Globalisation, this concept that everyone writes about and that many people blame for their woes or use as an excuse for their policies, is in large parts a myth.
Who am I to claim this? Having grown up in a small village in rural Bavaria, I had been to Australia through a student exchange programme, to Israel in the course of another youth exchange, and to France with the Scouts, all by the age of 16. I later did internships in the United States, worked in Germany again as a lawyer with a specialisation in international family law for clients from around the world, and now I live and study in Britain. So far, I have visited 32 countries. – You would think that my life is proof of globalisation. But it might be more of an exception.
- One problem is that most people who write and talk about globalisation have a similar background to mine, and this might be true for most of my readers: you are university-educated, speak one or two foreign languages quite well, have travelled at an early age, done part of your studies abroad, work for an international company. Chances are that with this background you live in your country’s capital city or a main economic centre.
- But people like us are not representative of the world, and not even of our countries. If you live in London, Berlin or New York, you will indeed think that this is a mighty globalised world. But if you just go out of this cocoon for only 50 km (far less than a day-trip) to Winchester, Rathenowor Quakertown, you will find a completely different part of your country, one that is far less international and still very homogeneous.
- Yet the people living in rural areas and small towns make up the majority of most countries: Across Europe, only 29 % of the population live in cities with over 150,000 people (and 150,000 is not really large by the standards of London, Moscow or Tehran). The percentage for the UK is 51 % (12 % of Britons live in London alone), for Germany 26 % and in France only 11 % live in large cities. And these rural folks are on average much less globalised.
- Although 215 million people live outside their country of birth, this is only 3 % of the world population. And even of these 3 %, many only move to the country next door or to a country that shares their mother tongue, they move only temporarily or they live in “cultural ghettos”, marrying a partner and being around friends almost exclusively from their home country.
- Even among the young of this world, the numbers are no more impressive: Only 1.8 % of students attend universities outside their home country. And this number would be much lower were it not for relatively high numbers from Sub-Saharan Africa (students escaping poverty and wars) and China and Iran (students escaping dictatorships).
- International trade continues to rise which would indicate that globalisation is pushing ahead. Yet, most trade occurs between neighbouring countries (the two most important trading partners of the US are Canada and Mexico; 67 % of all exports by EU members are into other EU states). Physical proximity, a shared language and/or past are still very relevant factors for the amount of trade between two countries.
While there is certainly a level of globalisation, it is not the dominating factor for the world economy that it is often made out to be. Traditional economies are quite resilient against opening up – as are people. On the other hand, (a bit of) globalisation is also nothing shockingly new: Marco Polo established a trade route between Europe and China in the 13th century.