Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Separating sanitary globalizations from globalizations that spread pandemics



Globalization of people and viruses


globalization of trade and communications

 by Ira Straus

The two forms of globalization need to be separated, the one that harms public health -- globalization of people -- restricted. It is the way to rebuild better after this pandemic, and the only way to make globalization great again. 


There are two globalizations. COVID will change their balance enduringly. International personal travel will shrink.

Even without COVIC, a reduction of travel would have been inevitable in face of the progress of communications technology. Now we also know that it is also an imperative of global public health. Europe and America have paid a terrible price 

for refusing to admit this imperative during the first months when the virus began spreading out of China. We must now catch up with reality.

Technology has made the several globalizations separable

It should have been our great good fortune that this pandemic is happening in an era in which the technology is making the forms of globalization increasingly separable. Instead our terrible tragedy is that we failed to make use in time of this great good fortune.

We did not have to let personal international travel continue during the pandemic. Globalization of communications, personal as well as intellectual and professional, can be continued without physical proximity and travel. In fact it is being intensified before our eyes through the new mass use of Zoom. There is still a use for personal contact in some circumstances, especially local, but its value has diminished greatly in most circumstances and turned negative in many.  

The rapid advance in the mass use of Zoom, erasing distance for intellectual and conferencing purposes, is a gift of COVID. It should have been a gift of technology alone, one that we should have been using years earlier. We lazily waited for COVID to motivate ourselves sufficiently to learn to use it. We will never unlearn it. 

Long before COVID, globalization of financial services was almost entirely separated from human travel. Apart from people carrying cash across borders for criminal purposes, the old physical transfers have been replaced, first by paper bookkeeping ones, now by electronic ones.

Even globalization of trade in goods requires less and less personal travel as shipping technologies improve. And shipments are becoming robotized; they will in due course be completely separated from travel.

The antiseptic globalization and the septic one

Globalization of finance and of electronic communications is antiseptic in the biological sense. Globalization of people is highly “septic”, so to speak: biologically dirty, spreading germs ever faster. 

Globalization of trade in goods is a bit of both, but is increasingly on the antiseptic side, thanks to technology.

That means the different globalizations have to be separated. They were always distinguishable, but rarely distinguised. Today the more septic means of globalization must be restricted, the antiseptic ones kept free, in some cases facilitated further to compensate. 

It is ideological preference or prejudice that has tied us to wrapping them up in a bundle. Indeed, ideology has often even led us to prefer the septic globalization over the antiseptic. The biologically septic or dirty ones are, in the prevalent ideological sector, thought of as spiritually cleansing, the realm of the good guys, overcoming our original sin of self-regard and parochial loyalty; the biologically antiseptic ones are perceived in that sector as dirty, corporate, capitalist, tempting the wallet and corrupting the soul, the realm of the bad guys.

It has proved a deeply ingrained prejudice; deep-felt also, proclaimed often in a vein of moral superiority. It has not however proved a sound prejudice. Indeed, in this pandemic it has proved unsound in a degree that makes it a matter not just of misguided self-righteousness, but a danger to human life and health on a mass scale. 

Globalization of trade in goods is not as septic as human travel; most goods can be cleaned and are ever better regulated for sanitation. But neither is it as biologically antiseptic as electronic communications, as it still requires some small amount of human travel, again decreasing thanks to technology. It is by now mostly on the antiseptic side. This is a fortunate consequence of technological progress; without it, the poorer societies of the world would have to be drastically cut off economically for the sake of global public health.

Health regulations, both national and international, have long been reducing the septic aspects of trade. The "quarantine" -- 40 days for ship crew to stay on board while in port -- was invented half a millennium ago for this purpose, enabling shipments of goods without epidemic transmission. Updated regulations can be expected to reduce them further with time, as long as we don't keep being ideological and refuse to use the tried and true ones. The number of persons needed for traveling alongside goods has continuously shrunk; it can be shrunk further, and in the robot era will probably shrink to zero.

