The Great Convergence –
Information Technology and the New Globalization
By Richard Baldwin
Belknap Harvard University Press – £22.95
”Despite the best efforts of the smartest humans, no one has found a way to know the future. This ineluctable fact has caused many thinkers to shy away from making predictions. As the Confucian poet Lao Tzu put it: ”Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”
But this is wrong headed. We have a duty to think hard about what may be so as to better prepare society for the changes that may come. As Henri Poincare wrote in The Foundations of Science, ”It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all.” Following his wise words […]., my guess is that the changes will be radical and disruptive.”
If the corrosive events of the last week in America are anything to go by, economist Richard Baldwin is absolutely, stunningly (yet unfortunately) correct. That said, this book does endeavour to change the way we think about globalization – rather than the future of humanity.
To be sure, other than having taken a colossal leap forward in the early 1800s (when steam power and a period of global peace lowered the costs of moving goods); it ought to perhaps be emphasised that globalization underwent a revolutionary change in communication technology during the 1990s. The result of which fundamentally altered globalization forever, which Baldwin – both commendably and logically – tackles head-on throughout The Great Convergence – Information Technology and the New Globalization.
A book, that so far as a road-map for readers is concerned, is augmented with a helpful array of charts and graphs, and has also been written in five prime parts: ‘The Long History of Globalization in Short,’ ‘Extending the Globalization Narrative,’ ‘Understanding Globalization’s Changes,’ ‘Why It Matters’ and ‘Looking Ahead’ (quoted above).
Indeed, these 301 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) should, as Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard University describes it: ”change the way we think about globalization. There have been two big globalization booms over the past two centuries. The first caused divergence between rich and poor nations while the second, since the 1970s, has caused convergence. With elegance, economist Richard Baldwin tells us why.”
It’s understandable as to why Williamson should think this; Baldwin is after all, Professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and Director of the Centre for Economics Policy Research (CEPR) in London.
So in all, it’s hard to disagree with almost anything that’s written herein.
What is important or at stake however, is essentially coming to terms with the validity of the book’s dense, yet economically idiosyncratic information. Simply because it is technological change and fragmentation that (now) stands at the vanguard of globalization. The ultimate impact of which is more sudden and selective.
And, dare I say it, more unpredictable and uncontrollable; although the history of initial/factual globalization is far more predictable. The following of which, will no doubt be much to the chagrin of the recently elected white supremacist, soon to be American President, Donald Trump: ”Modern humans appeared about 200 millennia ago in Africa. As the population rose and fell, the search for additional food expanded and contracted humanity’s geographic range. For seventy-five millennia or so, this consumption-moving-to-production happened only in Africa.”
Suck on that Trump….