Global Leaders’ Impact on Society

By Jillian Smith

Yesterday evening, as I was getting ready for bed, I turned on CCGTV, the English language version of the state-run news agency of China. It was the anniversary of the death of Deng Xiaoping, former premier of the PRC and the architect of China’s massive modern economic transformation.

The news anchors were lauding the late premier’s legacy, proposing that his reforms were one of the main reasons why Xi Jinping was able to step into a global leadership role through his address at Davos during the World Economic Forum earlier this year.

In the address, the anchors noted, it was Xi Jinping who, ironically, exhorted that the global community must not fear globalization and that blaming it for the problems facing the world was an incorrect view.

While not mentioning specific persons, the premier’s lines seemed to be clearly directed at the current U.S. President, Donald Trump.

While I marveled at the idea of the Chinese head of state reprimanding the U.S. President for protectionist rhetoric and a lack of responsible leadership in areas like the environment, it also brought into my mind the exhortation of another major global figure: Mark Zuckerberg.

In a 5,700 word open letter to the world, the Facebook founder expressed his concerns that many have come to resent the type of globalization that has largely been brought about through avenues like his company.

“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community,” Zuckerburg said. “When we began, this idea was not controversial. Now, across the world, there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from a global connection.”

He urged readers not to abandon globalization, citing examples of all of the good it could provide to the world.

In China, Facebook is banned. And so, while Xi Jinping and Mark Zuckerberg seem to be spreading the same message, it is interesting to note that proponents of globalization seem to understand what that term means in very different ways.

Meanwhile, critics of globalization — such as the astonishing number of those in the Youngstown area who voted for Trump due to resentment of the concept —seem to understand globalization as well, but only in the sense that it betrayed them.

To a millennial like me, even discussing globalization as a positive or a negative is evocative of Luddites discussing whether societies ought to have machines or not. To us, that the world is interconnected is merely an inescapable reality.

But what Xi Jinping at Davos, Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and Trump’s election all exemplify is that there is a right way to globalize and a wrong way — and Trump’s presidency may be interpreted as a bellwether of the latter.

The economic well-being of those sitting around the table at Davos or in the exorbitantly priced apartments of Facebook’s Silicon Valley contrasts sharply with the lack of opportunity experienced by the reactive Trump voter. Globalization may have brought about unprecedented prosperity and technological advancement, but the major beneficiaries of these are a sadly concentrated and minute few.

Globalization should not be seen as a component of an ideology of the right or the left, but as reality. Just as in Europe’s discovery of the New World, however, the fact that exchange and interconnectedness are positives does not mean these should be pursued recklessly.  Globalization proponents, in light of its reality, must heed the growing populist sentiment arising in some countries as a warning that the process must be conducted far more equitably and responsibly.