Pandemic offers pause, not end, to globalization

April 14, 2020

Mark Cleveland is an Associate Professor and the Dancap Private Equity Professor in Consumer Behavior in the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies.

Flights have stopped, markets have dropped and stores have closed around the world, but despite these changes, the Covid-19 pandemic is not likely to stop the process of globalization.

Mark Cleveland is an Associate Professor and the Dancap Private Equity Professor in Consumer Behavior in the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies. He researches global consumer culture and globalization.

“What’s happening is a temporary pause in globalization” said Cleveland. “The ebb and flow of globalization is a historic fact.”

Economic integration has existed for more than 2,000 years, said Cleveland, first under the Roman Empire and later, the trade links that operated during the medieval times, such as the so-called Silk Road.

Before modernization, the world economy had peak integration before the 1900s through the British Empire. This was put on hold due to the world wars, and it was not until the 1960s and the advancement of technology that globalization began to increase again.

“Covid is the biggest threat to globalization that we’ve seen in decades. It will take years, maybe even a decade, but we will be back on the globalization road eventually,” said Cleveland. “The pandemic doesn’t change the fact that technology has greatly reduced the distance between people.”

On major impact of the pandemic will be its impact on global consumer culture, an area of particular expertise for Cleveland. The pandemic may be an opportunity for global consumer culture in different regions to become more local for a time, creating unique versions and variations, said Cleveland.

“It will be a bit of an opportunity, almost like a petri dish, where things are going to perhaps produce some unique variants of global consumer culture,” said Cleveland.

Cleveland said globalization may have both positive and negative impacts during the pandemic.

“People are looking for a scapegoat for the present circumstances,” said Cleveland. “Some want to blame China, some point to the World Health Organization, but the biggest target I’ve heard is globalization. Yet, pandemics have never respected national borders.”

“On the downside, globalization has exacerbated global economic disparities—particularly in Western countries, which have witnessed wrenching deindustrialization—and it can also lead to financial contagion…and potentially, facilitate the spread of disease,” said Cleveland.

In an ongoing research project with Ivey Business School student Georgia McCutcheon, (BMOS’19), Cleveland had been tracking aspects of globalization people find most threatening, including financial aspects, the movement of people across borders, and the movement of ideas across borders and fears about the impact of technology.

Cleveland thinks the pandemic will make these threats loom larger in people’s minds, making the potential downside of globalization seem larger.

Cleveland sees distinct advantages in globalization to solve global crisis, like pandemics and climate change. Global networks and global connectedness can bring together the combined efforts of governments, scientists and health-care workers.

“This is a global problem and we all need to work together. If we worked together instead of developing piecemeal strategies, we would have had a much better response to slow the spread,” said Cleveland. “Global problems require global co-operation.”