Will Coronavirus Bring an End to Globalization?

Many have suggested that a global health crisis or pandemic might display, as Abraham Lincoln said, "our better angels." However, coronavirus, aka COVID-19, seems to have done the exact opposite. Globally there has been an uptick in nationalism and polarization, and global cohesion seems further and further away. However, in a recent livestream, which attracted 2.5 million viewers around the globe, Luohan Academy director Long Chen remarked, "this should be the time when we should join forces to fight the pandemic. And also join forces to fight its economic impact."  

That is easier said than done when swaths of the population have seen multinationals get rich from globalization while the common man is said to suffer. However, Kurt Bayer, former Board Director at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, added that global cooperation is not there, and isn't there when we dramatically need it. 

It might seem that the trend towards globalization is shifting; countries are turning inward for help rather than outward. However, Dr. Bayer believes that the answer is more integration, not less. When the G20 was founded more than ten years ago, it had promise. However, geopolitics and ideas of hegemony have gotten in the way of joint global governance and coordination. To that matter, Dr. Bayer has a solution that calls for idea-based and solution-based cooperation on specific issues, for willing countries to take part. He said, "while one should work for unified global coordination, we must be realistic."

Realism aside, the fact is that besides developed nations, COVID-19's effect will be felt hardest by developing countries. Chen stated "less developed countries because they can't deal with the stress of that pandemic," in these cases, the developed countries must find a way to work together, if not for less developed countries than fro their own countries, as they will feel the wrath of the virus two-fold. He added, "no matter what you think, we are in a globally connected world, each problem affects everyone else, whether you share a border or are an ocean away."

In that regard, Chen believes that digital technology has a role to play in finding common ground. Digital platforms like Alibaba can establish trust between sellers and buyers globally, and future technology such as blockchain will also allow for greater confidence in product quality and international payments. If COVID-19 has taught the global community anything, its that digitization is more resilient than brick and mortar institutions. When all the lights turned off, the internet remained on, and so did online businesses. The answer to globalization's woes is not separation but greater digital cohesion. 

At the end of the livestream, big questions on how to help those hurt by globalization remain. However, just like the embrace of digital technology, if utilized correctly, globalization can be leveraged to reinvest in dislocated communities, makes business more accessible, and can help smaller companies enter foreign markets. For the time being, COVID-19 might harm globalization. However, trust in the world community will reemerge and, hopefully, a better and reconnected world. 

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