Avengers: The Story of Globalization

Instructor: Ian Bremmer

How can Avengers: Infinity War help us better understand globalization? 

Economist Tyler Cowen and political scientist Ian Bremmer examine the four different stages of globalization, and what each stage has meant for the world. The progressively faster movement of goods, services, and information has had enormous effects on how our planet operates. 

About the series:
Globalization and Robots: The Future of Work 
Globalization and robots dominate the discussion of jobs, politics, and more. We’re donning our scuba gear and diving in deep to better understand where the economy is going, how students should navigate it, and how these forces shape our society.

A topic of this magnitude requires a bit more firepower than usual. That’s why we’ve partnered with Eurasia Group Foundation and enlisted two intellectual wizards to help us out: Ian Bremmer, expert political scientist, bestselling author, and Twitter extraordinaire; and MRU’s own Tyler Cowen, expert economist, bestselling author, and iron man of blogging. They’ll lead you on a rollicking adventure that explores the rise of the Avengers, the fall of Kodak, and a graph so famous it has its own mascot!  

Teacher Resources


Narrator: Thanos versus an entire universe of superheroes -- "Infinity War," an epic film with an epic budget that had an ending that shocked audiences. Don't worry, no spoilers here. 

What can a movie about superpowers, Infinity Stones and a talking raccoon tell us about the real world -- a real world where we worry not that Iron Man might be overmatched by Thanos -- but that people might be overmatched against the forces of globalization and automation? 

If we dig deeper, we'll find that "Infinity War" provides a door to better understand just how globalized our world has become. To help us on this journey, we've recruited two experts on the global economy, Ian Bremmer -- political scientist, best-selling author, and founder of Eurasia Group Foundation -- and Tyler Cowen -- economist, also best-selling author, and professor at George Mason University. 

Ian: I think what's fantastic about "Infinity War" is that it was truly a global production. Most of the production was not just done in Hollywood -- it was all over the world with people, and ideas, and actors. Kids and adults all over the world were excited about the countdown for the release of this film, which by the way was happening on top of the tallest building in the world in Dubai.

Tyler: I don't like most comic book movies. For me, a movie is about dialogue and drama. Godzilla is my favorite superhero. 

Narrator: 230 million people watched the "Infinity War" trailer in the first 24 hours. The interwebs were abuzz from seemingly every corner of the planet. It set records across the globe and opened No. 1 in 52 countries.

Ian: It was the largest opening weekend of any movie in history, and it was also the fastest to get to a billion dollars in just over a week in revenues. It's just really staggering to think about. 

Tyler: So he's sort of built out of radiation. He's a giant lizard. He saves Japan. He represents symbolism about nuclear weapons. - 

Ian: In a world, where so many things feel like we're coming apart, this shows you how one of the most important dynamics in the world today -- people coming together around something that you can say is kind of silly. It's a superhero movie. 

Tyler: Forget about the other stuff -- Godzilla.

Narrator: In the end, while "Infinity War" broke records domestically, its international revenue more than doubled that from the U.S. and Canada. Other movies are seeing a parallel trend. The international market is more important than ever. 

Tyer: If you're a Hollywood movie maker, it is now the case that very often more than half of your revenue comes from other countries. So you've got to think, what can I put in my movie that will translate well to other cultures, other languages? And I will tell you -- special effects, explosions, big events on the screen -- they work really well in a large number of different countries. 

Narrator: Filmmakers also have to think about how their movies will play with different cultures. For example, in "Inside Out," the filmmakers at Pixar created an alternate version of the film that eliminated broccoli which American kids loathe, and Japanese kids love. 

Ian: And replaced them with green peppers, which Japanese children find revolting.

Narrator: International fan bases not only mean bigger budgets, but more variety. Whether your niche is extreme sports, animé, or Iranian drama, there's plenty to choose from.

Tyler: And these movies don't make most of their money in their native countries. They're able to survive and flourish because there are these global markets.

Narrator: Globalization has transformed movie-making. You can collaborate across borders, build international fan bases, and create niche content -- plus learn what veggies Japanese kids find revolting. This isn't just in the movies. Globalization is remaking virtually every sector of the economy. What do these trends mean for future jobs, future society? To answer that, we need to step back and see how we got here. 

