The movement of planetary integration that five decades ago we began calling
‘globalization’ has recently entered a new phase of acceleration. Like many
others in the West, Americans have long known the day would come when
they would have to treat the Chinese as equals. What they have had to
come to grips with in the past five years is that this would not wait
until 2040 or 2050 to happen — the day has come and gone. And the Chinese are not just
their equals. They have become their bankers — with the unprecedented level
of interdependency that entails.
Why are we collectively failing to grasp the extent of this paradigm shift
and its far-reaching consequences?
First of all, because the West has a de facto monopoly on the narrative of
globalization. We talk of an increasingly multipolar world, use acronyms
(BRICs, CIVETS), concepts (emerging, multipolar), regions (Asia, Latin
America) or countries, as if the simple fact of uttering these words allowed
us to truly grasp the magnitude and permanent nature of the changes at hand.
This quasi-monopoly has led us to think that what is happening at the moment
is a crisis — one that the West will emerge from still in the global
driver’s seat. Is it really?
For two-thirds of humanity today, the series of events the West has been
referring to as a “crisis” since 2007 simply aren’t so. At worst, economic
growth is slowing — but still to double the average Western rate. The West
has also dominated the global conversation more broadly, its leaders
even sometimes equating the financial crisis with a “crisis of globalization”.
This too is false — and Eurocentric.
Trade and investment between Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South
Asia, and the Far East has risen in many connections by over 1000 percent in
the past decade (yes, one thousand percent). Globalization simply does
not cease to exist as a result of its no longer being driven by
America and Europe.
The second major issue with our current global narrative is that we have
kept it largely faceless and nameless. We still live in a world where on the
one hand there is Bill Gates and Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Madonna,
Oprah Winfrey and David Cameron, and on the other “the Chinese,” “the
Indians” and “the Brazilians.” The new actors of globalization aren’t
concepts or acronyms; they aren’t even regions or countries. They are
individual women and men, and it is time we became acquainted with
Chinese, India, Arab, African billionaires are also generous
philanthropists in their countries and worldwide, even if they don’t
sign Bill Gates’ “Giving Pledge” or make the front page of the New
Beyond the daily impact on our world, a rebalancing act of planetary
magnitude is in the works. For the first time in five centuries,
sixty-something white men from Western Europe and North America are no
longer calling all the shots across the globe. The balance is
shifting: it takes only a few minutes in any major Asian airport to
understand that the exclusive invitation-only party is over for the
And takes just a few more minutes to understand this is only fair.
The third issue has to do with the crisis of the modern democratic process
in a globalized age. Churchill once wrote that democracy was the worst
political system with the exception of every other form of government. For
most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the issue of democracy was
about people’s self-determination and their right to live in a democratic
state. While Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History has proved its limits, a
whole new tension is emerging from the fundamental limitations of democratic
governance. We are asking governments elected within the confines of
nation-states for four or five years at a time to adequately confront
issues (global warming, fishery depletion, energy supplies, water and
food shortages) which span the entire planet and require decades to
Western countries, particularly the United States, have abdicated the role
of consistent leader on these issues while often undermining the
international bodies that would be the best stewards of the process.
In the meantime, electorates have not surprisingly begun to question whether
their short-sighted governments should be entrusted with their own wealth
and future, let alone that of the world.
So how to confront these new realities?
1. Continue to break the Western, quasi monopoly on the global narrative.
For the world’s sake but also the West’s, the story of our planet needs to
be decentralized, which requires decentralizing information-gathering
and storytelling. Point-to-point journalism means an increasingly
holistic understanding of our world. Let us access more articles about
Iran coming from Austria or India. Give us more articles about mining
in Mongolia by experts from Brazil. Learn about building advanced
infrastructure from the Turks. We need to enrich the current global
narrative and give voice to the many who have been shut out of
traditional media structures.
2. Use all tools at our disposal to get acquainted with the people who are
newly-empowered. Where there aren’t tools, let us build them and use all the
platforms available to connect and learn about the real lives of billions
once on the periphery of Western empires and now becoming central to
3. Use new transnational issue driven networks to advance the debate on
global issues rather than waiting for the agenda to come from
Washington or Beijing. Whether UNITAID or the Clinton Global
Initiative, new virtual and creative tools now allow for global
participation in fundraising and development spending.
Our global narrative is stale, and international dynamics are shifting
more rapidly than most in the West recognize. Many of the countries we
refer to as “emerging” no longer are — they are well out of the
cocoon. Information structures are evolving, traditional hierarchies
collapsing. This needs to happen faster: new times, not just
countries, are emerging.
Follow Felix Marquardt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/feleaks
Follow Parag Khanna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/paragkhanna