Excerpt of a Commencement Address to the University of California, San Diego, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (6/16/01)
In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, a suburban businessman summed up the future in a single word: Plastics. If you had to encapsulate the future today, what would your one word be?
The truth is, the word for today would not be a product but a process. Globalization would be my one word. Globalization is transforming the way we work and live and our very map of the world. Globalization of finance, of trade, and, perhaps most uniquely, of ideas, spurred on by networks of instantaneous communication. Indeed, even anti-globalization itself is a product of the globalization of ideas.
What is globalization? For anyone in Latin America or Asia, globalization simply equals Americanization. Many worry that globalization is a grand American conspiracy—a relentless quest to subordinate the planet to Mickey Mouse, Madonna and McDonalds—or for today’s hip grads, Laura Croft, the Lakers, and mega Lattes.
But that is just part of the truth. In fact, globalization is simply the logic of the market playing out. Globalization equals marketization. And the market takes on a life of its own, beyond the control of any nation. So even though America is winning in the global economy, most Americans see globalization as a foreign force. It is all well and good to talk about the benefits of global competition—but when apparel factories close, when steel lines are idled, when flagship American brands are beaten by Asian rivals, it can provoke an intense backlash.
The last few years have witnessed a great paradox. At the zenith of its influence, at a time when American ideas and products and values are more influential around the world than ever before, America has become the Schizophrenic Globalizer.
Hollywood is a perfect example. Canada and France have made a crusade out of blocking US movie and television exports under the banner of opposing “cultural domination.” What irony! Hollywood itself is an Olympic Village—three of the major studios are foreign owned, and just recall how many Oscars were captured by foreigners. Moreover, Europe and others continue to dominate other facets of culture, like fashion and publishing. And most striking of all, many Americans themselves view Hollywood as an alien culture that threatens traditional values.
Standing here in San Diego, I hardly need describe America’s ambivalence on immigration. One in ten Americans is now foreign born. Hispanic Americans are projected to reach 18 percent of the population in 25 years, and the percentage is already greater in the southwest border states.
Now you might fairly ask, “What is so new and different? Wasn’t immigration even more prominent in the first decades of this century when it reached 15 percent of the population?” Indeed, it was. But there is an important difference: today, more than a quarter of the immigrants come from the other side of a 2000-mile land border. At any given time, fully 20 percent of the population of Mexico is living in the United States.
The implications are profound. First, do any of us really believe the current segmentation of the North American labor market is sustainable? Second, an important region of the country faces development and resource challenges that cannot be solved by one government alone. And third, the new Americans will be a force in domestic politics in ways that are hard to predict. One might expect strong support for NAFTA and free trade with the Americas. But, in fact, many immigrants are employed in the less skilled positions that are most vulnerable to expanded Latin American imports.
The fact that globalization brings great benefits to the economy overall is well established. Yet in every country, there are very real concerns that globalization causes painful job dislocations and exacerbates the gap between rich and poor. In every country, globalization puts greater burdens on domestic regulatory systems—to ensure safe food, sound banks, and worker protections. In every country, there is a debate over the expanded interdependence and shared sovereignty of this global age. And in every country, the jury is out on whether globalization will undermine local cultures or encourage an environment of mutual respect in which multiculturalism thrives.
In my view, globalization is not a choice. It is a force, driven by the logic of the market and technological advance. We cannot stop it. But we can shape it—and we must.
There is no guarantee that the current era of growing interdependence, prosperity and democracy will be self-sustaining. The world has been similarly globalized before. Immigration, trade, and foreign investment all reached peaks in the second decade of this century that were not reached again until recently. We all know what happened in the intervening years. Peace, prosperity, and even globalization are fragile.
Our central challenge is to harness globalization’s tremendous potential for good, ensuring it honors our values while working to mitigate its risks. Every nation has a role to play—as does every one of you. And America—because of its size, its strength, and its place at the center of the global economy-has both a special ability and responsibility to lead. The most important question facing your generation is whether America will rise to the challenge or be overtaken by it.
The challenge starts at home. We must widen the circle of opportunity and prepare everyone to compete in the new economy.
Second, America must lead in strengthening the international system. Right now, our friends abroad wonder whether America is a double agent—working to extend globalization to every village, but rejecting the international treaties and institutions that anchor peace and democracy and ensure prosperity is broadly shared. Despite our unsurpassed economic and military might, we seem defensive, unwilling to share the authority or spend the resources to shape the international environment in ways that serve our core interests. For a global power, America today appears remarkably self-absorbed.
During the Cold War years, we tried to mend our differences “at the water’s edge.” But with that overarching threat vanquished, partisan skirmishes over international issues have moved beyond the beach and well out to sea. And because of America’s central position in this global age, polarization at home leads to paralysis in the international arena. Recall those moments during the Asian financial crisis when a nation would commit to wrenching reforms only to watch with despair as political squabbling over America’s contribution to the IMF drove financial markets back into turmoil.
American ambivalence risks international irrelevance. Those opposed to multilateral action are missing the fundamental point about the new world. America’s sovereignty is being lost not to the WTO or any other international body, but to the forces of globalization. The unilateralists can try to build walls and barriers. They can insist that America act alone or not at all. But for many of the threats we face today, international action holds the only hope. Only collaboration between the richest and poorest nations, the private sector, NGOs, and the international institutions can address the tragic loss of human potential from the HIV/AIDs epidemic.
If we want to protect the safety and well-being of our people—the ultimate test of any nation’s sovereignty—the wisest course is to join our strength with others who share our goals. That means recognizing that we have more to gain from helping nations become our partners than from trying to keep them down. It means playing a leading role in the international institutions that can shape the world in ways that a single nation, however powerful, cannot.