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The Seven Wagers of Globalization

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Globalization is dead but what is taking its place? With current debates around „de-globalization“, „decoupling“, „re-shoring“ etc, it seems pretty clear that globalization as an ideological force is done for, even as the empirical process continues to unfold. For various reasons, I am unconvinced that de-globalization and the like are appropriate descriptors for the present and future of global order. In this two-part article, I want to argue for the notion of „post-globalization“ to capture the new realities.

I will do so by contrasting central assumptions of globalization and post-globalization ideologies. In the first part, I focus on globalization. This article sketches seven „wagers“ upon which support for globalization rested, especially in the global North. The next part will outline challenges and responses to these wagers from a post-globalization perspective.

1. Economic interdependence brings prosperity

The first wager was a cornerstone of economic globalization: the belief that Ricardian free trade would ultimately benefit everyone. Inequalities were seen as an acceptable byproduct of the overall growth of wealth. Politically, this was expressed in the the accession of China and Russia to the World Trade Organization and overall lowering of trade barriers not only between East and West, but worldwide.

2. The Economy will and should be denationalized

This was coupled with a second wager that the state should stay out of the economy – the neoliberal mantra of deregulation and structural adjustment. Companies were becoming global players (even global governors) and became progressively unmoored from their home states. This led to a more prominent role of transnational corporations in world politics, starting with the 1992 Rio Summit and culminating in the 1999 Global Compact.

3. Political interdependence leads to cooperation

On the political side, the third wager posited that cross-border, global problems were becoming more important and more obvious. The resulting „problem pressures“ created incentives for institution-building and regional integration, which ultimately led to intergovernmental cooperation. We can see evidence of this in the growth and deepening of international institutions and the expansion of membership in many international organizations in the 1990s.

4. Global governance for more effective management of global challenges

The fourth wager expands upon the third: even though globalization will require intergovernmental cooperation, this is not sufficient. Global challenges could only truly be overcome through global governance, i.e. multi-level cooperation of all actors concerned. This fed into an ideology of multistakeholderism throughout the UN system and beyond.

5. Globalization leads to the spread of democracy

With the end of the Cold War, the fundamental problems of the global North seemed to be resolved. Now at the „end of history“ it seemed only a matter of time until democracy, capitalism and liberal values took hold everywhere. The fifth wager looked at the „Third wave of democratization“ peaking in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Africa and saw this as one effect of the liberating force of globalization.

6. Technology brings social and economic progress

The era was also characterized by a great techno-optimism based on revolutions in the ICT sector: computers, mobile phones, internet created a „global village“ and new imaginaries of the global. The sixth wager rests on ideas of a „shrinking world“ in which physical distance becomes increasingly unimportant.

7. Sustainability is not a major problem

The seventh wager was that globalization was inherently sustainable. Even in the early days of globalization, climate change and sustainability were prominent policy issues (see the Rio Convention of 1992) but globalization apologists considered these to be problems that would be solved through technological progress and market forces.

In short: globalization was based on an optimistic, liberal view of the world that assumed a furthering of progress as globalization and a Western model of politics and the economy were spread across the globe. There was widespread critique of these ideas back then, to be sure, but these critiques were unable to dislodge the hegemonic discourse of globalization.

This is what is different today – the hegemony of globalization is broken and we are casting about for ways of explaining, understanding, encapsulating the changes that world society is undergoing. More on that in a following entry.

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