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Is Globalization Over?

While the US-China rivalry may disrupt global economic arrangements, it certainly does not augur a sharp decline in human interdependence. History shows that globalization is largely driven by technological changes that reduce the importance of distance, and that will not change.

CAMBRIDGE – Late last year, Morris Chang, the legendary founder of Taiwan’s (and the world’s) leading semiconductor producer, proclaimed that “globalization is almost dead.” In a world where supply chains have been disrupted by COVID-19 and the deepening Sino-American rivalry, other commentators have echoed this view, and many companies have begun “on-shoring” and “near-shoring” their procurement of goods. But it is a mistake to conclude that globalization is over. A lot of human history reveals why.

Globalization is simply the growth of interdependence at intercontinental, rather than national or regional, distances. Neither good nor bad in itself, it has many dimensions, and it certainly is not new. Climate change and migration have been driving humanity’s spread across the planet ever since our ancestors began to leave Africa over a million years ago, and many other species have done the same.

These processes have always given rise to biological interactions and interdependencies. The plague originated in Asia but killed a third of the European population between 1346 and 1352. When Europeans journeyed to the Western Hemisphere in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they carried pathogens that decimated the indigenous populations. Military globalization goes back at least to the days of Xerxes and then Alexander the Great, whose empire stretched across three continents. And, of course, the sun never set on the nineteenth-century British Empire. Through it all, great religions also spread across multiple continents – a form of sociocultural globalization.

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