Globalization and Its Nuances

The PBS TV program History Detectives had an episode entitled “Atocha Spanish Silver” where the wreck of the Spanish ship Atocha was described like this:

“In 1985, one of the greatest treasure discoveries was made off the Florida Keys, when the wreck of the Spanish ship Atocha was found. On board were some forty tons of silver and gold, which in 1622 had been heading from the New World to the Spanish treasury as the means to fund the Thirty Years’ War.”

Is this an obvious case of globalization? What about Marco Polo? RomeHan dynasty China trade in silks? Silk Road and Samarkand? Colombus? Magellan? Vasco da Gama?

All of these cases constitute a kind of harmless kind of “pop globalization” based on exotic voyages and travels.

Consider another such example, perhaps more academic:

“About the middle of the sixteenth century Antwerp reached its apogee. For the first time in history there existed both a European and a world market; the economies of different parts of Europe had become interdependent and were linked through the Antwerp market, not only with each other but also with the economies of large parts of the rest of the world. Perhaps no other city has ever again played such a dominant role as did Antwerp in the second quarter of the sixteenth century.”

(Europe in the Sixteenth Century, Koenigsberger and Mosse, Holt Rinehart Publishers, 1968, page 50)

Debt repudiations in several places in the 1550s are described like this:

“This caused the first big international bank crash, for the Antwerp bankers now could not meet their own obligations.”

(Europe in the Sixteenth Century, Koenigsberger and Mosse, Holt Rinehart Publishers, 1968, page 51)

This sounds like some kind of identifiably global period.

Actually, modern historians define globalization as “price convergence” (i.e., wheat has now a unified “world price,” implying a world market). This rigorous definition is confirmed by and also shows up in the data in the 1820s and may or may not be prefigured by all the Marco Polo and Atocha silver stories, mentioned above.

These episodes in history are not there yet.

One sees wheat prices and other commodity prices converging in the 1820s and thereafter based on railroads, steamships and telegrams.

The classic in this kind of analysis is:

Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy, by Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson.

Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson present a coherent picture of In Globalization and History, Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson present a coherent picture of trade, migration, and international capital flows in the Atlantic economy in the century prior to 1914—the first great globalization boom, which anticipated the experience of the last fifty years. The authors estimate the extent of globalization and its impact on the participating countries, and discuss the political reactions that it provoked. The book’s originality lies in its application of the tools of open-economy economics to this critical historical period—differentiating it from most previous work, which has been based on closed-economy or single-sector models. The authors also keep a close eye on globalization debates of the 1990s, using history to inform the present and vice versa. The book brings together research conducted by the authors over the past decade—work that has profoundly influenced how economic history is now written and that has found audiences in economics and history, as well as in the popular press.

(book summary)

In everyday language, we associate the word globalization with some ever-increasing Marco Polo phenomena. While that’s not entirely wrong, globalization in the more technical sense begins to show up in the data only from the 1820s. At this point, we begin to see the convergence of worldwide wheat prices, for example. This makes the world, for the first time, a global “store” with unified prices. Here is the technical beginning of globalization. The years 1870-1914 are subsequently the first real era of modern globalization and represent a kind of “take-off” from the first stirrings of the 1820s. World Wars I & II might be seen as globalization backlash.

At this moment in world history, whether Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will constitute a new wave of deglobalization remains to be seen.

Science and Its Discontents: The Case of Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石) in Japan

Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石) is and was the most prestigious and respected novelist in modern Japan and every student has to engage with such novels of his as Botchan (坊っちゃん, “Young Master”) and Kokoro (こゝろ, or in post-war orthography こころ, “Heart”). Sōseki died in 1916.

Sōseki’s feeling that the modern world is some kind of runaway train with no brakes is expressed clearly in his 1913 novel, Kōjin (行人 , “The Wayfarer”).

One of Sōseki’s dialogues in the novel is about the current science and technology world, which was quite visible already then, and has a very nerve-racking or frightening tempo of a turbulent tsunami.