International obligations needed for restricting borders, no longer just for opening borders

The time has come to establish stricter international health regulations on personal and business travel. International organizations need to establish rules for closing borders and restricting human crossings, to supplement the rules they already have for opening borders and keeping them open. 

An international convention is needed for this. It should establishing more serious national obligations for restricting borders for health reasons, for doing this in a timely and drastic way when epidemics are just at their starting points and national officials are most prone to be in denial, and for having international bodies ready to support, encourage, and supervise the implementation of these norms.

If we fail to take this step, we will failed to learn what we must learn from our deadly mistakes in this pandemic. We will have left ourselves primed to repeat the mistakes at the next available opportunity.

To carry out the restrictive norms with the reliability that is needed, the national and international civil servants will needed to be taught a set of sound ideas that have often been alarmingly absent from their collective thought chains: the ideas needed for having an appropriate sense of moral righteousness about enforcing rules for restrictions. 

Regrettably, these elementary ideas, most of them ordinarily assumed as common sense, have often been positively excluded by the idea-sets predominant in the relevant sectors of civil services, which have been fashioned around a sense of righteousness for the opening-of-borders rules that they have come to enforce in recent years. Only by retraining them with the ideas supporting the other side of this coin can we correct the oversimplified righteousness, or self-righteousness, that they have come to feel about promoting open borders. 

Our civil servants need a sound set of prejudices on borders, one that is balanced and teaches them to honestly pragmatic in weighing the important considerations. They must be taught get past cherishing prejudices in any unbalanced, unsound manner, driven by ideology and constantly pushing in one direction without regard for vital realities.

The virus shows how fortunate it is that there is a technological trend of shrinking the personal travel involved in trade and updating health regulations on trade. It means we can and should work on accelerating this trend. Otherwise it is not only internationalist regimes that will continue to do the wrong thing; also national regimes will continue to spread nationalist resentment narratives about the sources of diseases, often highly implausible yet popular, such as the Chinese narrative that for nearly a year has been blaming the virus on foreigners coming to China, shifting the blame in different periods from one foreign devil to another, American military personnel, blacks, Spaniards, and even imported Italian foods. 

The obvious and the resistance to facing it

It would seem obvious that, with the increased pace of spread of plagues and viruses around the globe, the globalization of people -- travel and migration -- is the prime culprit among all the forms of globalization. It needs the greatest health restrictions, and indeed the greatest readiness to suddenly restrict sharply in crises. 

The global trade in goods and services does far more to spread prosperity, far less to spread disease. It needs gradual improvement in health regulation. Shipments need continued separation from personal travel. 

Globalization of information and finance needs no change for biological purposes. It is instead in a race against time on electronic viruses, malware, hacking, and use for criminal purposes. There is plenty of work to be done there, but it is a separate subject.

 Globalization of people by way of information and communications needs to be continued and continue expanding; globalization of people by travel, restricted. The two can be separated and sorted out. They must be.

This seems so obvious. It is also demonstrably so important. Yet it somehow has not even found its way into the public discussion. It has not been absorbed in the global public mind. Its policy implications have not been considered.

The implications need to be worked out. Further: they need to be acted on.


Why the resistance to getting this right?

Clearly there has been a resistance to thinking about this. If we fail to overcome it, the costs will continue to be high. Devastatingly high, as we have seen in this pandemic.

I had long assumed that, despite the ideological resistance, the costs of the ideology would never be allowed to get as high as in the present pandemic; that people would face reality before that could happen. I was wrong. 

But surely, one might think, the costs could never be allowed to get this high a second time? Alas, that no longer is a reasonable assumption. It has become too clear that the same mental barriers to effective counteraction are still mostly in place. Very little has been learned.

Where is the resistance to facing this reality, in all its ramifications, coming from? Three sources are evident: traveling and talking classes; the ideological Left; and, alas, our fellow internationalists.

“Globalization of people, not globalization of capital”: that has been the rallying cry for many a Left demonstration and riot for several decades. The most septic globalization, that of people and free movement across borders, is the only one welcomed in that political neck of the woods; the most antiseptic globalization, that of finance, is the one the Left hates most. It is followed closely by hatred of trade in goods, which is also relatively sanitary.

