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Getting a grip on Globalization
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Summer 2001
Getting a grip on Globalization
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The best way to understand the implications of this globalization system is to compare it to the Cold War system, which was characterized by one overarching feature: division. The world was a divided place where all threats and opportunities as a country or company tended to flow from who you were divided from, and it was symbolized by a single word, the Wall. Globalization is also characterized by one overarching feature: integration. In this new system, all threats and opportunities tend to flow from who you're connected to, and it is symbolized by a single word, the Web. So over the past 15 years or so, we've gone from a world of division and walls to a world of integration and webs. In the Cold War, we reached for the hot line that connected the White House and the Kremlin -- a symbol that we were all divided, but that, thank God, at least two people were in charge, the United States and the Soviet Union. In globalization, we reach for the Internet -- a symbol that we're all connected and nobody's in charge.

If the Cold War had been a sport, it would undoubtedly have been sumo wrestling: two big fat guys in a ring with lots of ritual grunting and stomping around but not a lot of contact until the very end when one fat guy finally pushed the other fat guy out of the ring. If globalization were a sport, it would be the 100-meter dash over and over and over and over and over. If you lose by a tenth of a second, it's like you lost by a week, and the only thing that winning ensures is that you get to race again the next morning. In the Cold War, the first question we asked was: How big is your missile? In globalization, the first question we ask is: How fast is your modem? In the Cold War, the second question we asked was: Who are you divided from? In globalization, the second question we ask is: Who are you connected to? So the internal logic of these systems is very different.

What truly distinguishes these two systems is how power is structured within them. The Cold War system was about states balancing states, confronting states and aligning with states. But globalization is built on three balances. The first is the balance of power between states and states. The next is the balance between states and the supermarkets, the 25 largest global stock, bond and currency markets in the world -- from Tokyo to Shanghai to Frankfurt to Paris to London to Wall Street -- that today have become increasingly autonomous geopolitical actors, in some ways the equal of, and in some cases superior to, states. The United States can destroy you by dropping bombs; the supermarkets can destroy you by downgrading your bonds. Take your choice.

Thirdly, and most unique in this globalization system, we now have super-empowered people. When you start to blow away the walls and wire the world into networks, we as individuals can increasingly act on the world stage directly, unmediated by a state. Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for organizing a global ban on land mines, was asked how she did it. Her brief answer: e-mail. She was a super-empowered, nice lady.

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