Globalization: the Americanization of the World?

Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 2002). Joseph E. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (Norton, 2007). James L. Watson, ed. , Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia (2nd edition, Stanford University Press, 2007). Robert McCrum, Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language (Norton, 2010). Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (Norton, 2009). Globalization is the integration of the world’s different regions into a global culture, economy, geo-political arena, and communication network.
It is the process by which the lines of nation states are blurred, smoothed over by new international institutions. Globalization is the undeniable destination of human history and as such permeates nearly every facet of it. It is liquid in this sense, flowing and changing to fill in wherever it flows, but there can be no doubts of the tide of globalizations source: The United States of America. At first glance, the distinctions between Globalization and Americanization are almost imperceptible. “Big Mac, Coke, and Disney” (Watson, 5) are as recognizable to Chinese and Russians as they are to Americans.
The World Bank and IMF’s policies are more or less set by Washington. The American military has the most powerful armies and fleets the world has ever seen, and has effectively dominated the world from World War I onwards. The United States population which is less than 5% of the world population produces about a quarter of global GDP. Such realities might lead one to the conclusion that Globalization and Americanization are synonymous, but is this actually the case? In the discussion of the books at hand, globalization as it pertains to Americanization is made evident.

Andrew Bacevich contends that the United States is the primary agent of modern globalization. It has capitalized on the opportunities it has been presented with in order to create a system of global politics and economics that is of the most benefit to itself, all the while packaging it in altruistic rhetoric. Joseph Stiglitz contends that the United States has conducted globalization by dominating the institutions of world governance and finance. It has done so to the detriment of other nations and as such, the American means of globalization is not the best strategy if true globalization” is the desired end. James Watson holds that McDonald’s, once as iconic of America as the stars and stripes and one of the leading agents of globalization, has been assimilated into many local cultures. As such, it no longer represents the Americanized aspect of globalization, but is rather an international institution and an agent of globalization at large. Yet, some of the seemingly obvious aspects of American led globalization are not as American as they may seem today.
Robert McCrum asserts that English being the world’s language arises not from American economic and foreign policies, but is rather a legacy of the British Empire. Furthermore, that America is not spreading its culture through English, it is only a tool to be used for communication. Finally, Fareed Zakaria demonstrates that we are departing from a unipolar world dominated by America. Although it will continue to play a leading role in the globalization of the world, “the rise of the rest” is diminishing its role and the United States is no longer solely holding the reins of globalization.
Andrew Bacevich’s assertion is that the idea of the American empire differs only in form from traditional imperialism. Its function, enriching the mother country, is precisely the same but employs a variety of techniques to make this less evident. The United States embraces its role in history of exerting power only as a last resort. Only when circumstances totally necessitated it would America resort to using Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial “big stick” (Bacevich 117).
The Spanish American war began only when General Valeriano “Butcher” Weyler could be tolerated no more. World War I was entered only because of the unprovoked German aggression upon the Lusitania. Cold War military and political endeavors were nobly pursued to defend against Communist aggression. Yet Andrew Bacevich rejects this view. He argues that this “myth of the ‘reluctant superpower’—Americans asserting themselves only under duress and then always for the noblest purposes” (Bacevich 7-8) is exactly that, a myth.
That Roosevelt’s reportedly soft speaking and big stick carrying America uses the” reluctant superpower” myth only in order to justify acts of self-interest. Perhaps the more fitting description of America by Theodore Roosevelt is his affirmation that “of course, our whole national history has been one of expansion” (Bacevich, 7). The United States has conscientiously exerted itself at every opportunity in order to expand its global economic and strategic interests. America’s superpower status and role as an agent of globalization is driven entirely by the machinery of self-interest.
Bacevich writes that “ever increasing prosperity” (Bacevich, 85) is the primary national interest. Furthermore, as Bill Clinton stated “Growth at home depends upon growth abroad. ” Of course, there is still the legitimate idealistic side of globalization as “the ultimate promise of peace, prosperity, and democracy” (Bacevich, 42), but America’s actual interest and role in globalization is to expand the American economy. In other words, America’s aims in globalization are to benefit the world yes, but “benefit the United States most of all” (Bacevich, 96).
The American economic empire, brought about by the domestic desire for continued growth is the overarching American interest in the realm of globalization. The fact that “where interests were slight, the United States seldom bothered to make the effort to assert any substantial leverage” (Bacevich, 107) vividly illustrates this. Considering the insubstantial economic incentives of Africa, it “consistently ranks dead last in U. S. strategic priorities” (Bacevich, 107). Now, take into account the economic and political incentives of Europe’s markets and the Middle East’s oil reserves.
Based on US military intervention, it is telling that “conditions that in the Balkans or the Persian Gulf the United States found intolerable were in Africa merely unfortunate” (Bacevich, 108). The United States found it necessary to militarily intervene in the former two interest-rife locations, and merely sent aid and rhetorical sympathies to the economically barren latter. The portrait of Americanization and Globalization that Andrew Bacevich paints acknowledges one of the primary facets upon which the two collide, the global economy and the United States role within it.
