If globalisation were to have a meme, the maritime shipping container would be a likely choice. Piled high on the decks of vast oceangoing ships and stacked deep in their holds, these simple steel boxes, typically 40 feet long and eight feet high, emblemise an era in which massive quantities of stuff move around the world at negligible cost. Shoppers everywhere can choose among merchandise in unprecedented variety. Whether they sip a Californian chardonnay or an Australian one, or lace up Indonesian-made running shoes rather than footwear imported from India, the cost of transporting the goods over thousands of miles barely figures into consumers’ decisions about what to buy.

More than 5,000 containerships sail the oceans today, and they are in no danger of vanishing from the scene. But the temporary COVID-19 pandemic-driven boom in trade in goods notwithstanding, the cargo these giant vessels carry is becoming steadily less important as the world economy is reshaped by a new form of globalisation. Over time, globalisation will gradually have less to do with exporting material goods across borders and much more to do with trading services and ideas. This will have important consequences for workers, communities and the health of national economies.

Globalisation itself is not a new phenomenon. Its roots are to be found in an intellectual transformation that began in 1817, when the British financier David Ricardo explained how a country could benefit by importing as well as by exporting. Ricardo dismantled centuries of economic orthodoxy by showing the mercantilist belief that wealth came from importing only raw materials and exporting finished goods to be a fallacy.

As industrial capitalism emerged around 1830, Ricardo’s ideas provided the justification for countries to reduce barriers to imports. With inventions such as the telegraph and the oceangoing steamship providing better information and more reliable connections, foreign trade flourished. So did foreign investment, as European money funded US steel mills, Argentine railroads and South African gold mines. Unprecedented numbers of people moved across borders as well.

In a certain sense, this represented globalisation, although the term was not then in use. But the economic integration of the 19th and early 20th centuries was nothing at all like globalisation as we know it today. For one thing, it was very much centred on Europe, which was responsible for about three-quarters of cross-border…

Source: https://aeon.co/essays/the-globalisation-of-ideas-will-be-different-than-that-of-goods?utm_medium=feed&utm_source=rss-feed