History of International Relations Textbook

Book blog

Globalization in a time of cholera

Globalization is a question of exchange — economic markets and trade, goods and services, but also many other things — ideas, projects, religion — hopes and dreams

Three great waves

Example 1:

The global exchange made possible during the Mongol empire — 13th and 14th centuries — roads connecting China with India — India with the Middle East and Europe

access to great Chinese inventions — compass, printing press, paper making, gun powder, many others — Indian mathematics

Example 2:

First contacts with the Americas, 1492 — the “Columbian exchange” — exchange of plants and animals — we got potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, chocolate, and so much more —

we gave horses, cows, goats and sheep — coffee to Brazil

Example 3:

What we have lived through during the industrial era — especially the last 30 years — vastly improved standards of living for hundreds of millions of people —

countries that used to be desperately poor are no longer poor — because of free trade

Globalization is great!

I’m a great fan of globalization.

Exchange allows you to leave your own little world — your own society — and learn from other societies — broaden your horizons — escape your prejudices, set ways of thinking …

Perhaps because I come from a very small society myself — Sweden

be more than you are — reach out to humanity — grow and develop your full potential


Not only exchanging products and ideas — but germs and viruses as well

Mongol Empire — Black Death, Bubonic Plague — some 1/3 or 1/2 of the population of China died — widespread death in the Middle East and Europe

After Columbus — some 80% of the population of the Americas died — from smallpox and measles — the natives had no immunity

Now — we have the Corona virus — we have more knowledge today — and maybe the virus is not as lethal –but still millions and millions of people might die

Question: how to return to exchange?

Today — very partial exchange — a lot on the Internet — but no one can go anywhere — only essential trade — we are basically locked into our societies, stuck in our own worlds

We have to be much smarter about it —

too much focus on economic rationality — on what is profitable

we have no redundancy built in — we have no margins — there is no testing capacity — no extra hospital beds — we only have what we can justify in economic terms


We must rely far more on the resources of our own societies — on our traditions

tradition is difficult to understand — often it doesn’t make sense — there seems to be no reason for it — but the tradition is much smarter than individuals — since the tradition has been around for a long time — the tradition knows much more than we do

example 1: burqa

in Denmark they banned burqa a few years ago — it’s illegal to wear a burqa in public — today this makes no sense — everyone is wearing face covering — even in Denmark —

It seems like the tradition knew something — Muslim countries have gone through a lot of pandemics — perhaps the dress code evolved as a response

you look at burqa wearing women and you wonder why they dress so strange — well, now you know, since you dress kind of the same way yourself!

example 2: individualism

Neoliberalism — reliance on economic markets for everything — everything has a price, and nothing has a value

Extreme form of individualism — people are thinking only about themselves — Thatcher: “there is no society” — there are only individuals

society has been difficult to defend — what and where is it really? — perhaps Thatcher was right …

No, our tradition was right — society is right here!

There is no individual solution to a pandemic — all solutions happen when we work together — viruses are contagious — and there is no vaccine and no medicine you can take

We have to help one another — there is no other way — we are a society

There it is — right before us — society!

Problem for the US — many are still insisting on their “individual rights” — but this is a great mistake — the pandemic shows us that society comes first — and if we don’t save each other, no one will be saved

Way forward:

We have to restart the exchange — we cannot lock ourselves into our little worlds

but we have to be smarter about it — we have to listen to our traditions — they smarter than we are —

our traditions can protect us! — from viruses, maybe, in terms of dress codes — and from terrible mistakes like neoliberalism and individualism!


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