To deny that America has been the driving force behind the creation and continuance of modern open market operations, and to deny that it has done so for the betterment of its own economic interests is to deny all but the rhetoric of American imperialism. The United States did not have, as the historian Ernest May naively stated, “greatness thrust upon it” (Bacevich, 7), but rather calculatedly and ingeniously shaped its responses to global politics and economics in order to integrate and derive the most benefit from the new globalized economy.
Joseph Stiglitz, rather explicitly argues that “globalization should not mean the Americanization of either economic policy or culture, but it often does—and that has caused resentment” (Stiglitz, 9). He argues that “the worry about American unilateralism, about the world’s most powerful country imposing its will on others” (Stiglitz, 5) is fast becoming substantiated. Despite economic indicators such as GDP suggesting that poor countries seem to be improving, “globalization might be creating rich countries with poor people” (Stiglitz, 9).
As Stiglitz argues, the United States’ goal of making Americanization a component of globalization is causing this. Particularly responsible has been the Washington Consensus, a set of development promoting policies created between the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the U. S. Treasury. The former two of these are basically international lending bodies, delivering short and long term loans, respectively, to countries in need.
The policies outlined are “downscaling of government, deregulation, and rapid liberalization and privatization” (Stiglitz, 17). Although these are the characteristics of western countries, western countries did not become this way through the “shock therapy” of instant implementation. Rather they came from a drawn out progression of events The implication is that the United States, in attempting to make its political and economic policies integral concepts of the grander one of globalization, is actually turning countries off to the Americanized aspect of globalization.
Similarly, the manner in which the United States encourages international trade to be conducted is a hindrance to globalization at large within poor countries. Stiglitz writes that “countries often need time to develop in order to compete with foreign companies” (Stiglitz, 70). Yet, The United States and the international trade organizations which it dominates oppose tariffs for many industries on the grounds of it inhibiting trade and not allowing the all-wise power of the market to control the economy.
However, “most successful countries did in fact develop behind protectionist barriers” and climbed the “ladder of development”. The anti-tariff policies that soundly developed countries advocate are viewed as trying to “kick the ladder away so others can’t follow” (Stiglitz, 71). The uncertain effectiveness of these western policies, policies necessary for developing countries to get assistance from the IMF and World Bank, which they almost undeniably need, calls into question the western policies which they don’t necessarily need, namely democracy.
Stiglitz writes that “IMF conditionality undermines democracy” (Stiglitz, 56), that although “globalization has helped spread the idea of democracy, it has, paradoxically, been managed in a way that undermines democratic processes within countries” (Stiglitz, 12). America, in efforts to save countries from spending time on the economic policy learning curve, in reality ends up harming them. As such, the United States’ inadequacy for creating economic agendas for developing countries is a paradox of its own success.
He posits that in order for the developing countries to benefit from globalization, the agenda of globalization needs to depart from the Americanized version, and instead “have the voices of developing nations (be) heard more clearly” (Stiglitz, 98). If the hardline factors of globalization—economics, geo-political military assertions, and international governance are the easiest to assess the American-ness of—the soft aspects: cultural and linguistic patterns, are the most difficult.
James Watson contends that in some respect, global corporations gain their transnational appeal simply by being American; by being an image of modernity. However, he also holds that components of globalization that were once considered agents of Americanization are now accepted as local. Japanese McDonald’s have “clearly capitalized on the fact that it is associated with American culture” (Watson, 172). In China, McDonald’s promotes “the corporations image as an exemplar of modernity” (Watson, 42).
McDonald’s in these countries represents what the West represents, or more accurately, what the locals believe the West to represent—“the promise of modernization” (Watson, 41). It has gone so far as to even change cultural eating habits. In these locations, McDonald’s sells more than hamburgers. It sells America as an ideology, a place of modernity, cleanliness, efficiency, and equality. As Watson would contend in China and Japan, McDonald’s represents the convergence of the idealistic facets of Americanization and globalization: the United States as a favorable model to be emulated.
Yet in the case of McDonald’s in Hong Kong, it is not considered “an example of American-inspired transnational culture” or “perceived as an exotic or alien institution” (Watson, 107). Rather it is a fully assimilated part of Hong Kong’s modern culture. As Watson writes, “the transnational is the local. ” The younger generation could not “imagine life without it” (Watson, 109). Thusly, at least in Hong Kong, the American aspect of McDonald’s globalization has faded with its assimilation into the national identity. Although American, it no longer Americanizes or suggests that the American odel is something good and unique that should be followed. McDonald’s in Korea however suggests a different view of Americanization. Some people hold that “eating McDonald’s hamburgers is tantamount to treason and loss of Korean identity” (Watson, 158) At least here, to some degree McDonald’s is viewed as an American crusader of “cultural imperialism—a new form of exploitation that results from the export of popular culture from the United States” (Watson, 5). McDonald’s represents a conquering American agent seeking to enthrall and draw in cultures to that of its global Americanized one.
Another phenomenon of globalization, one might argue American-driven globalization, is English becoming the language of the world. Robert McCrum argues however that this is not a legacy of the American century, but rather a legacy of the British Empire. America has helped to propagate it but it in fact is originally an agent of British-ization. McCrum writes “The nineteenth (century) was, supremely, the century of British English – first the King’s and then the Queen’s – but it also witnessed the beginnings of the world’s English” (McCrum, 174).
