(First of two parts)
Cellphones and coronavirus are icons of the 21st Age of Globalization. Six ages of globalization of humankind preceded the 21st century digital era however. Between robots and humanoids taking over our species, and the decimation of the human race by a pandemic, what are we to learn from the previous ones?
This is the subject of a new book by Jeffrey Sachs — The Age of Globalization: Geography, Technology and Institutions, 2020 — recently released by Columbia University Press, originally written pre-pandemic but updated before its release for some insights on it.
The main ideas are exactly those preached in 21st century management schools that promote any organization’s triple P bottom lines (people, planet, and profit/prosperity for all) — except that now, thanks to Prof. Sachs, one has a majestic view of the world from 70,000 years ago, the better lens to see our roots before we take wings to fly off somewhere.
Leaders have to see the motivating forces underlying the patterns that scientists unravel from the myriad events of a chaotic world. Indeed, the data from events of the past 70 millennia are overwhelming. Sachs deftly processes them into information and even more useful knowledge to produce wisdom for leaders of the planet — some of whom met at the United Nations General Assembly around the third week of September in New York City.
Sachs laments the political leaders at the heart of our current 7th age of globalization are the problem — but prayerfully, the source of the enlightened solution as well.
FOR THE COMMON GOOD?
So what, and why? Will awareness result in the common good?
Economic/business, political and social leaders will appreciate the relentless global push of homo sapiens Sachs documents, as others before him, to survive, to adapt, to evolve and to transform acceleratingly fast in the 21st century. He warns us nevertheless, quoting the eminent evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, that humans “have stumbled into the 21st century with our ‘Stone-Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology’.”
In fact, Sachs, seeing political institutions as barriers to pursue humanity’s 21st century common good, pitches a dramatic call to action for our collective survival — through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. But his view has a twist that will make Asia-Pacific watchers, more than any region on the planet, think more deeply (to be discussed in Part Two of this column). But first, let us review some of Sachs lessons for humankind today:
STONE-AGE EMOTIONS1. Survival against nature: Man did not live harmoniously with nature even in the first globalization era. Sachs starts with the Paleolithic stone-age foragers (Globalization #1, 70-10 millennia ago: the age of small groups dispersal). These nomads carried with them not only their tools, cultures, and languages, but also the pathogens and predators as they moved about, eventually adapting to high elevation living conditions from the African lowlands where they began. They extinguished the large land animals in Oceania 50 millennia ago and in the Americas 10 millennia ago, and also obliterated their first cousins the Neanderthals and Denisovans by conquest or denial of food and shelter.
The simpler clan as governing institutions in the Paleolithic age looked more effective for survival than in the next globalization periods, especially with ambiguous and complex 21st century politics.
In fact, some readers may infer that pandemic awareness today has not translated into Paleolithic-type adaptation of human knowhow to basic survival solutions (imprinted in the human brain that thinks fast rather than slow). And this is in large part due to the politicization of life and death issues , e.g., even of mask use and social distancing in the current situation.
2. Luck matters: In Globalization #2, 10-3 millennia ago, Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers settled in villages, developed writing systems, cultivated crops and domesticated animals for agricultural work, e.g., oxen. That beast of burden also made possible short- and long-distance trade of surplus food, tools, gemstones, shells, and minerals, and the development of bronze weapons. But what is there to trade without productive land?
Sachs notes that the Eurasian “lucky latitudes” shaped world economic history and technological advances, as agriculture developed within fertile ecological zones in the early alluvial civilizations, making innovation possible. The Americas were unluckily shut off from technological advances, including Old World domesticated farm animals, thus did not grow as fast despite abundant resources in some coastal areas.
But the location of villages and human settlements could have been determined because these were the productive and trade-accessible places to begin with, given the relatively predictable season of nature then. Our 21st century global warming and climate change have altered these of course — and luck is not in the physical location of countries any longer, but in the selection and education of political leaders.
3. Swords vs. ploughshares: The ox was followed by the horse in Globalization #3, 3 to 1 millennia ago. Sachs calls this the Equestrian Age — although contemporaneous with the mining of copper and bronze for farm implements and weapons development through metal-making breakthroughs. He associates horse-based states with the horsepower traction of the domesticated animal, the cavalry formation of the military, and the administration of distant subjects aided by horse-riding messengers.
Sachs cites the horse as a disruptive technology combining the power of the steam engine, the locomotive, automotive and tank technologies — which we now know, could be for good and/or bad. It would take the next Globalization stage to convert the metallic technology tradeoff into a clash of other ideas.
MEDIEVAL INSTITUTIONS4. Interdependence and multi-nation governance: Entering the Christian era calendar, Globalization #4: (one millenium pre-Christian and half millennium later) centered on the Classical Age of imperial-scale governance, and the intense competition between land-based Eurasian empires (Greco-Roman, Persian, Islamic, and Chinese).
Sachs considers a possible foundation for multi-nation governance of global affairs today from two millennia ago. Power-seeking was tempered then as now by trading, ideas, and technological interdependence.
Could the European Union have a Pax Romana redux without imperial war today, and China peacefully relive its Song dynasty leadership in technology and innovations? Could the Arabs return to their great age of scientific blossoming?
(To be continued.)
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Federico “Poch” M. Macaranas is a retired professor and adjunct faculty at the Asian Institute of Management and moderated the session of Jeffrey Sachs at the MAP Annual International CEO Conference on Sept. 15, 2020.