Goodbye, globalization?

By Robert Wright, May 16 2020

How will the coronavirus pandemic look in the rear view mirror? When, 30 years from now, high school students study for a test on early-21st-century history, what three or four Covid-19 bullet points will they memorize?

A leading candidate, to judge by the number of articles about it, is “ended a period of sustained globalization and ushered in an era of deglobalization.”

One interesting thing about this bullet point is that it represents a choice. Not all Covid bullet points do. This one, for example, seems pretty much guaranteed to be true: “accelerated the adoption of telemedicine, telecommuting, e-commerce, and other practices that save money by replacing in-person interaction with remote interaction.”

And, for that matter, certain aspects of a “deglobalization” bullet point are pretty much inevitable. There’s little doubt, for example, that the US and some other countries will make themselves less exclusively dependent on foreign suppliers—especially Chinese suppliers—for some pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

But deglobalization writ large—sharply reducing international trade, even systematically disengaging from China’s economy—is no foregone conclusion; it depends on how the politics play out, which in turn depends on choices that politicians and voters make. 

The two pieces below are meant to help inform those choices. Actually, that’s misleading. These two pieces are meant to get you to agree with me that trying to reverse globalization—and disengaging with China in particular—would be a bad idea (even if, as I’ve argued for two decades now, slowing globalization down a bit might be a good idea). But I try to present my arguments honestly, and I link to arguments by people who disagree.

As you’ll see, I think this is more than a choice about economics and politics. It’s a choice about the future of humanity in a deeper sense—not just an ideological choice, but a moral, maybe even in some sense a spiritual, choice.

Illustration by Nikita Petrov.

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