Promise and Peril in a Globalised 21st-century World

Klaus Schwab (2014) paints a picture of a 21st-century world that contains “promise and peril”. He writes that globalisation lifts millions of people out of poverty yet fragments society and bolsters an increase in inequality while damaging the environment. But, what is “globalisation” and how can it empower millions yet cause deleterious effects for others? This paper applies a layer of sociological understanding to better comprehend the complexity of globalisation and both its positive and managed effects.

Understanding such effects first requires an operational definition of globalisation and its interconnected components. Kolb (2018) defines it as the interdependence of the world’s economies, trade, services, technology, investment, information and people. Levin Institute (n.d.-a) further defines globalisation as the “acceleration and intensification of economic interaction among the people, companies, and governments of different nations.” 

Schwab (2014) identified technology and innovation as being the two main drivers behind global change. He also affirms technology as the “fourth industrial revolution” bringing about immense, sweeping and swift changes, transforming entire industries, nations and societies (Schwab, 2016). However, it is the careful and considered harnessing of this transformative power that brings benefits to citizens. If globalisation is the interaction of many different elements closely interlinked to one another, sociological perspectives can better illuminate its effects and provide direction.

Technological Innovation

Schwab (2014) writes of the need for “technologically literate leaders” or “techno-politicians” to take advantage of boundless opportunities in an unpredictable environment against the face of slowing economic growth. Furthermore, as globalisation ties the economies and survival of countries together, it is critical that nations cooperate and address their needs collectively when their survival is at stake. Leaders must inculcate a culture of iterative innovation to stave off economic stagnation and “embrace globalisation’s complexity” (Altman, Ghemawat, & Bastian, 2018).

Additionally, modern economies ride on the back of global capitalism that now transcends national borders, tapping on the free movement of trade and resources (Thompson, 2018). Similarly, in predominantly capitalistic societies, tech giants also transcend the physical boundaries of their founding nations (“How to tame the tech titans”, 2018). Melding technological progress, innovation and consistent evolution, these tech giants work within the capitalistic framework and exert pressure in the political arena while influencing social dynamics on a local and global scale (Keser, 2018).

Technology For Good

It is crucial to note that technology not only affords power to the less well-off but allows people in developing nations to catch up and participate in a democratic exchange of speech and information (Keser, 2018).

In this way, technology levels the playing field for individuals and lesser nations. Yet, only two countries get to tout their sheer influential power and technological prowess in that field. Out of twenty internet companies, twelve American companies and eight Chinese companies dominate the list (Desjardins, 2018).

The chase for technological progress contains immense untapped potential in creating economic growth. Schwab (2014) acknowledges the fear that people raised regarding technological displacement causing unemployment. However, workers may also work in jobs that have yet to exist as a result. Where Marx (Felluga, n.d.) delineates the four stages of economic development, he writes of the establishment of a society prioritising the acquisition of profit and resources above all else; That is capitalism and it can be made to work for the good of people (Gordon, 2019).

The Global Capitalist Village

It is sufficiently clear that technology and innovation, enabled by a capitalistic society contributes to the effects of globalisation. With technology as the main enabler in connecting people across the world and bridging communication gaps, innovation flourishes (Schwab, 2016). Gordon (2019) asserts that capitalism brings benefits for millions of people across the world such as being able to purchase antibiotics, microwaving one’s favourite food, the wheel, malaria pills, vaccines, impact drivers, thumbdrives, dentistry and more. Gordon (2019) further states that “capitalism is responsible for almost all progress” and even rewards innovators who may not be well-off to begin with. 

However, there are downsides. Amadeo (2019) writes that people who lack competitive skills are excluded from participating in capitalist societies. Capitalism also results in the generation of pollution and climate change, and these are the deleterious effects Schwab (2014) points out. With continual depletion of natural resources in sustaining the capitalistic engine, the quality of life for people is lowered.

Yet, critics argue that these problems are “signs of late-stage capitalism” without realising that they are deeply connected to capitalism regardless of the stage that it is in. Considering that technology broke down the communicative barriers and allowed citizens all over the world free access to information, the transformative power that it has in the field of education, grants anyone with an internet-connected device, access to content anytime and anywhere (Dentzel, n.d.). Indeed, the internet has enabled individuals to communicate with anyone in the world, obliterating physical barriers, time and space. Without technology and its accompanying internet, unfettered access to information is costly and restrictive.

Furthermore, the internet allows the tech giants to make full use of economies of scale in maximising productivity gains and contribute to national economies, even if these companies do not necessarily operate outside their founded countries. There is too much that rides on the success and positive effects of tech giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon. Despite outcries of tech giants being monopolies and that they need to be broken up, Dr. Pinar Akman cautioned against such a motion. She asserts that these giants are not monopolies since “the market is still competitive” (Keser, 2018).

Elizabeth Linder calls upon “the civic nature” of these firms, claims that “everything is going tech” and that technology is used to improve the world, which makes these companies contribute positively to globalisation. Linder also makes the case for the preservation of these technological giants, especially when their services allow those in the developing world a platform for “freedom of speech, organisation, information and identity” (Dentzel, n.d.; Keser, 2018).

Conclusion

Globalisation holds unlimited potential for the global citizen. The free flow of information makes iterative innovations possible if harnessed responsibly, allowing the greatest good to be shared with everyone (Kolb, 2019). When nations cooperate and disintegrate physical and political barriers, there is immense room for positive change and to undo the harmful effects of globalisation, modernisation and capitalism (Dentzel, n.d.; Levin Institute, n.d.-b).

References

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Amadeo, K. (2019, June 25). Capitalism, Its Charactistics, with Pros and Cons. The Balance. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/capitalism-characteristics-examples-pros-cons-3305588

Desjardins, J. (2018, July 16). These are the world’s largest tech giants. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/visualizing-the-world-s-20-largest-tech-giants

Felluga, D. (n.d.). Modules on Marx: On the Stages of Economic Development. Purdue University. Retrieved from https://www.cpp.edu/~ddwills/courses/ant352/readings352/McDonaldization.htm

How to tame the tech titans. (2018, January 18). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/01/18/how-to-tame-the-tech-titans

Keser, F. (2018, January 29). Break up those tech giants? The Public Sphere. Retrieved from http://publicspherejournal.com/2018/01/break-up-those-tech-giants/

Kolb, M. (2019, February 4). What Is Globalization? Peterson Institute For International Economics. Retrieved from https://www.piie.com/microsites/globalization/what-is-globalization.html

Gordon, T. (2019, April 27). You May Not Like Capitalism, You May Not Be Good at Capitalism, but Capitalism Is Good for You. Foundation for Economic Education. Retrieved from https://fee.org/articles/you-may-not-like-capitalism-you-may-not-be-good-at-capitalism-but-capitalism-is-good-for-you/

Levin Institute. (n.d.-a). Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.globalization101.org/introduction-4/

Levin Institute. (n.d.-b). The Global Village. Retrieved from http://www.globalization101.org/the-global-village/

Schwab, K. (2014, May 7). Technology holds promises and perils for world’s future. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/technology-holds-promises-and-perils-for-worlds-future

Schwab, K. (2016, January 14). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

Thompson, J. (2018, June 19). What Is Global Capitalism? Bizfluent. Retrieved from https://bizfluent.com/info-10021758-global-capitalism.html