The Two Faces of Globalization

Why do popular and elite perceptions of globalization clash? People in the rich world think globalization resembles an implacably malignant force that snatches away well paying jobs and sends them to faraway places; people in developing countries think it ushers in a self-obsessed consumerist ethic on a train of corrupt privatization and environmental destruction. Elites dismiss their opponents as empty-headed populists, and are accused, in turn, of being out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Globalization has always been inherently Janus-like, showing to some the face of limitless progress and wealth, while others see only a soulless giant hurling their lives to and fro. Consider the previous wave of globalization: the period between the mid-19 th century and the outbreak of the First World War. Transportation costs plummeted with the advent of the steamship and the railroad. New telecommunications permitted information to be sent instantly around the world. Capital flowed to remote places like Argentina, Russia, Malaya, and South Africa. A Londoner, as Keynes put it, could send his servant to fetch any amount of foreign currency, and he could invest his sterling wherever he wished.

But this was also the heyday of imperialism, colonialism, violent conquest, and slavery. Several million people are believed to have died in Congo alone under King Leopold's misrule--perhaps the worst imperial crime, but hardly unique. The slave trade continued until the 1850's in most of the world, and in some places almost until the end of the 19 th century.

Imperial diplomacy had little use for subtlety. A disobedient Sultan or tribal chief would be made to comprehend the error of his ways with a few gun ships moored offshore. Western powers often claimed extraterritorial rights. Western boats plied China's internal waterways. England, France, Holland, and other imperial powers controlled trade and resources throughout Southeast Asia. They used the constant threat and routine application of force and violence to impose slavery, low inward tariffs, and immunity for their colonists.