What if the crisis accelerates the emergence of a new form of globalization? Perhaps, because new technologies, such as 3D printers, are making it possible to rethink production chains, explains Suzanne Berger, professor of political science at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), and author of several books on globalization. Speaker at the “Aix en Seine” meetings (July 3 to 5 in Paris), she insisted on the need to protect vulnerable communities through the opening of borders.
Will this crisis spell the end of globalization as we have known it in recent years?
The pandemic struck in a context where it was already in question. The rise of populisms, like Brexit, highlights the growing discontent of populations regarding a globalization deemed incapable of providing effective protection against a series of dangers, fueling the fear of foreigners.
Many also discovered during this crisis that certain products were not available due to the shortage of supplies. In some countries, this has intensified the desire to produce at home. But it would be a mistake.
Finally, international institutions, such as the World Health Organization [OMS], have been unable to act effectively against Covid19 – in part because of the attitude of the United States, but not only. The evils of multilateralism are broader. This poses a fundamental question: is there an incompatibility between globalization and democracy?
Is there really an incompatibility?
I do not think so. But there is an urgent need to imagine how to protect those who are exposed when borders are opened. Openness policies must be accompanied by internal policies that prevent certain industrial sectors from paying the high price, accompanying the communities suffering the most from industrial decline, as was observed in the United States in the early 2000s.
This is essential, because nationalism, which is uncontrollable in many respects, puts us in danger: tensions may not be limited to the economy and will slide into very real conflicts.
Globalization makes losers. Why didn’t we understand it earlier?
Partly because this movement grew significantly after 2001, following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization [OMC], without immediately realizing the consequences. This resulted in job losses in the United States, located in certain industries and regions, where there was a high level of voting in favor of Donald Trump during the last presidential election.
However, the calamitous management of the pandemic by it will perhaps be a game-changer in these regions.
How has the attitude of the United States towards China changed since 2001?
Put simply, the desire of American industrialists to do business with China has far outweighed other considerations. Now, these industrialists have changed their attitude: they have exhausted the possibilities of producing at low cost in the Middle Empire, and face the impossibility of selling more high-end products there, because Beijing is blocking.
On the political side, both Democrats and Republicans have opened their eyes. They have long been too naive about China, blinded by the pursuit of profits from local factories, turning a blind eye to political and democratic problems.
Can this awareness accelerate relocations to the United States?
I do not believe. Mass production will not return to the United States. This is not desirable, since jobs in such factories are difficult. In addition, the country’s industrial base has changed: it is more specialized, has turned to new technologies. On the other hand, it is possible to diversify the sources of supply by turning to other Asian countries, such as Vietnam.
How can these production chains evolve in the coming years?
After the 1980s, the organization of companies, hitherto very vertical, was disrupted in part under pressure from financial markets: companies disintegrated their industrial structures to, for example, manufacture in China a product imagined in the United States. United.
Today, we may be on the verge of a reversal of this disintegration trend, in favor of a new technological and industrial organization, thanks to new technologies such as artificial intelligence and 3D printers. However, the speed of these changes should not be overestimated.
What do you mean ?
A few years ago, it was predicted that in 2020 robots would have replaced a large number of workers and that autonomous cars would have chased away traditional vehicles. Some of my colleagues at MIT still believe that automation will destroy a lot of jobs. I rather think that it will be complementary, and that this movement will be slower than they think.
My students and I are going to see how American companies are adopting new technologies: there is a form of inertia, especially in VSEs and SMEs. It is slow, expensive, and they will have even less financial leeway to invest in these technologies, coming out of this crisis. Especially since the purchase of a robot represents only a quarter of the cost linked to the integration of the latter: it is also necessary to change the production methods, the software, the organization …
Will the recession penalize our factories even more?
Today, concerns are less about industry than services, particularly tourism, the first casualty of the pandemic.
The boom in telework, which is expected to last, will also have collateral impacts on certain sectors. Especially on commercial real estate – who, in the future, will need as many offices if you work more at home? – but also related services: restaurants located around businesses, dry cleaners, etc.
What are the other trends at work accelerated by this crisis?
This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but one of the most significant events, in my view, is the protest against police violence and racism sparked by the death of the African American George Floyd. There are many white people in the demonstrations. Many American companies and states have taken steps to curb what amounts to institutionalized racism.
The awareness and recognition of these injustices goes even deeper than during the 1970s. I think that this will have consequences for the next presidential election, and beyond.
The Black Live Matters protests have also inspired movements in other parts of the world. It restores the soft power American, damaged in recent years, and the image of the United States, still able to inspire a positive movement beyond their borders.