With the end of the Cold War, fresh waves of democratization, China’s emergence from autarky, and the advent of the internet, we are able to communicate more and quicker. We are far more connected, and "the political map of the world has been redrawn. Market economics has circumnavigated the globe," states Oxford fellow Christopher Katurna for the World Economic Forum.
"Through three decades of feverish connecting, integrating and tangling together – from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the rise of social media – we have built a precious but, history tells us, fragile new world. In so many ways, we are starting to flourish. But equally, we are starting to fray. An age of discovery, then and now, is a time of upheaval. And upheaval makes both winners and losers.
But it does not make us powerless. This extraordinary age of discovery is not simply the condition of our lives, but the contest as well.
In the 1990s, many people bought into a simplistic fantasy that the benefits of greater openness and connectedness – of “globalization” – would trickle down to everyone equally. Today we've replaced such naïveté with a sober realization: when some walls are flattened, the world's precious resources pool into those places and into those hands that hold an advantage along whatever dimensions of difference remain. Popular usage of the term “globalization” has plummeted."
"We've outgrown the fantasy. That's a healthy step. Now the question is: will we abandon the dream? One option is to seek to smash the global agreements, protocols, supply chains and exchanges we have built with one another, and in their place build new, higher walls. From the surging popularity of Donald Trump, to Britain’s shockingly close vote on Brexit, to the electoral successes of nationalist, protectionist and xenophobic politicians in democracies worldwide, this project is well under way.
Or we can seek to make our entanglement work. For ourselves. For poor people and poor countries. For the planet. The great service that Donald Trump, Brexit and similar campaigns in Germany, France, Greece, Brazil, Austria, the Philippines and other countries have performed is to shock us all into remembering that our new openness and connectedness cannot be taken for granted.
Globalization was never merely a trend; it is also a test of the human character. In an age of discovery, change is rapid. How change unfolds depends on us. Will we allow the weight of unearned gains and undeserved losses to break society, or will we shape outcomes to deliver on the promise that opening and connecting with one another is in all our best interests? Not least because we need to work together to solve climate change, transnational crime and corruption, migration crises and other great global challenges.
Anxiety in a time of rapid change is understandable. Pessimism is in vogue. Anger and despair are infectious. Middle-class wage stagnation is real, and the list of fixes is difficult.
But courage is infectious, too. The present age is a contest. We’re all being drawn into it, more and more. Some are harnessing a prevalent pessimism to seize power for themselves, to tear apart the open society we've built and shorten our reach so that we do not exceed our grasp.
Who will dare to stoke our optimism? To accept responsibility, to start fixing the mistakes we've made, and with bold actions remind us all that, while we may be more vulnerable, our collective potential has never been greater?"
Source: World Economic Forum, Christopher Kutarna
Photo Credits: WEForum/Reuters/David Mercado