Afshin Molavi is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and editor and founder of the Emerging World newsletter. Twitter @AfshinMolavi
A defining image of our contemporary era might be a middle-class family at an airport in Asia or Africa, their smartphones tucked into their bags, boarding a flight to Dubai or Singapore or London. Such an image will not capture headlines or go viral, but its commonplace nature reflects a dramatic transformation in our world over the last five decades.
Remember the demise of globalization?
As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the global economy and US-China tensions soared, many a commentator trotted out a “globalization is dying” narrative, claiming that the dizzying flow of goods, services, people, capital, and ideas that define our world would soon be confined to history.
A defining image across Asia over the past few decades has been the construction crane looming over a horizon of tall, box-style buildings, the air speckled with dust from whirring industrial machines and the ever-present buzz of cars and motorbikes. From Shanghai to Mumbai to Dubai, the construction of real estate and infrastructure projects has radically altered lives and societies, and even geopolitics across the vast Asian continent and beyond.
To understand the globalized nature of our food system, look no further than your morning cup of coffee. That jolt of caffeine comes to your table via an elaborate network of some 25 million coffee farmers from Brazil to Vietnam linked to the world by a far-flung supply chain of traders, roasters, financiers, shippers, grocery stores, cafés, and, eventually, to your cup.
On the very day that US President Joe Biden lands in Saudi Arabia this month, nearly 200,000 containers will be making their way to ports from Tangier to Dubai, hundreds of thousands of airline passengers will transit through the region’s airports, millions of dollars in remittances will be flowing from the region to the developing world, and countless American companies will be selling their wares to a growing Arab middle class.