For the prognosticators on the US National Intelligence Council who sat down in 2004 to consider what the world might look like in 2020, the answer hinged heavily on one big question: What did the future of globalization look like?
Their answer: Not great.
By 2020, they predicted, globalization would face a political backlash in a world increasingly plagued by identity politics. Yet if anything was going to really derail economic integration, it would likely be the mass spread of a virulent new disease.
“Short of a major global conflict, which we regard as improbable, another large-scale development that we believe could stop globalization would be a pandemic,” the council warned in a report laying out the findings of its “Project 2020.” A death toll in the millions and a virus that “put a halt to global travel and trade during an extended period” would certainly leave globalization “endangered.”
Nearly three months into 2020 and it’s not hard to make the case for why that rings true.
There is an alternative view that holds globalization may actually be a lot more resilient today than it seemed in 2004, in the halcyon days before smartphones had taken over our lives.
But what would it take in the months ahead to get to Doomsday for globalization? It all hinges on the reaction from policy makers to the coronavirus crisis. So here are three things to watch for. If these happen, we should be ready for the shape-shifting in globalization we’ve seen in recent years to morph into a deep freeze.
1. New barriers to exports
White House trade hawk Peter Navarro, in a recent Financial Times interview, criticized the export controls some countries have placed on medicines and medical supplies like face masks. His motivation may be pure. But Navarro tends to like anything that makes his argument for a shift away from globalization. Navarro has said he wants to repatriate supply chains for national security reasons and advocated stricter controls on tech exports to China. What if he convinced US President Donald Trump to ban exports of not just face masks or medicines but shipments of an eventual vaccine? And other countries followed suit? What if the controls shifted to food stockpiles?
2. New import restrictions
Chinese trade data for January and February pointed to the damage so far from China’s industrial shutdown last month. Exports were down 17.2 percent in dollar terms. But what if the US and other countries started limiting imports of goods coming by air and sea not just from China but from South Korea, Italy and other affected countries? And those countries retaliated and did the same?
3. A collapse in global governance
The emergence of a battle between Saudi Arabia and Russia over oil production early this month caused crude prices to tumble dramatically. What if such discord spills to the G-7 or the G-20? What happens if, driven by fear of a virus, global economic policy makers can’t get on the same page? Or, worse, actively start working against each other in an area like, say, currencies?
Robert Hutchings, the former diplomat and Princeton academic who led the National Intelligence Council as it prepared its 2004 report, said in a recent email exchange that the point they were trying to make was “that globalization is a ubiquitous force that carries with it bad consequences as well as good.”
Ominously, he added: “We particularly wanted to argue that globalization is not irreversible.”
FOLLOW UP 讀後練習
1. What was the main factor identified in the Project 2020 report that could hinder globalization?
2. According to the article, which three aspects of the global reaction to the COVID-19 crisis will provide an indication of the future of globalization?
3. Epidemics have been a major force in shaping human history. What are the similarities and differences between the current COVID-19 crisis and previous disease outbreaks?
4. Despite the warnings of health experts and the predictions of researchers, why do you think that the world was so unprepared for the COVID-19 crisis?
(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)
1. globalization n.
(quan2 qiu2 hua4)
2. identity politics phr.
(shen1 fen4 ren4 tong2 zheng4 zhi4)
3. economic integration phr.
(jing1 ji4 zheng3 he2)
4. virulent adj.
(ju4 du2 de5; zhi4 ming4 de5)
5. pandemic n.
(da4 liu2 xing2 bing4; wen1 yi4)
6. repatriate v.
(che4 hui2; qian2 fan3)
7. vaccine n.
8. ubiquitous adj.
(pu3 bian4 cun2 zai4 de5)
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