The publicly expressed hatred of globalization has been in proportion as it is safe and healthy. The publicly expressed love of globalization (of people) has been in proportion as it is a threat to global public health. This shows at minimum a deficit of sound thinking. 

Prof. Jonathan Haidt's book on The Righteous Mind teaches us that it is more than that; the refusal to think is almost certainly a product a deficit of values on the part of modernist, or postmodernist, subculture; a conviction of holding moral superiority over those who retain the traditional values that have always protected group cohesion and health. 

This explains why it is the most modern societies of the world that were on average the most derelict in imposing and enforcing restrictions on travel and intercourse in order to stop the pandemic. It explains why they have suffered by far the worst from the virus. 

Indeed, if one were to apply (as many are proposing, albeit with a mistaken, even inverted assumption about distribution of the harm done by the bias) a goal of redistributive justice to compensate for damage by the pandemic, it is the wealthy countries of the world that would have to be compensated by the poorer ones for the pandemic. This would also be the case were one to call for distributive recompense for the scientific advances in medicine and genetics that have been pioneered primarily though not exclusively in the wealthy countries and have enabled the uniquely rapid development of vaccines. Perhaps, if asked to face this reality, the more ideological sectors would begin to think it might be better to put aside the idea of redistributive justice on this matter, and focus on the practicalities of stopping the damage and avoiding to repeat it. I would concur. It is the rogue side of biology and technology, not the sometimes real and always alleged social inequities, that is the threat to the human future. The habit of refocusing on a preferred ideological mode of public discussion, turning everything into a social justice accusation, prevents humanity from dealing with its pressing problems and is placing it once again at grave risk, just as it did in the ideological wars of the last century.  

To focus on the practicalities of the biological and technological challenge, however, we will still need to do the ideological labor of overcome the specific role of ideology is causing a collective resistance to facing the relevant facts and practical needs. In this case, in in the sphere of globalization, this means resistance to the obvious fact that it is the globalization of people that needs restricted for public health, and the globalization of trade and finance that need insulation as far as possible from this restriction. 

This resistance will evidently not be easy to overcome. Otherwise the catastrophe of the pandemic would have already overcome it, not just by half-way concessions in belatedly restricting borders, but by changing the thought process that has caused this to be done too little too late in nearly all the world. Nevertheless, overcome it must be.

Viewed factually, the globalization of the globalization of goods and capital looks at lot better today than the “globalization of people” that is held up in ideological sectors as the banner for the preferred alternative. There needs to be more awareness of this.

The trade and capital flows has added greatly to the prosperity of humanity without doing much to spread its biological enemies. It has also, inter alia, provided unprecedented economic advancement for the global poor, greatly reducing the global inequality between the nations that participate in them, bringing up the poor workers of the world at the expense to the workers of the West. This equalization is not a pure good; the losses by the Western workers are not good, and worse, have been mostly left ignored and underregulated, even dismissed with disdain by many Western officials as "ignorance". This has engendered an anti-globalist reaction in the Western working classes. Nonetheless the global result shows that complaint of the ideological warriors about indequality is false: false to fact, false to the needs of the truly poor, and false to the needs of the world to get on with its real problems.

It is, to be sure, not only the specifically left side of the political spectrum where this reality has been tuned out of mind. The resistance to any restriction on globalization of people has been strong also in the internationalist subculture that spans the left-right spectrum, and that plays a vital role in the international response, or failure in response, on this problem.

The federalist subculture of the internationalist culture should in theory have done better, as it has long held the theory that more "positive integration" (building up common governmental capabilities) is needed for balancing "negative integration" (removal of borders) and correcting for its unintended consequences. But we have not done better.

We may need to say a collective "mea culpa": a "nostra culpa". It would give us a better chance of putting aside the arguments our collective mind seems to have been stuck in, and getting on with the rethinking that is needed.

