Assessing Globalization: Benefits and Drawbacks of Trade and Integration

By Kohut, Andrew; Wike, Richard | Harvard International Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Assessing Globalization: Benefits and Drawbacks of Trade and Integration


Kohut, Andrew, Wike, Richard, Harvard International Review


Globalization continues to be a divisive subject among political activists, academics, business leaders, and policymakers. Some look at the rapid economic and political changes taking place around the world and see injustice. Others observe these same changes and see progress. On both sides of the debate, however, much of the discussion takes place among elites. What do average citizens around the world think about the powerful global forces transforming their societies? Survey research suggests that most people embrace the idea of a globalized world, albeit cautiously.

The main economic premises of globalization are generally accepted in regions throughout the world. People tend to believe their countries will benefit from trade, free enterprise, and investment by foreign companies. These views are especially common in many of the world's poorest countries, including nations in sub-Saharan Africa. However, enthusiasm for economic globalization has waned considerably over the last few years in many wealthy nations, especially in Western Europe and the United States.

In nations both rich and poor, however, people worry about globalization's downsides. Many are concerned about the disadvantaged in society who are left behind by the economic growth globalization can bring. Increasingly, they are alarmed by the negative effects of growth on the environment. Nearly everywhere, people worry about the potential loss of their own traditions and cultures in an interconnected world. Many are also troubled by the growing flow of immigrants across national borders.

So global publics do not fit neatly into either anti-or pro-globalization boxes. They largely reject the critiques of the strident anti-globalization protestors who have garnered considerable international media attention in recent years with their colorful--and sometimes violent--protests at international conclaves in Seattle, Prague, Davos, and elsewhere. At the same time, average citizens are more apprehensive about globalization than are the business and political elites who are often its greatest champions.

Support for Economic Globalization

In countries throughout the world, there is broad support for key economic features of globalization. The 47-country 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey found strong support for international trade, multinational corporations, and free markets. However, the survey, conducted among representative national samples in 39 countries and disproportionately urban samples in 8 countries, also found important differences across various countries and regions. Perhaps the most notable among these are the increasing signs of economic anxiety among the wealthy nations of the West.

International trade is at the heart of globalization. The tremendous expansion of global trade over the last few decades has driven economic growth in many developing countries, while providing more diverse and less expensive products to consumers in the developed world. At the same time, it has created dramatic upheaval, as workers in poor countries have moved to cities in search of new jobs, while some in wealthier nations have lost jobs that have moved overseas. The 2007 Pew Global poll shows that, all things considered, people consistently endorse international trade. Sizeable majorities in all 47 countries said growing trade ties between countries are having a positive impact on their country. In 9 countries, at least 90 percent of those surveyed took this position. Favorable views are especially common in sub-Saharan Africa, the world's poorest region. In all 10 African countries included in the survey, over 80 percent said trade was having a positive impact.

Large majorities also back trade in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, but the trend in these developed nations is clearly headed in a negative direction. For example, both Italy and France have seen double digit declines in support for trade since 2002. …

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