Globalization's Broken Promise

We have to think beyond Cold War era solutions and realize that the economic consequences of globalization are not only domestic, they also constrain our geopolitical options.

U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have shown how easy it is to win electoral support by championing the economic grievances of globalization's losers. Trump supporters resent opportunities lost to immigrants, while Sanders rallies workers victimized by global disparities in wealth. This backlash against globalization isn't new, although it has rarely been so influential in American electoral politics.

Their electoral surge caught many by surprise, because it reveals the degree of sympathy with their fundamentally disturbing message that globalization is not welcomed. It contrasts the dominant discourse of globalization, which is an uplifting and democratizing one: Not only does it help eliminate poverty in underdeveloped regions, but it helps bring about world peace. This is because, the discourse goes, countries integrated in the global economy will move closer to liberal democracy, and democratic countries don't wage war against each other – or so the story goes.

However, this prediction, too, does not hold up. Its promise of democratic convergence is fraying. True, examples like Spain, Chile and South Korea seem to confirm that authoritarian countries tend to democratize as they join in global production. But we may have been misled by our tendency to think in terms of linear extrapolations. Global development doesn't lead all nations toward a common destination.

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