GZERO Media logo

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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

More Show less

Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal