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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Globalization from the Azores

Patio de Alfandega - Linked from Wikipedia in Portuguese


Accidents of geography, the Azores Islands are the verdant peaks of nine towering mountains in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Situated at the confluence of the African, North American, and Eurasian tectonic plates, the islands are a product of the volcanoes that spurted from these seams.  Centuries ago, these scars on the seam of the earth helped link the continents together commercially under the leadership of the Portuguese Empire.  The museum at Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island boasts that Portugal led the way to globalization.  While this is a stretch, it is certainly true that Portugal presided over the widest trade network to the time, and the Azores were a critical pivot.
The islands hosted major trading and resupply ports for the routes linking Europe, Africa, North and South America, and even India.  The explorer Vasco da Gama stopped in Angra on the return trip from his expedition to India.  His brother, Paulo, who had grown sick on the journey, died in Angra and is buried in a church there.  Standing at the Pátio da Alfândega (Customs Courtyard), which overlooks the port and is flanked by an imposing cathedral (the Igreja da Misericórdia) and the old customs house, one can imagine the bustling activity as caravels came and went to exotic destinations, as well as the mainland ports of Europe, bringing all manner of wares.  The port and the city are sleepy, now, as global trade has moved on.  Even the airbase there, once a necessary stopping point for military and commercial aircraft alike, is used much less.  Technology and new trends in trade are the hallmark of the new wave of globalization.  While they make many new champions, some nodes become obsolete and decay.  More than just the Azores, the North Atlantic as a whole is becoming passé in some minds as trade thickens between the global south.  Far from being a great equalizer, globalization lays some old heroes low while exalting others.  Some, too, remain untouched by this wave, as they have been by past waves.  It seems that, if anything, globalization and rapid development heighten inequality within and across borders.

2 comments:

  1. "Far from being a great equalizer, globalization lays some old heroes low while exalting others. Some, too, remain untouched by this wave, as they have been by past waves. It seems that, if anything, globalization and rapid development heighten inequality within and across borders."

    I've always enjoyed learning about the wheels of commerce of yesteryear, and hence appreciated the romanticism of the travelogue.

    I mean this sincerely, if bluntly. How do you define globalization (the easier question, arguably)), and what data are you relying upon to support your assertion that "development heighten[s] inequality within and across borders?" I see your causal arrow (I think): globalization -> inequality -> security problems. I think you've defined the security problems reasonably well-enough. But have you defined and conceptualized adequately the value on your independent variable, and acquired enough to establish the value on your dependent variable?

    Regards
    ADTS

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  2. I do not have a definition of globalization that is ready to withstand a theoretical-empirical attempt at deconstruction. That being said, your statement of my causal arrow is generally correct, but I do think that there are a great many other factors at play in any given time period or state/region. I'll try to put together a post that goes into more detail sometime in the near future, but in short I believe that globalization (that being greater global/cross-border trade, investment, competition, and acquisition of resources) combines with unequal levels of power, institutional development, factor endowment, and so on, to result in disparate rates of growth and distribution of benefits of that growth, within and across borders. In some countries and between some countries, this results in some degree of convergence. However, in others, the result is divergence. The divergence, heightened levels of inequality, results in discontent, political decay, instability, and in many cases, violence. I'm still compiling data from various studies. Levels of inequality are rising in different areas, most notably Latin America where they are the highest in the world. Among the OECD countries, it looks like inequality is converging at higher levels than found in the golden postwar years. I have not gotten as deep into the data between nations yet, but it seems clear to me thus far that some nations are benefitting from globalization much more than others. Some are being left behind. That's all for now, but will try to put together a post soon.

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