffusion of technique, the diffusion of knowhow depends on the ability to share information. Word of mouth is one way, but books and now online diffusion of information, of course are fundamental inventions of humanity that transformed the world. No doubt the invention of movable type and the printing press of Guttenberg in Europe around 1440 was a fundamental shaper that then had consequences for the birth of the global era with Columbus and Vasco da Gama just a half century later. The mass production of books made possible the scientific revolution. Today the internet is creating its own revolution and we don’t understand yet the consequences for society, for geopolitics, for statecraft, for warfare.
The physical environment, of course, creates literally the channels, the pathways, the mountain passes through which technology and change occur. And I will illustrate how climate zones are definers of pathways of diffusion.
If you look at the diffusion of wheat production, of course, it diffuses within an ecological band where wheat can be grown. That’s cooler areas, not into the tropics. Whereas maize production diffused within the tropical regions because with the different photosynthetic pathway of maize, that’s a crop that grows in a much warmer climate.
Disease patterns are profoundly determined by climate. Malaria is a warm temperature disease, either hot summers in the higher latitudes, or year round in the more equatorial latitudes of the tropics.
And so the physical climate, the topography, the mountains, the access to navigable rivers, the disease epidemiology shaped by climate, the availability or absence of wood for building ships, for building homes or the presence or absence of valuable minerals, are all fundamental drivers of both technology use themselves and patterns of diffusion of new inventions when they come.
Demography is a key shaper of global change. Where are populations growing, where are populations declining?
Where are populations young, dynamic, on the move, where are populations older and perhaps less dynamic? Where are populations moving into cities, urbanization, where are they concentrated in rural areas? Where are the sources of out-migration, where are the receiving countries for in-migration? Demographic change and demographic imbalances, when regions have very different patterns of population growth, age structures, and so forth lead to dynamics of migration.
Of course, war is a fundamental part of human history and a fundamental driver of change. War is destructive without question, but it is also an agent of technological innovation. It’s been one of the main reasons why states invest in research and development to develop new knowhow, new techniques for the purposes of national security or power in war. Conquests are ways that ideas and technologies have diffused over time. Conquests have also been reasons that technologies have stopped because conquered societies lack the freedom of maneuver to achieve their own economic development.
Ideology, revolutionary fervor is another major driver of global scale change. When Islam spread from Mecca and Medina throughout North Africa into the Iberian peninsula, into central Asia, heading east into the Middle East and into western Asia, the ideas of Islam were carried with revolutionary fervor.
Religion became a vehicle of global change, it became a carrier of new concepts, of statecraft, and also it created a civilization in which ideas, scientific and other ideas would diffuse with a common language, a common cultural framework, a set of institutions, for example, centers of learning in universities. And this is repeated throughout history.
Political institutions, how we organize and manage power within our societies.
What the great sociologist Max Weber called the Monopoly of Legitimate Violence, he state that has supposedly the legitimate power within a geographical area.
How that is organized is of course a major factor in the diffusion of global scale change. When a state power closes its national boundaries for example, that can block the diffusion of ideas and technology, that can be a barrier to change, or it can leave a nation or a region far behind other countries in technological advance, for example, thereby shaping the patterns of global scale change.
And of course, cultural institutions, how we view our place in the cosmos are fundamental. And one of the great changes of culture in the last 500 years is the rise of science as a self-understood activity of exploring the laws of nature and then using the know-how from those laws of nature to pursue in a directed way new technologies for human well-being.
And that scientific revolution of modern science began in western Europe and it is one of the factors for the world economy being reshaped by western Europe and eventually by the Anglo-American world because of that unique force of cultural change with the scientific revolution.
So this is a checklist of global drivers, they don’t play an equal role in all historical episodes, but they do help to guide your consideration of studying history or considering our current situation from a very rich, multifaceted set of perspectives.
Now I think when one studies in particular technological change it is very good to have in mind the basic idea of innovation and diffusion.
Innovation is the first invention and then application. And then diffusion is the way that that innovation spreads to other places in the world. When we think about innovation and diffusion as fundamental parts of global change, let’s remember a few key points.
First, that the pathways of diffusion are determined by physical geography. Institutions are conduits of technological knowhow. Universities have played a role as being carriers and transmitters of new ideas and technologies. There is a basic concept that I believe to be crucial in understanding economic development in general and global change in our context, and that is the idea of catching up. When a new technology has been deployed in one place in the world, but not yet in another, you have a leader and a laggard region from the perspective of that technology. And that gives at least the potential for a quick catching-up by the lagging region.
That is precisely why certain parts of the developing world have been able to achieve astounding rates of economic growth that were never seen in earlier centuries.
China, for example, we know achieved approximately 10% per year aggregate economic growth from 1978 until around 2013. And that means that for roughly 35 years the Chinese economy was doubling every seven years. And that was possible because of this catching up phenomenon.
There’s another concept that’s very important and that’s leapfrogging. And that means not only does the laggard gradually close the gap with the leader, but the laggard says, I don’t have to follow the leader, the new technology allows me to leapfrog, so I don’t have to go through all of the steps that the leader went through.
Let me take one example right now, ePayments, using our mobile phones to make payments. In eastern Africa, in Kenya, ePayments became a leapfrog technology with the invention of M-Pesa or mobile money, used for payments in Kenya.
And as a visitor to Kenya frequently, I marveled at the ease of ePayments in Kenya were in my own home in Manhattan, in New York City, it really wasn’t much present yet. Kenya had successfully leapfrogged on this technology.
And then a final concept on technological change that I think is extremely important is a difference of self-organizing evolutionary change and directed technological change. What happens when tinkerers and inventors have ideas and they innovate, they become entrepreneurs, they bring these ideas to the market. And perhaps they invent a new industry in this way.
Directed technological change comes when it’s decided we need a technology that has this particular capability. And then research and development activities are directed towards making that breakthrough. That, in fact, is how the internet itself came about, because during the 1960s, military strategists in the United States worried about how to keep communication between computers in the event of war, and more generally, how to connect computers that might be important for national security, even in a peacetime context.
And the U.S. government thereby funded a lot of the early technological work, the research and development to develop the protocols and the hardware and software of the internet itself.
That was an example of directed technological change. There’s perhaps a lot more directed change than we acknowledge, especially in the modern era where technology is firmly grounded on cutting-edge science and cutting-edge science to an important extent is funded by the state.
All of this suggests some basic lessons in the diffusion and catch-up process. The role of physical geography, the importance of low transport costs to connect a region with the rest of the world. The two sides of war, both sometimes spreading technology, often impeding the spread of technology. The fact of learning by doing and the ability to leapfrog, or at least rapidly close the gap, between a laggard and a leader. And finally, the idea of state driven, top-down you might say, directed technological change as a core feature of large-scale technological change.
Well, all of this I believe can be used to help us understand some of the deep principles, the consistent drivers of globalization at least over the most recent four waves of globalization that in my terminology and dating is a 2000-year global human history, from the great land based empires in Roman and Han imperial times up until today.