Opinion

What is globalization?

Globalization

By Melina Kolb for The Peterson Institute For International Economics

After centuries of technological progress and advances in international cooperation, the world is more connected than ever. But how much has the rise of trade and the modern global economy helped or hurt American businesses, workers, and consumers? Here is a basic guide to the economic side of this broad and much debated topic, drawn from current research.

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Globalization is the word used to describe the growing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations, brought about by cross-border trade in goods and services, technology, and flows of investment, people, and information. Countries have built economic partnerships to facilitate these movements over many centuries. But the term gained popularity after the Cold War in the early 1990s, as these cooperative arrangements shaped modern everyday life. This guide uses the term more narrowly to refer to international trade and some of the investment flows among advanced economies, mostly focusing on the United States.

  • Globalization is a product of PIIE

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The wide-ranging effects of globalization are complex and politically charged. As with major technological advances, globalization benefits society as a whole, while harming certain groups. Understanding the relative costs and benefits can pave the way for alleviating problems while sustaining the wider payoffs.

THE HISTORY OF GLOBALIZATION IS DRIVEN BY TECHNOLOGY, TRANSPORTATION, AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

Since ancient times, humans have sought distant places to settle, produce, and exchange goods enabled by improvements in technology and transportation. But not until the 19th century did global integration take off. Following centuries of European colonization and trade activity, that first “wave” of globalization was propelled by steamships, railroads, the telegraph, and other breakthroughs, and also by increasing economic cooperation among countries. The globalization trend eventually waned and crashed in the catastrophe of World War I, followed by postwar protectionism, the Great Depression, and World War II. After World War II in the mid-1940s, the United States led efforts to revive international trade and investment under negotiated ground rules, starting a second wave of globalization, which remains ongoing, though buffeted by periodic downturns and mounting political scrutiny.

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