We'll go through the four levels of globalization. We'll start with Globalization 1.0. This is life in a village. Transportation was expensive, dangerous, and slow. You can hop a slow sailboat that is pretty likely to sink or take your chances on foot. Trade was limited to luxuries for the wealthy and essential raw materials -- think jewelry, spices, and copper. The average person's life wasn't affected by trade. The goods they consumed were local. The information and ideas they consumed were local. They came from people in their village or town.

Tyler: So before the railroad came, you know it was actually the case that in New York City, they produced the milk right in Manhattan, and that's where you would get your milk. The cow would be in Manhattan. 

Narrator: Even big monumental ideas were slow to migrate. It took 200 years for the idea of the compass to get from China to Europe. So how do we get to the next level? Developing cheap and fast transportation of goods. Think better ships and navigation technology. And steam power, steamships, and railroads, cars, trucks, airplanes, and container ships. This unlocked Globalization 2.0. This is life with world trade. No longer did you just consume what was local -- the goods you consumed came from all over the globe. World trade explodes in the 1800s. 

Tyler: So what happened with the spread of canals and railroads, you ended up having the cows in upper New York state, and the milk would be shipped in, and that's what enabled New York City to become so interesting, so cultural, so vibrant, such a financial center -- basically getting the cows out of Manhattan.

Narrator: This trade benefitted dairy farms as well. They scaled up and specialized, producing higher quality milk at lower prices. It wasn't just milk. Growth and trade allowed businesses of all types to leverage machinery to produce much more than previously imagined. We get the Industrial Revolution, which transforms living standards around the world. But while movement of goods was cheap, movement of information and ideas was still too slow. There's no computers, no internet, and phone calls were pricey. This means that people working together have to be physically in the same place. We see the rise of huge factories, like Ford in Detroit. Back then, if you bought a Ford, it was not just made in the USA, it was made almost entirely in one single place. 

So how do we get to the next level? We figured out cheap and fast communication -- personal computers, the internet, GPS, email, smartphones, and cloud computing. This unlocked Globalization 3.0. This is life in the information revolution. Information was no longer slow. Now you could easily consume information and ideas from all over the globe. This communication revolution allowed companies to coordinate production around the world. 

What used to be a big factory could now be sliced and diced into what's called a global supply chain. Different pieces of the production could happen all over the planet. Take the iPhone -- over 200 companies from across the globe make different components. When Apple competes with Samsung, it's not an American product versus a Korean product, but Apple's global supply chain versus Samsung's global supply chain. So what does "made in the USA" exactly mean today? Does it surprise you that, as of 2018, the Honda Ridgeline is more American made than the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado or Dodge Ram? However, these global supply chains rapidly evolve so by the time you watch this, it's likely to be different. 

Ian: You want to feel good about saying I'm buying something that's made in this place, and the reality is that we've got to get comfortable with the idea that we have one global economy, and that every good that you consume, every good that you wear, everything that we use to function on the planet turns out to pretty much come from the planet.

Narrator: These communication networks also mean that we get exposed to a wider variety of products at faster and faster rates. It took the internet seven years to reach 50 million users. How long did it take Pokémon GO? Nineteen days. "Gangnam Style" introduced the world to K-pop and was the first video to reach a billion views. A Puerto Rican artist was the first to reach 5 billion. 

So you might be wondering what's this last level? We haven't unlocked Globalization 4.0 yet, so this might seem a bit crazy, but let's take a peek into the future to see what life will be like in the virtual presence revolution. An example will help explain. If you're a surgeon, you have to be in the room with the patient to operate, or do you? What if a surgeon could be in New York operating remotely on a patient in France with the use of a robot? This has already happened. Remote surgery is still rare, but as the technology improves, this will become more common. 

Where else might this spread? Could a German mechanic fix a piece of machinery in Korea? Could a security guard in India watch over a store thousands of miles away? Might your hologram allow you to deliver a speech from home while not wearing pants? It's already possible. 

When you combine these forces of globalization with the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, what does all this mean for future jobs? Are there winners and losers? How might someone position themselves to benefit from globalization? Stay tuned. We'll tackle these questions in upcoming videos.


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