English spread to the earth not as a result of America’s dominance in the 20th century, but rather Britain’s far flung immigration in the 19th. McCrum contends that this is what made Jean-Paul Nerriere’s global English (Globish) so accessible to so many people across the world. It is removed from American influence in that it was not asserted upon the world by America. Rather because of Britain and certain historical tilts towards English speaking, it simply fell into place.
In essence, McCrum asserts that British English lay the foundation for English to become, as John Adams wrote in 1780, “in the next and succeeding centuries…the language of the world” (McCrum, 105), and as such is not truly an assertion of American influence. However, McCrum’s points are debatable. As a proud Englishman, he seems ready to assert the obvious role of Britain in making it a global language, but is less generous when it comes to the American aspects. Furthermore, his denial of English as a cultural force is problematic. The global media is dominated by America.
The largest media conglomerates in the world are American. Ten of the highest twelve paid musicians in the world are American. McCrum seems to ignore the fact that media is one of the largest aspects of globalization, and that American influences dominate it. These have been the themes of globalization. The convergence of Americanization and globalization has dually permeated military affairs, economics, culture, and language. On the global stage, the United States has been the dominant player for over a century. However, to what extent will this remain true in the 21st century?
Fareed Zakaria contends that it will, but will require a reassessment of the global community. Zakaria puts forth that we are “now living through the third great power shift of the modern era” (Zakaria, 2), not “the decline of America but rather…the rise of everyone else” (Zakaria, 1). What this means for Globalization as it is linked to Americanization is that although the U. S. ’s role will still be there, it is diminishing. The historically United States dominated past has paved the way for this. Its active efforts in globalizing the worlds consequence is the “rise of the rest” (Zakaria, 2).
As Zakaria writes “the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission—it globalized the world. But along the way…it forgot to globalize itself” (Zakaria, 48). The arising international order that Zakaria see’s is a term invented by Samuel Huntington “uni-multipolarity”, which can be described as “many powers and one super-power” (Zakaria, 43). In the new international order, the United States will merely be a leading actor on a stage of many. The other actors are comprised of new powerful economies—China, India, Brazil.
The United States has been able to maintain its preeminence within globalization in the past but the changing realities of the global economic landscape will require according change from America. Zakaria lays out a series of principles that the United States should or must follow in order to maintain its position in the modern world as a chief agent of globalization. These principles recognize the changing landscape and suggest how America can perpetuate its interests, its goal of Americanization within globalization. Firstly, the United States must choose which policies it actively wants to pursue.
The ambiguity of policy facing Iran and North Korea do not allow the United States to reach an attainable international goal. If the United States were to decide that they were simply proponents of “regime change or policy change (that is, denuclearization)” (Zakaria, 234) they could more efficiently define the changes they wish to see in the global community. Similarly, in order for the US to continue to blend Americanization with Globalization, they must set out broad rules and seek to cultivate its bilateral relationships with other nations.
As Zakaria argues, if the U. S. has strong relationships with other strong nations, better than anyone has with another, “it gives the United States the greatest leverage…maximizing its ability to shape a peaceful and stable world” (Zakaria, 242). The United States must also be careful in how it shapes it’s responses to international conflict. “Legitimacy is power” (Zakaria, 247) and the nature of the United States’ current conflicts are “asymmetrical”, meaning they are not facing conventional military forces or typical state actors.
As Zakaria writes “asymmetrical responses have become easier to execute and difficult to defeat” (Zakaria, 244). Therefore in order to remain legitimate, to have the power to “set the agenda, define a crisis, and mobilize support” (Zakaria, 247) for the United States’ interests in globalization, reactions need to be shaped to fit the conflicts at hand. Overall, Zakaria contends that if the United States is not willing to change its policies and approach towards globalization and the global community, it will no longer effectively be able to mesh Americanization with globalization.
In the analysis of how linked globalization and Americanization are within the context of these books, a complex and comprehensive picture can be draw. The United States has been able to use globalization as a tool to create a global economic empire and cultural model. Through the capitalization of opportunities to expand its markets, packaged in its “reluctant superpower” myth, the United States has been able to assert itself internationally and accomplish its political and economic aims.
However, the changing nature of the global landscape calls for a recalculation of how this strategy of self-interest can be perpetuated. Furthermore, the United States will have to make some concessions regarding its hegemony as other nations with large populations and strong economies grow in power and importance. Culturally, the United States benefited from the British Empire’s legacy of spreading English around the world. However, it has also been able to capitalize on this and further Americanize the world through the consequentially large English speaking media outlets.
Multinational corporations such as McDonald’s still possess their American identity abroad, but this is beginning to change in respect to the world’s youth. It is now dually perceived as a symbol of modernity (which sometimes equates to Americanization) but also a component of local culture. Therefore, whether globalization is the Americanization of the world seems to be a yes. The debate whether it will, or should continue to be, is still ongoing, and remains to be seen, dependent on how America conducts itself in the post-American World.

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