The Exchange: What Do Margaret Thatcher and Genghis Khan Tell Us About the Future of Globalization?

Jeffrey E. Garten and Robert Zoellick on refugees, women, and the connected world.


When Jeffrey E. Garten was researching his latest book, From Silk to Silicon, he set out to find 10 people whose lives could tell the complicated story of globalization. From Genghis Khan to Cyrus Field, Garten — dean emeritus at the Yale School of Management and chairman of Garten Rothkopf, a global consulting firm he co-founded with David Rothkopf, FP Group’s CEO and editor — illustrates that the world’s growth has been driven by strong individuals with the ability to conceive big ideas and also execute them. Identifying people who are thinkers as well as doers is similar to how Foreign Policy chooses its annual Global Thinkers, including Robert Zoellick, who made the list in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The former president of the World Bank, Zoellick has spent a career studying the interdependent world in both the private and public sectors. Garten and Zoellick recently connected in Foreign Policy’s recording studio in Washington, D.C., to debate the future of emerging markets, gender equity, and the cyclical nature of globalization.


Jeffrey E. Garten: The one woman I focused on in my new book, From Silk to Silicon, is Margaret Thatcher. And I identify her with really kicking off an era of free markets after a huge movement towards more socialism since the Second World War, and maybe even before. I, of course, would’ve preferred to have more women, but I think that if you look through history, there are very few who met my criteria, which is not only to have an idea but also to actually lead the way. But I do conclude the book by saying that one of the differences about the future is that, if somebody wrote a book like this 50 years from now, 100 years from now, there would be more women. And there would be more people who were not in the arc of Europe, the United States, and China. So I expect these transformational leaders to come from the outskirts of Lagos or São Paulo or Johannesburg. There’s going to be much more diversity.

Robert Zoellick: There’s just so much opportunity for women’s empowerment, but also for reasons that you alluded to — history and culture and institutions — there’s just a huge difference that still needs to be made. There’s a phrase that we used at the World Bank, about how the empowerment of women is “smart economics.” That was a conscious idea, and I was struck at the time of how it resonated across societies — even very traditional ones, with different faiths and religions. If people realize that you’re ignoring half your population, it’s a little bit hard to grow. And one needs to continue to make that case, not only at the national level but also at the community level. I remember in Rajasthan [India], in a very poor region, where there was a dairy project with a women’s cooperative. I asked the women, “What do your husbands think about this?” I then spoke to one of the husbands, and he said, “Well, at first we were a little uncertain, but you know, guess what? They started to bring more money in.” So I would say it was more attractive. But then there’s another level: I think there’s the question of institutional change. For instance, schooling and jobs. And it’s not only developing countries; it’s also developed countries. A good example is Japan today and Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe [and his push for “womenomics”]. I don’t think Abe is doing it because by nature he’s driven by an idea of gender equality. He’s doing it because he wants Japan to be a powerful country in the future. They’re losing about 250,000 people a year, and unless they bring in immigrants, it’s a question of do you involve women more actively in the workforce.


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JG: The obvious aspect of globalization that is different today from 30 years ago or 50 years ago, is that the world is much more integrated. There are many more connections among countries and societies and individuals. The connections are activated much faster than ever before, and there are a whole set of global issues that really didn’t exist. For an obvious one: cybersecurity. But having said all that, as complex as globalization has become, and despite all those complexities, I still think individuals can make a really big difference. I still think you need leadership. It would be a real mistake to think that a number of individuals still cannot be transformational leaders.

RZ: [Your] book is interesting in part because it emphasizes that we had cycles of globalization. Some people recognize the late 19th century as a cycle of globalization. What Jeff points out is: “Look, this goes back all the way to Genghis Khan moving across Eurasia.” What you tend to see as the drivers are big developments in communication and transport: lowering costs, speeding the exchange of information, and then their effect on finance and trade. But this is the big caution as well; these can be reversed, as we saw in the early 20th century. There was a view actually, before the First World War, that deep integration and globalization would prevent conflict. Well, we saw it didn’t work that way. I think what dominates my perspective of this cycle goes back to something else, and this is a coincidence, but it’s a nice one: When Jeff was in the Clinton administration, he was a leader in what was called at that time “big emerging markets.” Today, obviously, emerging markets are suffering in financial terms, and there’s a question about their performance. But I think emerging markets will go down as the salient points in this cycle of globalization. I hope we can have additional cycles. But you also see the domestic politics of this being a challenge.

JG: It’s very tempting today to say that the era of emerging markets is behind us. The depth of the problems in so many of these countries is really quite daunting. And the difference in the view of the potential of these countries from, say, 10 years ago or 20 years ago is really quite dramatic on the negative side. But I think that’s a really big mistake because the cycles that Bob is talking about may be long cycles; these are not the same countries that they were 20 years ago. The way that technology is able to move gives them advantages that they never had. And the talent is quite formidable in these countries — and getting more so — because education has become so global. And finally, we may be in for a period of slow growth, but there’s a massive amount of capital looking for good ideas and looking for critical infrastructure. So I feel that people who are selling emerging markets short, if they’re right, it’s only for a short period of time.

