• Osa Iluobe & Harman Tutt

Globalisation: The Obituary & The Rejoinder

Osa Iluobe & Harman Tutt share two contrasting future visions of globalisation following Vladimir Putin’s authorised invasion of Ukraine.

Osa Iluobe

If Nietchsze were still alive to see the rise and fall of globalisation, as he said of God, he would probably conclude that ‘Globalisation is dead. Globalisation remains dead. And we have killed it’.

Because, after three decades of lifting people out of poverty and enabling economic development, globalisation recently passed into history - Or has it? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have ushered in a new era of a post-globalisation world, according to the CEO of Blackrock, Larry Fink. And on the back of other serious, yet non-fatal blows to globalisation, Putin’s reckless act of aggression could spell the end of the fairytale.

That globalisation was treading on thin ice throughout the 2010s was something of a defining fact that shaped politics in the UK, US, and beyond. On the back of the 2008 financial crisis, the rebuke of globalisation started and subsequently took off. In the US, the Tea Party movement grew in popularity following the election of Barack Obama, and whilst their programme was primarily a repudiation of the new-Keynesian domestic economic policies adopted by Obama on the back of the crisis (Obamacare caused a widespread shedding of intellectual tears within the movement), the substance towards their foreign policy rallied against America’s ‘ability to create a liberal world order’ and advocated for greater domestic independence. Since 2009, the Republican Party has only sought to comply with, and go beyond such renunciations of globalisation. The party is now home to extreme ideologues and narcissists such as Majorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump who, other than talking the language of nonsense, bang the nationalist drum at every opportunity, even when it’s to the detriment of ordinary Americans. Mr Trump’s ill-considered trade war against China is one such example. By conservative estimations, it is believed to have cost 245,000 jobs. The fate of globalisation going forward will increasingly rely on the ability and willingness of the US to lead and facilitate a culture of free trade, reciprocity, non-arbitrariness, and complex interdependence. The prospect of an America led by a radical Republican Party means that globalisation will, if not buried, seemingly always be on life support, rather than full of life.

Meanwhile, the blow to globalisation’s credibility has been accompanied by events in Europe also. The war in Ukraine is preceded by Brexit, a period of Eurozone in-fighting, a reluctant EU, waves of populism, and democratic backsliding in Hungary. Whether the war in Ukraine marks an end to globalisation as we know it, is an open question. But what is certain is that the European experiment with Russian energy and economic interdependence is over. At least, in some aspects and, for now. As a result of this, and the reciprocation of economic sanctions that have followed from both the West and Russia, will be a multiplier effect that not only impacts the socio-economic well-being of millions, but also the future geopolitical landscape. Amid the head-scratching taking place within the EU about how several of its member states allowed themselves to become hooked on Russian energy will also be a re-evaluation of the apparent virtues of economic independence more generally, beyond energy and beyond Russia.

That COVID-19 already ignited this debate in some quarters is a fact. Following the decline in Sino-American relations during the height of the pandemic, a consensus has emerged amongst the Republicans and the Democrats that economic relations with China ought to be scaled back. In 2021, the Biden Administration passed a ‘buy American’ rule to boost domestic manufacturing. In 2022, it strengthened the rule. It is, in effect, protectionist. China for its part appears to think the same thing and is similarly taking active measures to decouple from the American economy, starting with its semiconductor and aviation industries.

In light of these events, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is important. It could be weaponised to provide a further realist rationale against globalisation that could bury it for good against the backdrop of the pandemic and if so, it is curtains for the contemporary epoch globalisation that the world has known for the past few decades. On top of this, the trade restrictions that are a consequence of the war per se will further harm individuals and set globalisation back. Arguably irreversibly.

Whether globalisation is dead or not does remain an open question, but its retreat appears increasingly likely and even empirically certain. Globalisation’s day of reckoning will eventually come - The key question remains: Is that time now?

Harman Tutt

In light of the claims that globalisation is dead, it should be noted that all the talk around the end of the globalisation project is burdened with the Western, and particularly American hegemonic context it speaks from. It is implied that the West, solely, holds the self-destruct button for the globalisation project. Paradoxically, the more society has globalised, the more keys to the self-destruct button have been distributed. Globalisation doesn’t end upon the will of the West, nor can the world escape globalisation itself. Rather than ending globalisation, the form of which it has existed could be changing instead. Thus, the attempt to draw the curtains on globalisation cannot be done smoothly, if at all. Liberal historians are faster to remind anyone that contemporary globalisation is not the first of its kind. The era of British imperialism was globalisation’s previous episode and not the first. Hence, according to this logic, globalisation’s next episode awaits. And an obituary, such as the one that motivated this rejoinder, may be premature. One can see the attack on Ukraine, and its possible defeat, as a trend that may follow in the next decade or two which may culminate in a multipolar world, a far cry hitherto from the liberal world order draped in red and blue. What exact form would this multipolar world take? There isn’t a consensus yet. What would globalisation look like in this world? Intellectuals are none the wiser but a look into how globalisation has transformed the lives of ordinary citizens may provide the answer.

Globalisation in its current form has allowed for the ubiquitous exchange of information, capital, opportunity, and movement of peoples, not to mention an improved standard of living coupled with an affinity to brands, ideas, and cultures. It must not be mistaken that the rise of social media and the interconnectedness of people globally has facilitated greater cultural transfer and access. Specifically, those belonging to Gen Z have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle of reposting tragedies in war-torn countries, K-Pop, and, most importantly, establishing meaningful connections across the globe. It’s difficult to think of a world that doesn’t feel as connected as we do now as our Twitter feeds have become something of a global brain. How does one close Pandora’s box, then, as we access culture, information and establish connections through our phones?

One could hypothesise that insofar as continuation is concerned, globalisation is largely in the hands of us - Gen Z. While state-backed institutions and political discourse may formally steer us away from the happy-go-lucky globalisation that we associated with the ‘90s, working collaboratively across borders, building businesses, trading cryptocurrencies with kids half your age are all done via the internet, and will subsequently be done via the Blockchain. It may be more accurate to say that, thanks to sophisticated digital technology and widespread internet access, globalisation may be an impenetrable and irreversible force. Formal institutions may reject globalisation in favour of state-backed production in our home countries but what’s stopping us from joining a Zoom call and building the next unicorn with some kids in India. The age of global politics may be, hence, over but the age of the global, digitalised economy could only just be beginning.

Equally, this futuristic, technological-utopia that unites a fractured world is in itself a work of fantasy. It would be misguided to ignore the frosty geopolitical climate, not to mention the increased post-Pandemic costs to world-wide production and growing mistrust of the Western political elite. If Britain were to vote in a referendum for globalisation or against it, hypothetically, I’m sure the chattering classes would, once again, be shocked at the result. Yet these voters will be informed via their iPhones manufactured in China and going to the polls in clothes that were produced in Bangladesh. The world has globalised irreversibly. One could say we’ve entered a post-globalised world, in fact, in which the old state paradigms and changing institutional relations between countries are now, not irrelevant, but certainly less important than they once were. I hesitate to say we’re all Sovereign Individuals in a Moggian sense but, for good or for worse, the world feels smaller and human connection has extended beyond the confines of constructed national borders. The end of globalisation could collapse shared political and economic networks, which may be on its way, but the bulwark that stands against this is more powerful than both - social networks.