The Titans Of Globalization: 10 People Who Changed The World by [email protected]
Jeffrey E. Garten discusses his book, “From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives“
Forget about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The globalized world has been shaped by some larger-than-life people who are all but forgotten in modern times.
Jeffrey E. Garten’s new book, From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives, pinpoints the 10 key people who changed the world and ushered in new eras of globalization, starting with a nuanced look at Genghis Khan and hopping to characters including a British prime minister and a Portuguese prince.
Garten is dean emeritus at the Yale School of Management, where he teaches courses on the global economy and crisis management. He previously worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Clinton, and had an earlier career on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and the Blackstone Group.
Garten recently appeared on the [email protected] show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111. He described how he chose the characters for his profiles and discussed the goods and ills of globalization.
An edited transcript of his conversation appears below.
[email protected]: The term “globalization” has become far more common in our language in the last 30 to 40 years. But it’s not just a term for the modern era — it has quite a history going back many centuries. To understand the power of the word in today’s conversation, we need to look back at how globalization has played a key role in shaping our society over the years. You have a unique historical viewpoint on a lot of things in life, correct?
Jeffrey E. Garten: Correct. I think that it is very useful to have a historical context for talking about today or for talking about the future. It gives our understanding more texture and grounding in reality.
[email protected]: The term globalization has really taken on a life of its own in the last 30 years or so.
Garten: Yes. When I look back, the early 1970s stands out in my mind due to the OPEC oil embargo. An awful lot of people became conscious that we were living in a smaller, more interconnected world. After that embargo, there were more and more events that really drove that point home.
“The history of the human race is pretty much synonymous with the history of globalization.”
[email protected]: What is it today that encourages companies to look to expand their operations and reach across the globe? What is it that has spurred on a lot of these companies to take this viewpoint?
Garten: Looking at the last 30 years or so, all kinds of barriers between sovereign countries have really dissolved. Trade barriers have declined. World tariff rates are very, very low. Other kinds of trade obstacles, regulations and quotas are down more than they had been in many, many years.
It wasn’t so long ago that most countries did not allow their currencies to circulate globally, but that is a thing of the past. In a way, we are dealing with a global market with fewer and fewer barriers.
If you are an American company asking, “Where’s the market?” you’d have to conclude that maybe 80% to 90% is outside of the country. That naturally leads to strategies that force companies to expand to all the corners of the world.
[email protected]: Your book profiles 10 individuals who had a great impact on globalization in their own ways. It is interesting that you go all the way back to look at Genghis Khan and take a global perspective on his empire building.
Garten: Here is what I tried to do. I started by thinking about the global setting in which we live and how our world is getting smaller. I wanted to give it a really fresh context. So I looked at globalization from pretty much when it started. I concluded that it was about 60,000 years ago when some families in Africa basically stood up and walked out. They were looking for more food and a more secure situation. I concluded that the history of the human race is pretty much synonymous with the history of globalization.
But I had to start somewhere and I couldn’t go all the way back, so I decided to start with Genghis Khan, who lived in the 13th century. While we all know of Genghis Khan for his brutality, I wanted to show that this guy basically brought all the world – from the Pacific Ocean to what we used to call Eastern Europe – under one political roof. After the brutal conquering, he set up communication systems and transportation systems, and he figured out a way to administer all these different cultures. In many ways, this was the first age of globalization that we can relate to. This is when globalization started in some kind of sophisticated way.
Believe it or not, in the time of his sons, you could travel from what is now Korea all the way to Hungary. There were “Silk Roads,” there were passports, there were places to stay and there were places to change your horses. Of course, it wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, but it was pretty advanced.
“We are rightfully astounded at what the Internet has been able to do, but in fact, the Internet was a far less dramatic advance [than the telegraph].”
[email protected]: Starting with Genghis Khan and going through the other people in your book, you include John D. Rockefeller, Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping, among others. What is the common ground amongst all of them? What makes them the perfect people to bring into this book?
Garten: I focused on people who met a few criteria. First of all, I wanted to identify people over the last 1,000 years or so who did something spectacular to make the world smaller and more interconnected, which ultimately changed the world they lived in. It had to be such a powerful change that we are still living with that change today. That criteria looked at the magnitude of what they did.
The second criteria is that they couldn’t be just thinkers; they had to actually roll up their sleeves and execute their ideas. That narrowed the field considerably. Over the ages there have been some really smart people who had some ideas that were very futuristic, but I only picked those people who actually turned those ideas into reality.
The third criteria required that the people be early pioneers so that I could legitimately say that they inaugurated a new age. Among my characters, there was a new age of empire, a new age of exploration, a new age of colonization, a new age of global finance, etc. I basically had 10 ages showing that these people started a trend that had an enormous amount of game-changing momentum.
[email protected]: Which one or two people were the most entertaining and enthralling for you as you were writing this book?
Garten: One of them is Prince Henry the Navigator. He was a Portuguese prince in the 15th century. He basically put together ships, crews and brought together all of the latest nautical technology in the world and then forced Portuguese explorers to go down the coast of Africa. They