Trade and Globalization

They Saw the Dark Side of Globalization 20 Years Ago

November 25, 2019  • Business and Society Program

Business 20/20In 2019, business investment is faltering as companies struggle with the uncertainty of a global trade war. While stock markets have repeatedly ebbed and flowed on news of a potential trade agreement between the US and China, the deeper issue is the backlash to globalization fueling the trade wars. As we explore in Episode 1 of the Business 20/20 Podcast, that backlash has been gathering since the heyday of globalization in the 1990s.

The Business 20/20 podcast is a series that explores the changing relationship between business and society from 1999 to today. Each episode unpacks a key event—from the Seattle WTO protests to the global financial crisis and beyond—to find insights for the future. Produced by the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society program and hosted by Michelle Harven.

Globalization: Foresight Through Hindsight

In the spirit of “Foresight Through Hindsight,” here’s what to read on the issue defining the future of business—and how that issue in turn is the result of trends decades in the making.

Foresight: Shape the Future of Business

Globalisation has Faltered (The Economist) What’s at stake for business in the current backlash to globalization? This article outlines the fracturing of global trade rules that have been critical to profits in the most recent decades. The WTO’s future relevance is an open question.  

What Can Businesses Do if Globalization Unravels? (Professor Stéphane J. G. Girod) If what we’re seeing isn’t a faltering of globalization, but the start of a deep unraveling—what can businesses do to respond? This business school professor proposes changes from corporate action to employee action.

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer As 2019 comes to a close, business leaders should recognize the unique opportunity to lead suggested by this year’s findings: people trust “my employer” more than any other institution.

The Questions Companies Should Ask Themselves to Prepare for a New Era of Business (James Manyika, Lareina Yee) How to lead? In an age of anti-globalization populism, social impact is a matter of “strategy and not just corporate social responsibility.”

Thriving Locally in the Global Economy (Rosabeth Moss Kanter) Moss Kanter’s insights about the relationship between business and local communities are more timely now than ever.

Hindsight: Understand the Long-Term Trends behind Today’s Headlines

Entrepreneurship and Multinationals Drive Globalization (Sean Silverthorne, interview with Geoffrey Jones) The capacity of business to shape globalization in ways both positive and negative is nothing new—it’s central to the history of globalization.

From GATT to WTO: The Evolution of an Obscure Agency to One Perceived as Obstructing Democracy (Susan Ariel Aaronson) Why did the WTO emerge in the 1990s at all? This article by Professor Susan Ariel Aaronson concisely answers this core question.

Real Battle for Seattle (John Vidal, The Guardian) Written just days after the Battle of Seattle, this article is almost chilling in its prescience—both in terms of how the event would be (mis)remembered, and where US global leadership on trade would go from then on. (For more on the latter, check out The Doha Round: An Obituary, written ten years later.)

Where Was the Color in Seattle? (Elizabeth Betita Martinez, Colorlines) An important record of the experience of activists of color in the protest. A young Jia-Ching Chen is quoted.

And if you’re interested in going deeper on first-hand accounts from protesters, check out The WTO History Project at the University of Washington and the hashtag #MySeattleWTOStory on Twitter, where participants are sharing their stories for the 20th anniversary of the protest!

Episode Notes

In 2019, a global trade war fueled by populist nationalism has raised fears of recession and is forcing businesses to re-think decades-long supply chains. If businesses want to understand this backlash to globalization, they first need to understand it’s been decades in the making. Academics and protesters warned of it in the nineties, culminating in the Battle for Seattle on November 30, 1999. So if the warning of a backlash to globalization was loud and clear twenty years ago, why wasn’t it heeded? And what happens next?


Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Jia-Ching Chen, Susan Ariel Aaronson, Richard Edelman


Michelle Harven

Writing and Production

Written by Keith Schumann with input from T.A. Frank, Miguel Padró, Felicia Davis, and the Business & Society Team.

Recorded by Ben Eyler & Amina Akhtar and edited by Jesse Krinsky.

The Business & Society team wishes to thank the audio technicians and everyone involved in the production of this episode, including:

  • Russell Simons
  • Craig McDonald
  • Kathryn Barnes
  • Chiquita Paschal
  • Jennifer York
  • Michael Bush
  • Paige Bloom
Music Samples Featured in this Episode

Chad Crouch – Algorithms (Excerpted form of the track; used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License)

Weightlessness by Daniel Birch ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Say It Again, I’m Listening by Daniel Birch ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Everywhere by Lee Rosevere ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Thought Bubbles by Lee Rosevere ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Low Force by Daniel Birch Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Tobacco Road – Storyblocks Audio

Archival Audio

Archival Audio – The Associated Press, May 2, 2016

Lessons for the Techlash from the Tech Crash
December 3, 2019 • Business and Society Program