In January I wrote about the era of protectionism and populism, which we seem to have entered. As discussed, these trends seem to indicate a globalization backlash, voiced by Brexit and Trump supporters, who probably haven’t felt the benefits of a globalized market. As one Financial Times article puts it, the current socio-political climate is the ‘revenge of globalization losers’. Indeed, it would be dishonest to equate globalization with prosperity and development for everyone. It is actually much more fitting to use the currently prevailing VUCA acronym, which reflects the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times we are living in. The same also relates to job markets.
On one hand, globalization means freedom of movement, be it information, people or goods. It is common for students to study abroad, for graduates to apply for jobs across borders, for professionals to move overseas for better opportunities, and for businesses to look for untapped markets around the globe to find new customers. As a matter of fact, one doesn’t even need to physically move to benefit from globalization. For example, as discussed in some of my earlier posts (and here), a smartphone and internet connection is all one needs to participate in the digital global market. In this scenario, globalization stands for opportunities and possibilities. It is also not very surprising that people, who embrace globalization, benefit more from it. Several studies indicate that rates of business ownership are higher among immigrants than natives. For example, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, immigrants are three times more likely to be entrepreneurial than British born citizens, and in the U.S. ‘the population of immigrants now start more than a quarter of new businesses’. It is probably also quite accurate to assume that the cities that most benefit from globalization are today’s multicultural global hubs, such as London, Berlin, New York and alike.
Yet, for many globalization doesn’t spell opportunity and possibility, but rather uncertainty and anxiety. Rightfully so, because many do not have access to the benefits of globalization.
INSEAD professor Gianpiero Petriglieri argues that what we are currently witnessing is not a failure of globalization, but rather a failure of leadership, namely ‘of leaders’ ability to distribute the value created by globalization in a fair and humane way’. Professor Petriglieri believes there is a problem of trust towards current nomadic leaders, who struggle to create a shared future outlook, which would engage also those who either can’t or are not willing to relocate or embrace changes.
Currently, protectionist leaders seem to do better at such engagement… the only question remaining is whether stepping back from globalization and closing the borders so that ‘jobs don’t leave and are not stolen by others’ is a long-term solution? Can we really go back to the days of lifelong skilled factory careers or small and competition-free family businesses?
Obama said that globalization could not be rolled back, yet it certainly needs a ‘course correction’. Hence, leaders need to work together to distribute the benefits of globalization more equally, and to deal more explicitly with globalization costs. However, in the aftermath of what has already failed, global leaders also need to regain trust, create a future vision for everyone, and restore a positive outlook towards globalization. As Professor Petriglieri puts it, people want leaders to say, ‘Yes, I get the anxiety, but there is hope’.”