Will COVID-19 kill globalization?

Will COVID-19 kill globalization?

When this health crisis is over, will we remember COVID-19 as an historic turning point for globalization? We're talking here about all the processes that move goods and services, people, money, information, and ideas across borders at historically unprecedented speed. It's a trend, like all important trends, composed of plenty of both good and bad. It has lifted billions of people from poverty and given each of us a new stake in the success of others. And it has also dirtied our air and water, warmed the climate, and disrupted lives and livelihoods as millions of jobs cross borders too.

It's the defining force of the post-Cold War world.


But in recent years, and well before a novel coronavirus first made the leap from animal to human sometime late last year, plenty of people on both the right and the left had begun to question the virtues of globalization. Some of those people have since become major world leaders. The coronavirus pandemic will create new incentives for political leaders and business decision-makers that accelerate the move away from globalization.

Political leaders will find themselves responsible for reversing a sharp economic slowdown and high unemployment. Some will respond to rising public fears over insecure borders by building new barriers to immigration with promises to protect jobs and public health. They'll also protect jobs with new tariffs, and they'll pressure companies to move more of their production "home."

Business leaders will simplify multinational supply chains, which now account for about three-quarters of global trade, to reduce their vulnerabilities to unexpected crises. (That process has already begun between the world's largest and next-largest economies in response to the US-China trade war.) They'll also have new incentives to automate production to reduce the cost of disruptions. And now that they've discovered the extent to which it's possible to conduct business online from home, they might spend less on travel.

This deglobalization trend will create a more dangerous world. As Eurasia Group's Robert Kaplan pointed out in a recent column, the US and China were already starting to disengage their economies from each other, particularly in advanced technology. The bad blood that COVID-19 has added to the relationship will further dismantle the economic interdependence that's given Washington and Beijing good reason to avoid direct conflict — economic or military.

COVID-19 won't kill globalization, but it will expose globalization's profound political and economic vulnerabilities like nothing we've seen before. It will accelerate trends already underway, sparking new debates about the costs and benefits of physical and economic boundaries. The movement towards interdependence that has defined the past 30 years will be thrown into reverse.

That's the argument. Tell us what you think.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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