World Wide Divide

Widely accepted logic says that the world is integrated like
never before. Cables crisscross the ocean floor, ferrying between
nations the digitized bits of e-mail, bank transactions, music, and
video that flood the internet. Grocery aisles are stocked with
once-exotic goods. Drive-thru orders are taken half-way across the
world from where they’re given. Yet at the same time, a slew of
countries are erecting barriers along their national borders,
sending a clear ‘no thanks’ to the borderless ideal of a globalized
world. And those surfing the seemingly borderless internet are
keeping close to home.

The clamor surrounding globalization, according to Pankaj
Ghemawat of
Foreign Policy has either lulled or
excited us into adopting misguided beliefs about the real extent
of global integration. His article, ‘Why the World Isn’t Flat,’
is a direct response to Thomas Friedman’s popular globalization
treatise,
The World Is Flat. Ghemawat writes,
‘Despite talk of a new, wired world where information, ideas,
money, and people can move around the planet faster than ever
before, just a fraction of what we consider globalization
actually exists.’

A hard look at the way we trade reveals much about just how
connected nations are. ‘Most types of economic activity that could
be conducted either within or across borders turn out to still be
quite domestically concentrated,’ says Ghemawat. In other words,
trade between countries may be easier, but most economic activity
remains national, not international. As evidence, Ghemawat cites a
compelling statistic: More than 90 percent of the world’s fixed
investment capital from 2003 to 2005 was domestic. All told, people
don’t often venture across their own border to invest.

Even in cyberspace — the place where we expect a brisk free
trade in ideas with little regard for borders — national divisions
remain intact. Traffic between countries has increased far slower
than traffic within countries, according to Ghemawat. In theory the
internet makes it easy to contact strangers in far-away places. In
reality, people end up chatting with nearby friends and e-mailing
officemates.

Ghemawat’s observations become more urgent when he notes one
particular danger of our blithe and blind attitudes toward
globalization: increasing protectionism. An economics-driven
globalization — one that ignores vital differences in cultures and
politics — may lead some nations to further tighten their
borders.

Many such fortifications are already under construction or being
planned. Writing for the Vancouver weekly
GeorgiaStraight, Gwynne Dyer calls attention to numerous
border-building projects around the world. There’s India’s nearly
completed 1860-mile barrier along its border with Pakistan,
Thailand’s proposed ‘security fence’ along its frontier with
Malaysia, Kuwait’s upgrade of its wall along the Iraqi frontier,
and Saudi Arabia’s high-tech projects to close off its borders with
Yemen and, more recently, Iraq. The list goes on, including the
United State’s contested fence along the Mexican border and
Israel’s equally controversial ‘security fence.’

While the politics of each country’s wall-building project are
unique, a common sentiment motivates them all: protectionism that’s
interested in keeping what’s local in, and what’s unwanted — or
foreign — out. Dyer’s bleak conclusion starkly contrasts the
chorus of voices trumpeting globalization: ‘The walls are going up
all over the world, and most of them will not come down for a long
time, if ever.’

Go there >>
Why the World Isn’t Flat

Go there, too >>
Living in a World of Walls

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