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JG: The refugee crisis is a very poignant global problem. And every single day I think it is becoming a bigger challenge because it’s unfolding on so many dimensions. I want to put it in historical perspective. As horrible as it is, what occurred in Europe at the end of the Second World War was a far greater disaster than even what we’re seeing now. There were 50 million people roaming around the continent that were homeless, that had been repatriated or forcibly deported from individual countries. There was mass violence against people. There was a total breakdown in European governments; they had no capacity to do anything. There was a major communist threat that basically was in the process of cutting the continent in half. And within five to 10 years, with a lot of American help I might add, this whole thing got stabilized and put on a much different basis. And I think about that only because it looks so hopeless at this moment, especially in the Middle East, but I’d like to believe in the human capacity to actually deal with it.

RZ: Let me add just three thoughts to this. One, because we live in a recipient country, and a lot of the discussion is what’s going on with refugees from the Middle East or Central Asia to Europe, we often think about this on the receiving side. Paul Collier, who is a scholar at Oxford, wrote a very interesting book and called out some very creative thinking about the role of immigration but also for the society that loses people. Years ago, this used to be called the “brain drain.” Then the second point, which is globalization or movements across continents assume a certain degree of security. When you have a breakdown in security, like you have the breakdown of the old security order in the Middle East, everything is thrown to the winds. And then the question is not only the flow to, say, Europe. What about the millions of people in Jordan? What about the millions of people in Turkey? You can’t escape that security issue. The third is some of the economists who are looking at Europe today would say if the European economies were open enough and flexible enough, this could be a big boost. Because a lot of them are suffering demographically, and this could add working-age people that could contribute to future growth. But that’s the big if. And so part of the challenge here is how you make sure that the regions where people are leaving are stable and secure and create opportunities for people there. When people do come, how do you try to create the opportunity that they can gain and the societies can gain?

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JG: Bob, let me ask you this about refugees because there are so many dimensions: Do you feel that this is going to be at the center of the international agenda over the next decade? Not the only center, but, in other words, will this be on the order of climate change or on the order of relations with China? Obviously, 10 years ago, it wasn’t.

RZ: At least for the next few years. Beyond that, it depends on the security and stability. I think we’ve had both a pull and a push function in this, and I think Europe right now is at a critical juncture about how it will deal with these numbers and the ability to absorb these people. And the tensions within Europe, where many people felt that while Chancellor [Angela] Merkel did a very generous thing, it also became a magnet for drawing more people. So for us to think 10 years out, just consider Mexico: Obviously, immigration from Latin America’s a huge issue in American politics. And people talk about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Well, most people probably don’t know that you probably had a net flow to Mexico last year. Though, you still have the people coming from Central America. So it really depends on not only the pull function, and the availability to stay in developed countries, but also the effect in developing countries, whether there’s a reason people have to leave. This is a dynamic that will ebb and flow with the other factors of globalization you’ve talked about.

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JG: I think the next challenge is really going to be to harness the political divisions in the [United States]. No matter who is elected among those who are now running, and even if there is someone else who jumps in, it seems to me that the consensus on anything is so fractured that one of the skills that is going to be extremely in demand is the ability to build coalitions, the ability to find constructive compromises, and the ability to lead. I am very worried that that particular set of skills is not so evident in what we’re seeing. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but the primaries are not a very good way to assess that.

RZ: Both Jeff and I have spent a lot of our public and private sector careers obviously dealing abroad. But what I’m always struck by — whether I was in trade or foreign policy or development or other issues — is the critical role of dynamism at home in the United States and whether you want to create a soft power, economic power, hard power, whatever it is. It’s just a huge attribute, and I always think that what I’ve seen over the course of decades is many people don’t understand how the United States works because it’s a cacophony. You have separation of power, but somehow the system continues to reinvent and create itself. So the starting point is to say we need to keep that economic dynamism. We’ve got it in the private sector, as you’re seeing in energy and software development, big data, robotics. I think our public sector is stuck on some of the structural issues. Our tax system is a mess; immigration would be another one, trade policy. And to link that back to what Jeff said, you have to negotiate; you have to compromise. I think the challenge will be for whoever’s the president and the leaders of the Congress is making that connectivity work. Look, I’m a Republican. I served under Republican presidents when they had Democratic congresses. And I worked for Secretary [of State James] Baker, who was very skilled at this. And when I was dealing with trade at the World Bank, I had to build alliances and partnerships. There are undoubtedly some people in Congress and others who sound extreme or crazy. But there are a lot of good people up there. I may not agree with them all, but they’re representing their constituencies, and frankly, you have to appreciate the differences. It’s our point on diversity, to try to bring people together. And that’s part of the political art that I don’t think we’ve had enough of in recent years.

JG: I couldn’t agree more. Unless we have a really dynamic internal and domestic system, most of the other issues are moot. And if we have that, all aspects of our power and influence would be greatly enhanced, and it would make life a lot easier for whoever the president is.

This conversation has been condensed for publication. Listen to the discussion by subscribing to FP’s Global Thinkers podcast on iTunes or visiting here.

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