Hastening the Process of Slowbalization during the Covid-19 Pandemic -Md. Imran
Huge debate and discussion are sparking regarding the fate of globalization in the wake of Coronavirus pandemic around the academic and the media world. Scholarly world is clearly divided in defining the prospects of current globalization. Few argues that the present world order would be reversed with the surge of Covid-19 while a small group of moderate optimist globalization experts are hoping to see a new version (I would preferably say ‘distorted’) of globalization which will be less open, free and prosperous. Interestingly few scholars are seeing the death of globalization due to Covid-19. However, it would be too naive to presume the survival of globalization from a narrow perspective. So, let us define the globalization first and examine the status of those components of globalization in the time of Covid-19.
Inception in 1960s, globalization was indiscriminately used to refer a process, a given condition, a system, an upward trend and a divider among ages. Consequently, the term globalization itself has become subject to huge debate and contestation while many affiliated aspects of globalization still remain in obscuration. Authors tended to assert few common themes and components in their way of defining globalization. Frequency, time, speed, process, flows and connectivity have been grossly found in many definitional breakdowns.
However, Ritzer provides a wide encompassing definition of globalization stating ,“Globalization is an accelerating set of processes involving flows that encompass ever-greater numbers of the world’s spaces and that lead to increasing integration and interconnectivity among those spaces.” We will understand how the spheres of globalization are diverse by the definition of Manfred B. Steger who argues that globalization is a socail condition which is, “characterized by the existence of global economic, political, cultural, and environmental interconnections and flows that make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.” Evidently the borders of nation states did not decline alotogether with the advancement of globalization but created an unprecendeted connectivity across the borders.
Abovementioned definitions make us understand that economic sector is not the single domain of globalization rather it has multiple aspects and implications. We should not confine globalization within free exchange of goods or border free world rather a connected world by institutions, World Wide Web, exchanges of ideas, etc. in broader spectrum. However, it is time to assess the impact of Covid-19 on globalization.
Impact of Covid-19 on Globalization
Severity of Covid-19 is still underway. So, we cannot be sure yet about the devastation caused by this pandemic around the world. But what we are sure is that Covid-19 has indiscriminately impacted on every sphere of human lives. Similarly, Covid-19 has disrupted the flow and process of globalization. Major features and functions of globalization are at stake as countries are forced to take restrictive measures regarding mobility of goods and people. From the onset of Covid-19, we are used to seeing increased number of virus affected deaths, cancellation of both international and domestic air flights, sea ports left empty for months, limited or no exchange of goods at international market, recession in stock markets, rising exclusion and exploitation of foreign labours and many Multinational Companies (MNCs) are at the edge of bankruptcy or about to relocate at the place of origin. Especially the disruption of supply chain is causing serious strain on globalization as the world economy is so tightly interconnected. With the advent of rapid communication technology, international division of labour has been resulted in this globalized world. Many nationals used to participate to complete the production of a particular good (e.g. laptops, clothes) and raw materials were used to coming from different parts of the world. But covid-19 has disrupted the whole production and supply chain as mobility is subject to national restriction. Millions of jobs ran out due to Covid-19 creating an exodus of unemployment. It is true that industries are trying to recover but a considerable amount of time is needed with a higher degree of uncertainty. Evidently, few sectors were badly hurt which are parts and parcel of globalization. International airlines and tourism sectors are notable in this regard. Tourism plays a vital role in spreading cultural globalization with contribution of nearly 10% of world GDP. But coronavirus has stopped all of them. Few South East Asian countries are at greater economic risk as their domestic income generation largely depends on foreign tourists. Covid-19 has also broken another aspect of global integration and that is international events. Political, cultural and sporting events were cancelled or postponed due to the Covid-19 which used to give a sense of togetherness among world citizens. Even the exchange of international students, a vehicle of spreading and assimilating globalization through soft power, is hampered due to the Covid-19. On the other hand, high political events like 75th United Nations General Assembly had to take place at virtual space. Obviously the effectiveness of virtual meeting cannot be compared with the actual assembly taking place in normal time. Consequently, we have seen a lack of consensus among world leaders on urgent emerging issues. Confusions among policy makers are likely to turn into confrontation. Conflicts around the world did not wane rather emerged with new vigour in the time of Coronavirus.
