What Is Globalized?
Characteristics of globalization are distinct from the content of globalization. Authors discuss a range of different things that extend their reach in globalization.
Movement of humans across the globe is nothing new. Humans have migrated from place to place throughout human history. However, the movement of people is different in both quality and degree in the current phase of globalization.
- Speed. One of the most obvious characteristics of the movement of people in the current phase of globalization is the speed at which they can travel. Developments in transportation technologies dramatically decrease the limitations that used to determine how fast humans could travel.
- Distance. As methods of travel have developed, distance is less a barrier than it was previously.
- Individual. Some authors suggest that travel is now more individual than before. In the past, migration involved the movement of groups of people (for example, ethnic groups). In the current phase of globalization, individuals are able to move great distances without needing the protection of families and communities.
- Permeability of political borders. With the end of the Cold War and the extension of markets across state boundaries, people are less limited by political borders than before. In some parts of the world, people have the ability to live in one country and work in another country.
- Virtual travel. The development of communication technologies like video conferencing enables individuals to carry out face-to-face interaction without being physically present.
Transnational commerce is an important part of the current phase of globalization. Economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the “driver” behind the current phase of globalization is corporate interests. As corporations extend their reach across political boundaries, they extend not only the economic aspects of globalization, but disseminate culture and law as well.
The movement of capital across national boundaries has also become critically important. Following the liberalization of capital markets that began in the 1970s, the amount of private capital available for investment in companies and national economies has grown dramatically. Indeed, private capital has eclipsed international financial institutions as a source for capital.
The globalization of money and goods has mixed effects. One one hand, extending markets across political borders creates a need for international regulations and norms. These global norms help stabilize international markets. On the other hand, the rapidity with which private capital can move in and out of a national economy can have a sudden and dramatic destabilizing effect on a country's economy.
Lawrence Friedman argues that globalization depends, at bottom, on the global diffusion of culture. Shared culture provides common assumptions and understandings that allow for the global diffusion of other things.
- Visions for globalization. Thomas Friedman argues that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War opened people's minds to the possibilities of a global world. While some of the technologies that provide the basis for the current phase of globalization were developed earlier in the 1980s, globalization could not begin in earnest until people began to understand the uses for these developments.
- Consumer culture. Lawrence Friedman identifies the creation of a globalized consumer culture as an integral part of the extension of markets across the globe. He identifies the American media industry as the primary driver in the creation of a global consumer culture.
- Law and human rights. A number of scholars examine developments in the globalization of law and legal norms. In addition to a strong focus on how transnational organizations make law, scholarship on the globalization of law also examines how legal norms change over time (for example, in the case of human rights law) and how local actors and organizations accept, adapt or resist global laws and norms.
- Information and ideas. Because of advances in communications technologies—with the development of personal computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, mobile technologies, etc.—people not only have access to a greater proportion of human knowledge and information, but the ability to create and disseminate this information across the globe instantly and virtually cost-free.
The globalization of risk involves the extension of the negative effects of actions in one part of the world to far-flung areas of the globe. In other words, the actions of individuals or organizations in one country may have important effects on the life chances of individuals in a distant country. For instance,
- Health and environmental risk. While the spread of disease across regions or continents may have taken decades at one time, advances in travel technologies have made it possible to transmit virulent diseases from one part of the globe to another in a matter of hours. Additionally, there has been growing attention to the fact that disasters (such as Chernobyl) and results of consumption patterns (such as the emission of greenhouse gases) create risks for populations far from the country of origin.
- Economic risk. While the spread of free-market capitalism has brought about a general rise in living standards in many parts of the globe, the distribution of these benefits remains uneven—poverty is still rampant in many parts of the world. Additionally, with the liberalization of capital markets, the often unpredictable flow of huge sums of private capital can create financial crises for countries and entire regions very quickly.
- Moral risk. With the development of communication technologies and changes in the understanding of human rights after World War II, countries in one part of the globe cannot be complacent in the face of glaring human rights abuses (for example, genocide) in other parts of the world without jeopardizing their legitimacy in the eyes of other nations.
There is a growing realization that territorial boundaries are increasingly irrelevant for understanding the life chances of the global populace. Because of the processes of globalization, people across national and regional boundaries are increasingly implicated in a shared "community of fate."
Globalization Requires a Scaffold
Globalizing processes do not just happen. They depend on different “structures” or “scaffolds” to make the processes possible.
Authors identify a number of different scaffolds or supports that enable globalization.
- Physical supports. The current phase of globalization would be impossible without developments in travel and communication technologies. For instance, instantaneous and virtually costless communication makes it possible for corporations on opposite sides of the planet to do business as if they were in the same city.
- Legal and regulatory supports. Common laws and regulations provide the basis for more regular and predictable interactions between corporations and countries. By making relationships more predictable, laws and regulations reduce risk.
- Symbolic supports. Common expectations, consumer tastes, organizational know-how, etc. allow people and organizations to understand each other. Fiber optic cable alone cannot make people understand each other or tailor their behavior to meet expectations.
- Common values. Even if people speak the same language, building settled and predictable relationships is difficult without mutual trust. In fact, shared values, even if minimal, make disagreement and conflict possible without rupturing the relationship completely.