A part of that capture of the collective mind has been that it is felt to be almost a matter of principle, "our principle", to resist awareness to the realities that go against open border. It is a matter of cognitive dissonance to think about it, particularly in the EU after the long fight for open intra-Union borders and Schengen. Instead of facing the exigencies of actual situations, the preference has been to deplore any positive mention of restrictions and exclude any effort to think through the needs for them when they in fact arise. 

Facing reality on borders and diseases: a detour on our cognitive dissonance

Perhaps my personal experience with this cognitive dissonance will help others who are experiencing it today. In my own early years as a Federal Unionist, I shared deeply in the sense of open borders being a moral cause, with any comments against them to be deplored and resisted rather than entertained and thought about. It was for some time a matter of cognitive dissonance for me, too, when I ran into things that might have indicated a need to think about it. 

Fortunately that was enough decades ago that I had time to get past that long before the pandemic struck. I fear others will need to go faster. We have less time today.

As a federalist I had long assumed that people meeting each other face to face around the world was simply a virtue: a way of getting people together, getting us out of our parochial prejudices, uniting the world.

It took another, older and wiser, Federal Unionist -- one with some medical background -- to explain to me that there was also a downside to it. She explained to me, already back in the 1980s, that the current thinking was that too much travel too fast increases the spread of bugs and the danger of epidemics.

It was an obvious point, but one that took me considerable time to absorb. I had an ideological resistance to it.

My immediate impulse was to deplore the thought. It was decades before the “basket of deplorables” had been invented, but the mentality was already well established. I had always lived in a country with a two camp division of the socio-political world into a class of deplorers and a class of deplored, and I had been brought up to belong to the deplorer class. I had a visceral phobia against accepting thoughts, such as recognition of a virtue in travel restrictions, that I knew instinctively would put me in the deplored class.

Despite my resistance, I gradually absorbed the point. It was too simple, obvious, and important to remain in denial.

I went through the same cycle, from resistance to acceptance, when I got a similar cautionary note from another elderly Federal Unionist. His point was that borders can be safely opened to a full union of societies only among societies that are on similar enough economic levels as to avoid engendering risks and fears of a destabilizing scale of migration.

I eventually incorporated these two cautions into my dissertation in 1991, where I examined how far east the EC could extend itself in the aftermath of Communism. I concluded that the Eastern European countries up to the Soviet border were probably assimilable for the EC if enough deepening were done and if long enough transitions were required before opening borders to free movement of labor, but Turkey was not assimilable; nor the Soviet space for different reasons.

In subsequent years I became concerned both by the long delay in Eastern European political entry into the EU and by the lack of attention to the limits on EU migration absorption, whether from those countries or others that were also defined as in the line of official eligibility for EU membership on the terms of the Copenhagen criteria. There was no mention in the Copenhagen list of the migration potential as an important criterion for membership, more decisive than all the other criteria for enlargement to Eastern Europe that it codified.  Instead, Turkey was also invited to join on the sole basis of the same Copenhagen criteria. This was a cause for theoretical alarm: in practice nothing terrible was occurring, but in principle a suicidal misstep had been embraced. A related potentially suicidal dogmatism had meanwhile grown entrenched on open borders; a “People’s Europe” was agreed as an easy, sweet-sounding substitute for the more solid but difficult political union that Germany had proposed in the lead-up to Maastricht.  Schengen codified this trend to falling into the trap John Pinder had long ago pointed out: that of doing the easier, “negative integration” (removal of national barriers and borders) first with all its wonderful sense of creating more freedom in a larger common popular turf, while falling behind on the “positive integration” (development of joint capabilities for making and implementing policies for regulating the common turf and controlling its own borders) that was essential for making the negative integration safe and sustainable. It was an accident waiting to happen.

Then the accidents started happening. The invitation of a million migrants into Germany, accompanied by deploral-style responses to any opposition to this. Continued intermittent loose talk of Turkish membership. Large increases in the vote counts of anti-EU parties. The Brexit vote.  

