GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

An Increasingly Smaller World


The materials for this section are based upon information found in Places and Region in Global Context: Human Geography 4th ed. by Paul Knox, and Sallie Marston (2009) Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

In the 19th Century, places were often almost self-sufficient. Cottage industries and small local enterprises often produced almost everything needed to sustain the local population. Even in the 1940s and 50s when I grew up in a rural part of the Willamette Valley of Oregon, most small towns had a bank, an automobile dealership, a grocery store or two, a granary, numerous churches (and at least an equal number of drinking establishments), a restaurant, a hardware store, a blacksmith shop, a firearms dealer, a drug store, a doctor, a dentist, a veterinarian, a local law-enforcement office, a school system, a mill or two, a lumber yard, and other such businesses and industries needed to keep the community alive. Currently, such businesses in many of these small towns have been closed as people now prefer to drive to the larger central places for goods and services (or in many cases use the Internet). In my hometown of Amity, Oregon, the hardware store, Studebaker automobile dealership, granary, etc., are closed and the town is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for larger places including Salem and McMinnville. Thus the smaller communities are now far less self-sufficient. Instead, many have been forced to specialize as tourist attractions (small quaint shops and boutiques). Some small towns such as Tombstone, Arizona have taken advantage of their history in order to attract tourists who want to get a feel for the "old west." This phenomenon (of increasing specialization) is a function of modern technologies that extend the range of the commercial services of larger urban centers.  Moreover, as the friction of distance has been diminished by better roads and modern transportation and communication systems, consumers are generally able to save money by driving to the communities that are large enough to make mega stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco, and Home Depot viable commercial enterprises. Because of this, many small-town stores cannot meet a threshold of demand for their goods and services needed to stay in business.

Places are becoming increasingly interdependent throughout the world. It seems that people in the United States cannot get along without the goods supplied by nations such as China; and the Chinese cannot get along unless Americans and others purchase the things they manufacture. In fact, in recent years, China has been loaning the United States the money needed to purchase Chinese made goods. It is indeed an increasingly global economy, and even if the Chinese and Americans were to decide that they do not like each other, there is little they can do to disengage from the interdependent relationship they have created. Moreover, such relationships are not unique to China and the United States. The people of the world are simply more reliant upon one another than ever before.

Supranational Organizations are, despite a resurgence of nationalism throughout the world, of increasing importance. Nations no longer simply go it alone. All major powers are joined with other nations in organizations that share common goals that are economic, political, or both economic and political. Such organizations include the European Union (EU) and the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA). Additionally, it is important to understand that whereas the giant corporations were once tied closely to individual nations, they are now also part of the supranational world in which we live. During World War II, the United States government was able to utilize its industrial giants to produce war materials. General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Studebaker, Willys, and other manufacturers switched from making automobiles to the production of tanks, aircraft engines, trucks, jeeps, and the like, almost overnight. In similar fashion, the United Kingdom was able to use the productive capabilities of Rolls Royce and other such industries to its advantage. The Germans and Japanese also acted in the same way.

Whereas Ford and General Motors set up manufacturing plants all over the world prior to World War II, it is interesting to note that Fiat now owns a controlling interest in Chrysler, and BMW manufactures one of the United Kingdom’s quintessentially British automobiles, the Bentley. If one purchases a Ford in the United States, it may well have been manufactured in Mexico, and if a Japanese citizen purchases a Honda Accord, it was probably manufactured in the United States. Therefore, most people, particularly those living in the more affluent and the moderately affluent nations, have little choice but to deal with growing interdependence among people and among nations.

Is interdependence good or bad? The answer depends on one's point of view and on where a person, community, or nation is situated relative to the benefits and costs of such global interaction. An individual who works for an American corporation that has decided to close its plants in the United States and move to Mexico where land and labor are less expensive will probably view globalization as a menace. On the other hand, a customer who is able to purchase a Ford Fusion automobile made in Mexico for a lower price than would have been possible had it been made it Detroit, may see globalization as beneficial.