A feeling of déjà vu 

As a matter of fact, globalisation  is not a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of our world, from the Bronze Age to Marco Polo, the slow migration, at the pace of camels or horses, of objects, ideas and people, following the salt, tin and silk roads, patiently wove the network of links that connect us today. But it was not until the arrival of trains and steamships at the end of the 19th century that globalisation first really made its mark on history.

This first phase of globalisation , like the one in process today, was born of the freedom of trade and the explosion of new technologies. The thoroughfares of that time were not virtual, but were those of shipping and rail. At sea, the Suez Canal, opened in 1869, reduced the distance between Bombay and London by more than half; the same was true of the San Francisco-New York route after the cutting of the Panama Canal . At the same time, with the arrival of steam, the speed, power and tonnage of ships increased by leaps and bounds. On land, the development of the railway made it possible to link even the most distant regions: Canada was crossed in 1886, and the Trans-Siberian railway reached Vladivostok in 1904.

International trade tripled in volume between 1870 and 1914, a development which seemed so powerful it was thought to be irreversible. Sir Norman Angell , winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the troubadour of the first globalisation , wrote as follows in 1910: 'Today, international finances are to such a degree linked to commerce and industry that military power and politics are, in effect, rendered powerless. The rapidity of communications, which has made international credit, already in a delicate balance, enormously more complex, confers on present problems of international politics an aspect profoundly and essentially different from those of the past.'[i] Four years later, the nature of this peaceful development was radically altered, being replaced by global wars, both hot and cold. This 'parenthesis' was due to last almost eighty years: 'The international trade of the industrialised nations in proportion to their production reached 12.9% in 1913; in 1938 it had fallen to 6.2%, from which point it rose almost continuously to reach 14.3% in 1993 ...'.[ii]


[i] Norman Angell , ‘The Great Illusion’

[ii] La Mondialisation au-delà des mythes, Les Dossiers de l’État du Monde, Paris, La Découverte, 23 January 1997, p 33