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NEXT: What Comes After Globalization?

David Staley David Staley NEXT: What Comes After Globalization?
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This weekend, Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, which sent sighs of relief in Brussels. Had Le Pen won, she would have certainly pulled France out of the European Union as the British voted to do last year. There would be little hope of the EU surviving the withdrawal of France, and the EU would have most likely dissolved. That scenario is still very likely, even with Macron’s victory. Despite her electoral drubbing, Le Pen proved that she had deep and full-throated support in France—her defeat might have also been the result of a record number of abstentions. That support was especially pronounced among young people, who perhaps were persuaded by Le Pen’s xenophobia-lite, and who might have looked upon the anti-Semitism associated with the Popular Front as a relic of her father’s party. Whatever the outcome of this election, I do not expect to see Le Pen go away quietly: she has already stated that she will be vigorous in her opposition. Depending on how Macron governs, we may be seeing her again in another five years (the next French presidential election.)

The stakes were high in this election, the future of the EU chief among them, but one could also argue that the future of globalization was also at stake. The Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s victory and the rise of Marie Le Pen share something in common: a key feature of each movement was a distrust of foreigners, a belief that the country’s borders are too easily crossed by outsiders, that those outsiders represent a threat to the nation’s way of life, and that the nation must look inward first.

Globalization in its current form has been a geopolitical reality since the 1990s, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Globalization has meant free and open markets, the free exchange of goods and services, in some cases the free movement of peoples across political boundaries, and the free exchange of ideas and information. “The network” emerged as the chief metaphor to describe the realities of globalization. Indeed, a recent book argues that to understand geopolitical strategy in this world means understanding networks.

Challengers to globalization often wish to sever these network connections. There have been challenges to globalization since the 1990s, largely from the left of the political spectrum (the Seattle riots around the World Trade Organization meetings in 1999 were an emblem of this). This most recent round of anti-globalization protest has come from the right.

Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen represent a challenge to globalization such that we might ask whether there is still a future for globalization. In Europe especially, right-wing anti-globalization parties—the Golden Dawn in Greece, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands–are gaining in popularity, and while they have not yet seen the same electoral results, they may nevertheless attain victory in the near future. Will more states elect politicians who will withdraw from international markets and remove themselves from multi-bloc trade relations? We’ve already watched President Trump end US participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership and threaten to cancel the NAFTA treaty. Can we expect other such retreats from globalization?

If so, what will emerge in its place? A number of countries in the 20th century pursued policies of economic autarky, and it is possible that over the next decade or so we may start to hear more about a 21st century version of autarky. Autarky is a policy of “self sufficiency:” that a country need not trade or otherwise have economic relations with other countries. Instead, a given country can make or produce what they need without recourse to international trade. As part of autarky, countries might also devise policies that severely limit entry of foreigners into their countries.

The restriction of information would also be a key feature of 21st century-style autarky. Globalization also includes networked information flow across national borders, and 21st century autarkic policies might seek to put up “information walls” that restrict the flow of information originating outside the country. States like China and Iran already restrict access to the Internet, and such restrictions might form a central strategy of 21st century autarky.

The world economy was knitted together in an early form of globalization until the Great Depression, when many countries erected tariff barriers such that the volume of world trade shrunk dramatically. While I think it is a low-probability scenario at the moment—international corporations have very strong vested interests in maintaining the international system of globalization—21st century global autarky is one of the weak signals I am nevertheless monitoring.

David Staley is president of Columbus Futurists and a professor of history, design and educational studies at The Ohio State University. He is the host of CreativeMornings Columbus.

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Thursday, May 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Panera Bread community room (875 Bethel Rd.)  Our topic for the evening will be “The Future of Multimedia: Visual, News, Music & Social.”

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