SCHROEDER: Globalization Will Continue After Coronavirus — With Or Without Us

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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that globalization will continue after the coronavirus pandemic ends and the United States should participate in it. You can find a counterpoint here, where James Pinkerton argues that the pandemic has proven that globalism has run amok and is still a threat to the American economy and national security.

In America, our greatest super power has been to look forward and build new futures, but at the same time seek comfort in a perhaps mythic vision of what was.  The anti-globalists aim us to the latter camp, believing that “America First” means America turning inward.

While politically appealing in its clear messaging, it obfuscates the very engine that has driven the broadest global rise of economic prosperity in world history — a prosperity that has overall greatly benefited America. More importantly, it misses a great shift happening around us today that has forever changed America’s place in the world — a shift compounded in these astounding days of coronavirus.

In my work in supporting and backing global innovation, I am often asked what is the greatest revolution in technology today. I can speak well about AI, machine learning, genomics and more,  but for me the most astounding tech trend today is not the tech itself but the near universal global access to it.

Since World War II, to be a “global technology” meant fundamentally to make it in, or sell it to, the United States and Europe.

What has changed in the last decade is that two-thirds or more of the people in the world have access to smart devices and computing. These aren’t merely better phones or abilities to share video, but each of those people has more computing power than ALL of NASA had to put a man on the moon. It means most of the world has the unprecedented capability to innovate, launch and sell products both cheaply and globally. It means that talented people everywhere can access essentially all human knowledge at their fingertips essentially for free. It means that literally billions of people once excluded from banking, credit, education, health care and more have options that they never had before.

China, of course, is the first example of the great shift. Too many Americans believe that China is merely a “copy cat” nation, taking others’ innovations for an extremely large and protected market. This misses, however, the level of sophistication, creativity and innovation making their products and services compete toe-to-toe with anyone in the world.

But other revolutions like China are happening everywhere across Asia, Africa and Latin America — regions whose economies, Price Water House Coopers has predicted, will be larger than the U.S. and Europe combined in coming decades. Uber learned this lesson as it tried to launch in Southeast Asia, but was pushed out by a local competitor, Grab, and was forced to buy their largest competitor in the Middle East — a region most Americans only think about in terms of conflict — for over $3 billion. They made their largest acquisition here because they admired a team they couldn’t beat and feared that the largest Chinese competitor might swoop in and acquire it themselves.

None of this would have happened a decade ago.

COVID-19 has put the great shift on steroids. It has re-emphasized the reality of global shared interests and the necessity of immediate and timely shared learning and communication, and it has unleashed in a few weeks rather than years a behavioral revolution integrating virtualization and technology in our lives. Hundreds of millions around the world are rethinking how they work, how they shop, how they pay, how they can seek healthcare and how they learn.

And from where.

There is nothing wrong with reassessing our global engagements, supply chains and institutions, many created decades ago for different times. It is essential, in fact, to develop innovative engagements and frameworks today. The opportunity has never been greater to engage in a new way — based not on others merely following our lead but in a co-authorship of shared learning and experience.

Sticking our heads in our own geographic sands ignores the reality of our interconnectedness from which so many Americans continue to benefit. It also ignores the great shift happening around us in technology which has been at the foundation of our historic and cultural strength.

Christopher M. Schroeder is a former tech media CEO and founder, and current global venture investor.  He is the author to the best selling Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East.  He may be followed at @cmschroed.