Survival of Globalization:
Decline or Debacle?
It is understandable that globalization is going through a hard time as Covid-19 is posing a series of serious threats to its normal operations. At the same time, we should not forget that globalization is also responsible for spreading infectious diseases through trade and travel. So, countries are compelled to take harsh measures to stop the further spread of Coronavirus which goes contrary to globalization. We are seeing a different world which used to be interconnected and harmonious. So, many scholars are seeing the death of globalization in the phase of Covid-19. But the author of this paper is humbly less willing to accept such conclusion regarding the fate of globalization. Less moderately saying, face of globalization is likely to be shaped differently by given the dynamics of ongoing crisis in consideration. Author of this paper believes that the globalization was already in crisis. Covid-19 has just exacerbated the ongoing situation of ‘slowbalization’ and likely to accelerate its deterioration if appropriate measures are not taken.
As we have mentioned, globalization was already challenged by its inner contradictions. US was the main mastermind behind the creation of this world financial and governance system, but perception change in its leadership has caused a retreatment from globalization. Despite global lower economic growth, emerging markets have surpassed the growth of developed countries. Millions of jobs were created in developing countries as world markets have expanded from the centre to periphery. Although globalization has blessed a lot but its contribution in the state of equality and social justice is very poor and negative in some cases. In the meantime, Coronavirus is posing serious disruptive force against globalization. Consequently, a nationalistic and anti-globalization policy ground were already prepared. Governments are excusing globalization to hide their poor performance in Covid-19 management before citizens as elections are approaching. So, we have noticed a trend of ‘domestication of production’ to reduce the dependency on foreign markets. Authors warn that making reformation in globalization is inevitable otherwise nationalistic surge would disempower globalization in the time of Covid-19.
Apart from economic sector, we have seen huge incoordination at global governance level. Nearly no effective response has come from international institutions rather they virtually disappeared in the beginning of Covid-19. But as a vital pillar of globalization, international institutions have a certain degree of responsibility in making sure the welfare of nations as all of them do not have the same capability in ensuring own wellbeing. So, states tend to play a strong role here which my result in protectionist policy undertaking, encourage unilateralism, decreasing global trade and fuelling geopolitical tensions along international borders. Few authors are trying to posit regionalization as a viable alternative tool to globalization to ensure more economic balance between domestic and international interests, rising efficiency and equity with greater political coordination in the light of Covid-19.
Abovementioned scenario depicts a grim picture of globalization where global connectivity is likely to be curtailed if not destroyed due to Covid-19. But there are still few auspicious developments in globalization in the time of Covid-19 what we must assert before joining the party of funeral of globalization. We have seen that globalization is a diverse phenomenon that takes place in many fronts. Axel Dreher notes economic integration flowing goods and capital, social integration through the spread of ideas, culture and people, and political integration through global governance are crucial areas of globalization. We have seen that this pandemic Covid-19 has damaged almost all of these components of globalization notably economic and political one. But digital technologies have created an unprecedented avenue for communication across borders. We have observed a boom in the internet of things, virtual meetings and internet finance contributing intangible economy as physical interactions are affected by covid-19. Economic activities are taking place in online marketplaces around the world which gives another opportunity to maintain supply chains. On the other hand, Political interactions are likely to adjust gradually with this new character of globalization. Shared experiences of Covid-19 may create a consensus among political elites as one’s welfare will not be sustainable if others remain in distress due to the globalized nature of this age.
It is evident that there is no way of turning back to primitive stage from the current age of globalization. It is not the first-time globalization facing a crisis. Truly Covid-19 is an unusual peacetime disruptor in globalization. But the networks this capitalist system has created through the technological means, globalization is compelled to sustain from its periodic vulnerability. Obviously new global hegemonic leadership in absence of USA may change the nature of globalization but supposed to continue the existing modes and methods. China is supposed to follow the pathways of USA. Globalization is here to stay despite the emergence of Covid-19 but it needs considerable reformation to make it more humane, equitable and efficient.
The author of this article is a contributor to international affairs.