The Ages of Globalization

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Oct 2020

Member Reviews

This is a great account of the history of globalization from Paleolitic period to Digital age. The book is well written, easy to understand, and eye opening in many aspects.

While many may not agree with some ideas of the author here, the book was able to present ample evidence to support each claim and suggestion.

If you are someone who wants to know and get acquainted with the history, politics, and how other factors affect globalization as we know it today, this book will help.
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I just finished a book written in 2005 which said that if we abandon our fear of top-down government-led solutions, sacrificed, and all worked together to mitigate environmental catastrophe, we might just come out of this all right. Then, I read this brand-new book, which says the same thing.

The relative success of books by Jared Diamond, Niall Ferguson, Yuval Noah Harari and others seems to indicate that writing big-big-worldview books about the history of everybody and everything since the beginning of time is what all the kids at the cool table of the lunchroom are doing now. This is another contribution from that table. Going way way back at least relieves you of the need to guess what fresh type of shameful and appalling idiocy will engulf the present-day headlines next.

Sachs joins the three writers above in the stable of big-think writers whose books I've actually finished. There's a larger pool of big-think writers whose books I've failed to finish, because the prose did not hold my interest long enough to allow the ideas to penetrate my brainpan. I mention it only because I wish to complement the author on clearing the brainpan hurdle by writing a clear and readable book about a dense and difficult topic. This is no mean achievement, given that writing in a clear manner is almost like begging rival public intellectuals to come and joyfully harpoon your ideas until you and your ideas sink in a bloody mess before being engulfed by the next news cycle.

That's the praise. Now the criticism.

I'd love to know more about any number of topics, but it seems in our sad times that the debate on most topics consists of arguing about and/or changing the meaning of words, an activity of limited utility, in my sight. This book is another example of this discouraging trend. In this case, it seems to me, the author is attempt to redefine “globalization” as a phenomenon not new to our age but happening continuously since humanity gathered together in units larger than a single family. People headed out of Africa? Globalization. Adopted the agricultural advances of their neighbors? Globalization. Traded over longer and longer distances? Gl….. well, you get the picture.

What's the point of defining globalization this way? This is a sincere question! Maybe (I'm guessing here) the logic is that, if we define globalization as something that has been happy since the misty dawn of time, maybe it's less of a scary demon. Maybe we're supposed to think of it as something natural, like the change of seasons. Is that right? If so, who exactly is supposed to adopt this new mindset and feel less afraid of globalization?

I guess it just seems like, if you made a Venn diagram with two circles, and the circles were labelled, from left to right, “Probable readers of this book” and “People who demonize globalization”, the two circles wouldn't have even a slim little overlapping wedge in the middle. Or, to put it another way, the people who might need this worldview readjustment are likely to never receive it.

New topic: there should be some sort of public shaming for people who write books citing statistics from the People's Republic of China but don't include even the slightest hint that many pretty smart people believe that most statistics out of China are, to be blunt, lies. In this case (around Kindle location 2757), Sachs cites a lot of International Monetary Fund-generated statistics on Chinese growth. Of course, IMF statistics are likely to be most reliable than PRC statistics, but I believe that, at some point, IMF statistics have to be based on information assembled and distributed by the PRC, which pretty much poisons the well, as far as statistical reliability goes. I'm not saying that writers shouldn't go ahead and use them, I just think that the possible unreliability of such statistics should be at least mentioned in passing.

The book ends with some suggestions about how we can make things better. Generally, they are: forget about parochial interests in favor of the good of all on the planet. That's great, but I want to know – how do you do that? How do you get people to look past their narrowest short term interests? And not just people – how do you get the five permanent UN Security Council members to accept a vastly enlarged body that dilutes their power? I'm not trying to be a smart aleck – it just seems to me like every big thinker can point to the goal, but nobody can tell us how to get there.

Thank you to Netgalley and Columbia University Press for the free advance egalley copy of this book.
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In this book economist Prof.Jeffrey D. Sachs outlines the dynamics of six previous ages of globalization (The Paleolithic Age, 70,000–10,000 BCE; The Neolithic Age, 10,000–3000 BCE, The Equestrian Age, 3000–1000 BCE, The Classical Age, 1000 BCE–1500 CE, The Ocean Age, 1500–1800, and the Industrial Age 1800–2000) in order to shed light on the current Digital Age of globalization. He argues that each of these previous ages led to new forms of governance, and from this he, concludes that a new global form of governance is needed if we are to successfully overcome the world's three greatest challenges today: 1) the intensification and growth of inequalities of income and wealth, i.e. both the continued existence of extreme poverty across the globe and rising inequalities within rich societies that are worsening due to new technologies that displace workers from their jobs 2) the "violation of planetary boundaries" through human-induced climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increasing pollution 3) the threat of global war and the annihilation of the species through such a war. 

As a warning about the dire consequences  that will ensue from human-induced climate change if the nations of the world, in particular the United States, continue to ignore the recommendations and advice of technological and scientific experts, this book is an eye-opening treatise that deserves careful consideration. 

However, as a history, it is much less successful. Although the author carefully defines each of the terms that appears in the book's subtitle, i.e. geography, technology, and institutions, the author never clearly defines what he means by globalization. Given that no consensus exists among social scientists and historians about the start point of globalization (proposed starting times include: the industrial age in 1800, age of maritime expansion in roughly 1500; and the integration of Asia around 1000, as well as earlier historical markers) and that the author dates globalization to human ancestor's first appearance on earth, providing a definition of globalization and an explanation for his dating are critical. Instead, he assumes that the applicability of the term to "some seventy thousand years ago" when humans first began moving from Africa to other regions of the world is a matter of no controversy. Consequently, the book also includes no discussion of the dates assigned by other social scientists and historians to the process of globalization. This failure to acknowledge or engage with the existing literature on globalization raises some red flags for this book as a work of history that simply cannot be overlooked, despite the book's noteworthy discussion of contemporary challenges.
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