One character says:

“Now what you call insecurity is the insecurity of the entire human race, and it isn’t peculiar to you alone. Constant motion and flow is our very fate.

“Man’s insecurity stems from the advance of science. Never once has science, which never ceases to move forward, allowed us to pause. From walking to ricksha, from ricksha to carriage, from carriage to train, from train to automobile, from there on to the dirigible, further on to the airplane, and further on and on, no matter how far we may go, it won’t let us take a breath. How far it will sweep us along, nobody knows for sure. It is really frightening.”

Yes, it is frightening, indeed, I agreed.

“It is frightening because the fate that the whole of humanity will reach in several centuries, I must go through—in my own lifetime—and at that all alone. That’s why it is frightening. In short, I gather within myself the whole insecurity of the human race, and distill that insecurity down into every moment, that is the fright that I am experiencing.”

(Natsume Sōseki, Kōjin [行人], Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1991, 9th printing, page 285)

Comment: There’s no need to dismiss these feelings as Luddite. They represent a reaction to the vertiginous or dizzying pace of the modern techno-protean change machine with no pause button.

Notice that Sōseki’s life (1867-1916) is basically congruent with Globalization I (i.e., the period of 1870-1913) discussed in the previous essay on Arthur Lewis’s classic Growth and Fluctuations, 1870-1913.

Sōseki has been, like his spokesmen in the citation above, swept up into a change-storm which led to a globalization backlash from 1914-1945, the era of deglobalization. WWI is the beginning bookend of all this.

Notice that the micro world of feelings and moods in the novel are resonant with the macro world though people at a certain time, such as the Sōseki protagonists, are not rigorous or prophetic theoreticians but rather groping in the dark.

Essay 40: Movies as a “Backdoor Into Financial History”

“Financial history” (the Professor Niall Ferguson PBS miniseries, The Ascent of Money, of recent years tries to “flag” this domain) can be exciting and eye-opening if the student fins the kind of “backdoor” into it that makes it all enchanting and not a tiresome slog through opaque textbooks.  Movies are a good way to “parachute” into fields, domains, areas of study:

The 1963 movie Mary Poppins is partly about bank runs and the “Tuppence” song in the movie communicates the centrality of London finance in the world of 1910, the setting of the movie:

“You see, Michael, you’ll be part of railways through Africa
Dams across the Nile, fleets of ocean Greyhounds
Majestic, self-amortizing canals
Plantations of ripening tea
All from tuppence, prudently fruitfully, frugally invested
In the, to be specific
In the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs
Fidelity fiduciary bank

Now Michael, when you deposit tuppence in a bank account
Soon you’ll see
That it blooms into credit of a generous amount
And you’ll achieve that sense of stature
As your influence expands
To the high financial strata
That established credit, now commands
You can purchase first and second trust deeds
Think of the foreclosures
Bonds! Chattels! Dividends! Shares
Bankruptcies! Debtor sales! Opportunities
All manner of private enterprise
Shipyards! The mercantile
Collieries! Tanneries
Incorporations! Amalgamations! Banks”

The current  U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was a foreclosure king of the Great Recession of 2008.  An American movie on “bank runs” is of course the classic It’s a Wonderful Life (with James Stewart as the local banker.)

The 1910 world of London finance show in the movie Mary Poppins can be now contextualized by realizing all of this crashed down in August 1914 which represents the beginning of post-WW 1deglobalization.”  Thus, finance and globalization issues haunt the present.

Walter Bagehot’s masterpiece of 1873, Lombard Street, is a kind of anticipation of this syndrome and Charles Kindleberger‘s (MIT) Manias, Panics and Crashes gives the sense of the underlying instability.

Kevin Phillips’s book Bad Money of 2008 outlines the dangers of “over financialization.”

The movie and the fun song can help a student find his or her way in to these areas and domains.