Why We Love to Hate Globalization

Nayan Chanda offers some early instances of globalization in Hong Kong on August 13, 2010. (2 min., 4 sec.)

HONG KONG, August 13, 2010 - Increased global inter-connectedness is inevitable, observes Nayan Chanda, author and Director of Publications at Yale University. Speaking at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, he explained: "The process of globalization has shaped our lives, for better or for worse. It can be slowed and its direction can be changed, but the process is unstoppable." Chanda demonstrated the unintended consequences that often arose as the result of increased connectivity, ultimately arguing in favour of the benefits and opportunities offered by globalization.

Chanda first acknowledged the negative connotations associated with the term itself: "The word ‘globalization' has become toxic. It has been ascribed to all the ills of the world. Globalization is bringing about farmers' debt, industrial decay, workplace unemployment, the outsourcing of jobs. Globalization is also seen to have brought about human trafficking and all sorts of other social ills. A lot of protesters believe globalization means outsourcing, and it is the source of a new verb: ‘I've been Bangalor-ed'."

Defined by Chanda as "an enduring trend that reconnects human communities within a thickening web and with increasing speed, creating in the process a global awareness," globalization "began when our ancestors left Africa some 60,000 years ago," and has continued ever since.

The four key drivers behind this process of reconnections between communities, according to Chanda, were born of human desire "to prosper by ‘truck and trade', to convert fellow human beings, to explore the unknown, and to dominate others." In the modern era, a new actor has also emerged—consumers: "Their desire for good-quality goods at cheap prices has been a major driver for global connections."

Considering the differences between historical experiences of globalization and our current understanding of the process, Chanda says: "It comes down to the three ‘Vs'. First is the volume—the volume of transfer has expanded exponentially." Container ships and the emergence of modern technology such as fiber-optic cables have rendered geographical distances "almost theoretical, resulting in a huge transfer of money and skills across the globe." Another major change has been velocity—that is, the speed with which, for example, disease outbreaks now travel around the globe. Finally, visibility: "In the past, people just did not know where things came from. Now things are visible, and that visibility creates more awareness and more protests."

The global financial crisis "brought forward some of the problems globalization has been creating—the fact that some financial deals on Wall Street affected lives in far corners of the world shows the reach of globalization, how it is intimately affecting people all over the world."

Chanda concluded by calling on the international community to form a consensus on global governance. "Governments are kind of helpless in the face of the forces driving trade and driving connection. The crisis confirmed my belief that true global coordination to deal with issues that face humanity is an absolute must. We have to have enough wisdom to push governments to accept some limitations of sovereignty in order to achieve something that affects the entire world."

Reported by Natali Pearson, Asia Society Hong Kong Center