Globalisation is a fact of modern life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will continue for ever. It certainly hasn’t peaked yet. As the BRICS continue to rise, trade will increase and opportunities for optimisation, economy of scale and influence, and pursuit of new markets will force more globalisation. But that isn’t the whole story. There are a few trends that work against it, and will eventually force some areas of re-localisation, even in the midst of a globalised world..
Manufacturing is changing
The development of 3D printing especially means that people will often be able to download a template off the net and print something locally. Even if they can’t do it at home, there will often be a local company offering a high quality 3D print service. Failing that, national or regional centres may have major facilities coupled to same day or next day delivery. Also, mass customisation and personalisation of things like clothes and household goods will often dictate local manufacturing or assembly. Thirdly, cheap labour will be harder to come by at some point. It is already moving gradually around the world, as developing countries become developed and more expensive, but we will one day run out of countries. Robots will cost pretty much the same everywhere. So the globalisation of manufacturing driven by cheap labour will find fewer places offering it, and richer people everywhere more willing to pay for fast access and personalisation that dictates local manufacturing. The market forces in manufacturing will thus stop pushing globalisation.
Move to care economy
Artificial intelligence will continue to automate more and more of our everyday admin. It is such a gentle process, we rarely even notice it, but even a simple google search replaces what used to be a tedious form sent off to a corporate library service. Voice queries on Siri may prove today that there is still some way to go before we have a true AI executive assistant, but we will get there. More and more of our information work will be done by machine, leaving those parts of our jobs that are based on human skills – leadership, motivation, understanding, caring, empathising, those that need some form of emotional connectivity generally. And although you can connect on the web, it isn’t as good as meeting face to face, nor will it be. The web will be fine for in between physical meetings, but isn’t a full substitute. Much of our future work will require being there, the opposite of globalisation.
Tribalism is built deeply into human nature. We may have thousands of web contacts, but none are emotionally as close or important as those people we meet physically. With them, we have a closer tribal bond. Of course friends and family rule here, but this doesn’t just apply to our friends and family. We also have a closer affinity with others who share the same town or even the same country than we do to people further away. The further and more culturally distant a country is, the less we feel bound to them. We may want to pretend otherwise, but it is true of almost everyone. A donation during an emergency appeal doesn’t take away from that. This means that globalisation will never be complete socially. There will always be local culture, local values, local bonds. We will connect to many around the world, but much of our real connection will remain local.