Columbia University professor and prolific author Jeffrey D. Sachs offers a detailed overview of the development and consequences of globalization.
Through the arc of human history, globalization has produced good and bad, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University Jeffrey D. Sachs writes in this astute work. Travel and trade started with migrations from Africa to Europe and Asia, Sachs explains, and globalization has accelerated ever since. While cross-cultural linkages have given humanity the written word, widespread prosperity and countless YouTube videos, it has also spawned slavery, war and vast damage to the planet.
Kirkus Reviews found this “an authoritative account of our shared, increasingly interdependent human journey.” Foreign Affairs noted that “Sachs makes a powerful case that the globalizing forces creating our increasingly interdependent world are deeply rooted in the human condition and…are here to stay.” And Ian Goldin, co-author of Age of Discovery, said Sachs “provides an unparalleled explanation of human development.”
Sachs tells how people have communicated, traveled and traded across cultures and borders for 70,000 years, leading to complex societies, efficient economies and thorny problems. Globalization, he argues, has allowed people to flourish, but they have endangered their home planet, and bloody competition has accompanied the cooperation inherent in human advances.
The Paleolithic Age
Sachs begins by dating the first wave of globalization to 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens migrated from Africa into Asia and Europe.
We can be our own worst enemy, or at least our cousins’ worst enemy. Jeffrey D. Sachs
Humans, Sachs relates, developed egalitarian societies as male leaders gained dominance through social finesse, not brutality. Early humans proved effective hunters; so effective, he laments, that they hunted some animals to extinction. Globalization, Sachs reminds you, has always featured people harming their surroundings.
The Neolithic Age
Early humans, Sachs summarizes, were wanderers, but the people who eventually stayed in one place were able to create art and written language. Expanding agrarian communities allowed their societies to grow prosperous. And, he details, people created pictograms and hieroglyphics from 3500 to 3100 BCE, the end of the Neolithic period.
The Equestrian Age
Mastering the horse proved to be, Sachs submits, the significant technological advance of the Equestrian Age – 3000 to 1000 BCE. He references people first taming animals in the Paleolithic age in China, when humans befriended dogs. But surprisingly, domestication was exclusive to Europe and Asia; African and American societies didn’t harness animals.
The horse is unmatched in its importance for economic development and globalization.Jeffrey D. Sachs
Horses, Sachs relates, offered speed, stamina and utility. He tracks how Goths, Huns and Mongols used horses to conquer territory from 1400 BCE to 600 CE. This era, he reports, brought the rise of cities – more than two dozen urban centers with populations of more than 10,000 each emerged.
The Classical Age
Sachs breaks down how, from 1000 BCE to 1500 CE, societies in Persia, Greece, Rome, India and China arose, as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism advanced. Written languages meant the recording and sharing of knowledge: Sachs cites the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Persia offered Zoroastrianism, a world view that pitted good against evil, and Judaism and Christianity questioned meaning and morals. Sachs lists China’s Han Empire as developing mathematics, wrought iron, ship rudders and seismometers.
The Ocean Age
From 1500 to 1800, Sachs relates how European powers conquered the seas. Spain, Portugal, Britain and the Netherlands colonized huge parts of the world, but they also carried smallpox to the Americas. Europeans, the author says, brought back malaria, yellow fever and syphilis. Sachs credits the Ocean Age with the invention of global capitalism: Growers – often using enslaved people – produced tobacco, sugar and cotton in new territories for consumption abroad.
Instead of China circling the Cape of Good Hope en route to Europe, it was European powers that circled the Cape of Good Hope en route to Asia. Jeffrey D. Sachs
Sachs estimates that the population of indigenous peoples in the Americas plummeted by 90% – from 60.5 million in 1500 to 6.1 million in 1600. Sachs explains that the US economy so depended on enslavement that only a war ended it. The author expresses outrage that global capitalists who enslaved millions escaped punishment.
The Industrial Age
Sachs explains that, by the end of the Industrial Age, which lasted from 1800 to 2000, nearly half the world’s population had moved to cities and enjoyed widespread prosperity. He posits the steam engine as the basis of this new era.
While the steam engine is not solely responsible for economic modernity, without the steam engine most of the other technological breakthroughs of the past two centuries would not have been possible. Jeffrey D. Sachs
Steam engines needed energy, and Britain, Sachs notes, had coal reserves and a coal industry. Manufacturers adopted steam power, and the new technology unleashed a wave of innovation. Britain and the United States led the global economic boom and, Sachs shows, English became the global language of politics, finance and science.
The Digital Age
Sachs finds the speed of digital advances alarming. He expresses hope that technology might end poverty and income inequality, but he finds instead that the Digital Age has worsened both.
The uptake of digital technologies is the fastest technological change in history. Jeffrey D. Sachs
Sachs ticks off Digital Age threats: workers lose jobs to self-driving cars and trucks, warehouse robots and automation; the burning of fossil fuels warms the Earth; pollution threatens air and oceans as biodiversity decreases.
A Worthy Overview
Sachs provides a summary of vast scope and detail, showcasing his superb writing and at times incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. For all the book’s length, however, Sachs doesn’t overwhelm you with what he knows. At times, he condenses his knowledge, and that proves a sound tactic. Sachs wants you to gain new understanding and, crucially, to link the disparate eras and events he describes. By never inundating readers with data, he makes this possible.
Jeffrey D. Sachs’s other books include Building the New American Economy, A New Foreign Policy, The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, To Move the World, and The Price of Civilization.