President Obama gave an important speech to the United Nations in 2016. He opened with a litany of accomplishments, but then quickly moved to the challenges of globalism: “Around the globe we are seeing the same forces of global integration that have made us interdependent also expose deep fault lines in the existing international order…This is the paradox that defines our world today. A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the world is by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before, and yet our societies are filled with uncertainty, and unease, and strife. Despite enormous progress, as people lose trust in institutions, governing becomes more difficult and tensions between nations become more quick to surface.
“And so I believe that at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration. Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”
He pointed out that “the integration of our global economy has made life better for billions of men, women and children. Over the last 25 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from nearly 40 percent of humanity to under 10 percent. That’s unprecedented. And it’s not an abstraction. It means children have enough to eat; mothers don’t die in childbirth.”
Because of interdependence and global technology, “a person born today is more likely to be healthy, to live longer, and to have access to opportunity than at any time in human history.”
Surprisingly, he said the number of democracies in the world has doubled since 1990, meaning that more people than ever before have the right to choose their leaders.
And yet, for all the obvious benefits of globalization since the end of the Cold War — including peaceful union in Europe and exploding growth of China and India — there are clear downsides, especially the increase in economic inequality. The “existing path to global integration requires a course correction,” he said. “As too often, those trumpeting the benefits of globalization have ignored inequality within and among nations; have ignored the enduring appeal of ethnic and sectarian identities; have left international institutions ill-equipped, underfunded, under-resourced, in order to handle transnational challenges.”
Alternative visions of the world have pressed forward both in the wealthiest countries and in the poorest: Religious fundamentalism; the politics of ethnicity, or tribe, or sect; aggressive nationalism; a crude populism — sometimes from the far left, but more often from the far right — which seeks to restore what they believe was a better, simpler age free of outside contamination.
These visions are ultimately self-defeating, he argued. “I believe that the acceleration of travel and technology and telecommunications — together with a global economy that depends on a global supply chain — makes it self-defeating ultimately for those who seek to reverse this progress. Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.”
He goes on to describe how we must work harder to make globalization work for a greater number of people. Labor unions have lost ground, and manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Global capital is often unaccountable.
“A world in which one percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable,” he declared.