"There's a kind of hush all over the world . . ." - sang Peter Noone of the Hermans Hermits half a century ago. That was when the world was blooming, so much that humans were poised to walk on the moon (and did in 1969), magic was in the air, highlighted by Camelot, a "candle in the wind," surf music, and the San Francisco sound that put a flower in everyone's hair. Heck, if the moon was being scoped out, "globalisation" must have been too limited a concept to capture the aura: solar-isation might have been a closer concept to depict the mindset. It was, arguably, the most storied "Age of Aquarius" of them all.
Alas, today more of us cannot see beyond the tip of our own nose than those with a cosmopolitan chirp on their lips. As a November 18 Economist article noted: the "West" (particularly European countries, the United States, and including even Australia in the "East" and Sau'di Arabia in the middle), "is increasingly turning its back on globalisation," whereas across Asia, where lie "the fastest-growing economies," the tendency has been "to be more positive about globalisation." Forget space and the solar system: the tension is between globalisation and nationalism, with the latter either surging or brewing in fits and starts across the planet. Interestingly, the Economist found that "hope" within this globalisation context "now lies with the young."
That may be the best bet we have as the 21st Century unfolds. Whereas the "West" is mired with sunset industries and low wages across Asia attract sunrise industries, we must still be careful how we apportion promises and perils. Asian youth, as the Economist noted, have a very "nuanced" view of globalisation: exports demand such a view, as too raw material imports, tourism, and acquiring niche brands (a Mercedes automobile, Rolex watch, Polo sweaters, Calvin Klien jeans, Old Spice fragrance, or Johnny Walker drinks); yet the Asian pedestal climb must not be neglected in the "Asian equation," meaning local identity must become part and parcel of that globalisation context, so that national symbols can themselves become global trademarks now.
The Economist's appraisal of the "West" may itself be more nuanced than the publication admits. Hope admittedly lies with the youth in these countries. With almost half of U.S. Millennial population being positive about globalisation (specifically, with immigration as part and parcel of it), and slightly more than half of Britons feeling likewise (over the same issue), both Donald Trump's electoral victory and the Brexit vote suggest even the youth mindset is fickle: if the going is good, they will all hop on board the global steamship, if not, nationalism reinforces itself; but since the underlying reality at this juncture of human civilisation has not been demonstrating anything economically upbeat, the immediate future does not predict a quick escape from the stagnation.
Undeniably, infrastructural restructuring is imperative, but unfortunately, though Trump has promised precisely that (borrowing it, no less, from Hillary R. Clinton), there may not be enough dimes and dollars in the bank to build them as quickly and efficiently as needed. Particularly since Asian countries are in the process of pouring in everything they have, hook, line, and sinker, to build their first set of infrastructures in many cases, the competition and the weight will still leave the "West" a few paces behind, therefore barely quashing the nationalism that is at war with globalisation, today at least.
That asymmetrical playing field, and the paucity that it exposes, matters. They matter because China has opened up its own coffers to build those Asian infrastructures; and though this has been couched under its own strategic "one-belt-one-road" project to revive and adjust the ancient Silk Route to modern needs, there is no "West" counterpart like there used to be after World War II. Then the United States alone supplied, much as China is today doing, all the growth paraphernalia to the rest of the world: the Marshall Plan for Europe was replicated to so many other regions of the world until, well, the Age of Aquarius, that is the late 1960s. Thus, since two decades of investments abroad could not produce the globalisation envisioned then, it is unlikely today's western youths can wait that long to have another go at globalisation.
Yet, that is precisely the point: except for the most robust country/countries, national elections cannot serve as the pathway to globalisation. They will breed nationalism from every successful project completed. As has been argued, if the Asians sit behind the globalisation steering wheel today, they will extract more benefits than any western infrastructural revitalisation since that would entail additional global market re-entrance costs. Given the size of withdrawing from the global market, like Trump is promising (and as is echoing through France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and, not to mention, Australia and elsewhere with an "Atlantic" leftover), the wider the withdrawals, the higher the costs, with the effect that globalisation may be too out-priced to survive. Nationalist sentiments, globalisation's most ferocious competitor, in the West at any rate, will not be napping during any return to globalisation. Western Millennial youths may belong to the most disrupted generation since World War II, ironically as they boast some of the most fertile minds since that time.
It ultimately takes two to tango, so a purely "Asian" or "Western" globalisation surge cannot survive without reciprocity. If that casts a darker shadow across the entire 21st Century, we must remember the 21st Century is poised to witness some of the most breathtaking (as opposed to underlying) innovations in human history. Artificial intelligence and the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not vanish, but a selected few across the world will savour their fruits; and that group has grown large enough to make globalisation more viable enough to persist. Bracing for the worst amid cut-throat competition may become the signature tune of the 21st Century.
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.