My mental alerting decades earlier to the risks of open borders led inexorably to noticing when other people, whether friends or public figures, showed, in the face of these looming catastrophes, the same resistance to facing these realities and factoring them into policy plans that I had once shown when they were still hypothetic. Up to the 2010s, risk after risk was run carefree. International developments came and went, sometimes for the worse for want of attention to these risks. When, I wondered, would the harm become obvious enough for people to begin to overcome their mental resistance to seeing the risks and stop themselves from advancing further toward the cliff edge?

It is never easy to overcome a mental block. I knew that much from Freud. Reality has a way of penetrating eventually, but sometimes only after a terrible cost is endured. Then people “learn from experience”. Bismarck observed that wise people would learn from other people’s experience.

It is tragic that, when COVID broke out, most Western institutions, elites, and internationalists were still in the stage of resistance on quarantines and travel restrictions. It was only some months later that the full reality began penetrating. Policy began adjusting, too little too late: a sequence perhaps intellectually validating for me, but at a terrible cost to society and to all our shared projects.

But let us take a step back to 2014 and take a look around again. There is a large, fast-spreading ebola outbreak in western Africa. Global help is sent; global alarms are raised. A quarantine is proposed, including restrictions on international travel there. What do I see in the discussions about this? The old ideological resistance against travel restrictions, now metastasized to reach the highest political levels. It uses the most extreme language of deploral against the very thought of restrictions, calling it “racist”, “discrimination”, “xenophobic”. We are two years shy of the codification of this fashion in the phrase, “basket of deplorables”.

Ebola fortunately, unlike coronavirus, does not spread through the air; it is less contagious, and the epidemic is contained without travel bans. The attitudes and phrases that were used for condemning travel bans are felt to be vindicated. They become entrenched as official doctrine in Western and global institutions. I muse at the time that this is going to cost us dearly someday, when we come to an outbreak that is harder to contain.

The newly entrenched doctrines are ready on tap when zika breaks out in Brazil. Travel restrictions are again refused, this time without real debate: no one wants to get called a racist over it. This time we do suffer harm in the U.S. for the refusal. The harm is accepted fatalistically; no lessons are drawn. It is by now taken for granted that nothing like a travel ban can be used. Fortunately the harm is again limited this time; the virus unexpectedly dies out.

We come to 2019. COVID breaks out in Wuhan. My independent news sources on China lead me to think this is likely to be hard to contain, the more so as I could see that our authorities over here were dug in with doctrines that precluded facing up to it. There were too many false reassurances, too many calls for “avoiding panic” instead of taking it seriously, too much copying of China’s demagogic lines for deploring any “discriminatory” response if it would be at China’s expense, too many ingrained resistances to the obvious countermeasures. One by one, the barriers to catastrophe are passed, without “panic”. I am shocked but no longer surprised. A stock broker friend is in denial: “we can’t plan for hypothetical black swans all the time.” This time it is the black swan.

As the epidemic spreads in Wuhan and threatens all of China, the old resistance pops up against any international travel restrictions that would provide a firebreak and time for the rest of the world to prepare and protect itself. It is as if the world has a collective immune system response: immune not to the virus, but to sound thinking about quarantining the virus. China internally imposes extreme travel restrictions to protect the rest of its country, but uses the internationally entrenched language -- “racism”, “discrimination”, “prejudice”, “xenophobia” -- for scaring off the rest of the world from using much milder measures to protect itself too and restrict travel with China. The institutionally dominant groups in the rest of the world take up this language, using it for pre-emptive self-condemnation and self-intimidation against thinking properly. The Western media repeat and embrace China’s proscriptions against the West day after day, filling them in with stories on -- and sharp deplorals of  -- such Western discriminations as they are able to find against Chinese people. It is like an autoimmune disease, a hyperactive mental immune system that works against itself, sending out billions of ideological antibodies in advance to suppress any thought of acting against the virus in a way that would work, as long as China disapproves of it. Travel ban thoughts are treated as alien bugs that must be driven away from the global mental organism. We eventually learn the hard way that we must do even more social distancing; it becomes necessary to resort to a nearly complete lockdown. It is the cost of the refusal to take from the start the obvious, far less onerous first steps that were needed in social distancing: quarantines and face masks.

We are left with the consequences. Hundreds of thousands of dead. Far more drastic measures that have to be taken, but they come too late to stop the virus; we had already let it grow endemic in our society by leaving the external doors open. We inevitably tire of drastic, seemingly ineffective measures, Our society divides over them.

It is scant consolation if we can learn from these consequences. But it is far more terrible if we fail to learn what must be learned from them.


Recalibrating policy on the distinct globalizations

When globalization began in 1492, it was necessarily a globalization of people. Apart from very limited extension methods such as smoke signals and carrier pigeons, communications and goods could travel no faster or farther than the humans who carried them.

The Columbian exchange -- the first globalization of people -- brought devastating plagues. Native Americans were decimated; they lacked immunity to Eurasian and African microbes. It is understood today that Eurasia and Africa had had far more varieties of animals that could be domesticated for agriculture, and the diseases from these animals had for thousands of years spread through the human populations in Eurasia and Africa and, after taking their terrible tolls, given them immunities that those in the Americas lacked.

Today the globalization of people continues to be the carrier of epidemics around the world, at a pace greatly accelerated by the airplane. We no longer have the luxury of a long expanse of time to adapt as we did after 1492. We could now have a series of global plagues, the equivalent of a series of Columbian exchanges, in a matter of a few years, devastating all populations and all civilizations. Medical experts tell us that the risk is growing, despite the greatly improved technologies for medical counteractions. Viruses are not just spreading faster, but mutating faster as their host populations grow and their arms race continues against vaccines. We will have to do better in slowing the pace of spread of new viruses through their human carriers, not continue relying solely on medical miracles.

Fortunately, the large-scale globalization of people by travel is no longer a necessary accompaniment for the globalization of information and of trade in goods. Far more goods can be transported than ever before by far fewer people. Their vessels can be refueled and restocked for the return trip without anyone disembarking and exchanging germs with the locals. 

Information and finances can cross the world without anyone crossing a border. Personal connections can be not only maintained but made more frequent through Zoom and other platforms. Without getting exhausted on a flight, putting emissions in the air, shelling out money, and endangering everyone's health. 

Scholars and businesses no longer need burn jet fuel to travel to global vacation spots for global conventions; we can all Zoom now. Indeed, we can enormously expand our personal and intellectual intercourse globally by using the new means and scrapping most of the travel. I myself have seen some of my old students in Moscow this way and had wonderful conversations with them for the first time in many years. It was 20-odd years ago that I was a Fulbright professor at their major universities there -- paid by the US government of course, not Russia; it's regrettable that it's necessary to say this, but today it is again. We had lacked the not-inconsiderable intellectual and moral benefit of this intercourse, prior to their and my all getting accustomed to using Zoom.

Freedom of movement across borders may still on balance be a virtue in many an ordinary condition, but the balance needs to be honestly recalculated, without ideological presuppositions. It is clearly often also a vice, a deadly vice at that, in many a condition. Fortunately, it need no longer be treated as a fixed necessity in order to sustain the economy, or even to sustain the bulk of personal intercourse.

Open borders should never again be treated as a moral absolute, or a supreme value or principle. It is only a means toward our actual values -- life, liberty, health, prosperity -- and only one of many means at that. Its usefulness for our values is a generalization and a rule of thumb, which is another term for calling it a a “prejudice”. It should be applied only when it is a sound prejudice, not when it is an unsound one.

The purpose of education -- must we be reminded? -- is to form sound prejudices, which presumably includes getting our minds free of their unsound prejudices. This is the main purpose of thinking.

We need to think the open borders policy through again, weighing it at each point against other policies and means. It will have to be recalibrated twice: recalibrated in our minds, so we will develop the more sound instinct of wanting it to yield to the other considerations when they have the greater weight; and recalibrated in our public policies and laws, so our institutional mechanisms will be primed to see to its yielding promptly when it should.


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