Niall Ferguson, Historian

Historian Niall Ferguson holds the John E. Herzog Family Chair in Financial History at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000. Producer Ric Burns interviewed him during the making of New York: The Center of the World.

Transcript

The American Experience of Globalization

I think the experience of globalization, for Americans and particularly for New Yorkers, was very lopsided. They thought they could have the benefits of a globalized economy -- integration of commodity markets, capital markets, and labor markets -- and none of the costs. They thought you could globalize economics but not politics, not violence. And in a sense, that the tools of globalization -- skyscrapers, jets -- could only be used for benign purposes, like generating higher incomes through international exchange. The notion that these tools could be used for destruction in the pursuit of extreme ideological objectives, specifically anti-American, anti-global objectives, had dawned, I think, to relatively few people. Some Americans clearly had been worried about terrorism, and had been thinking seriously about how vulnerable their country was to it. But because (setting aside the Oklahoma bombing) Americans had virtually no experience of terrorism, then it came as a complete -- literally a bolt out from the blue, when it happened.

Globalization's Political Dimension

The United States is the economy that seems to inhale more than it exhales. It inhales capital. It inhales people. The huge increase in flows of capital into the United States and the huge increase of flows of people into the United States, which characterized the 1980s and 1990s, undoubtedly created a kind of asymmetry. This deficit both in terms of capital and in terms of migration told us something very important. And it gave rise, I think, to the idea that it was possible to be the principal beneficiary of globalization. And the beneficiaries, including those who were first-generation migrants to the U.S., got a wonderful deal, where provided they signed on to -- and signed up for -- the American dream, they, so to speak, left behind prior cultural claims. That, I think, was the idea.

And so although economically the United States was completely integrated into the world economy, politically it was becoming more and more detached from it; that the myths which go right back to the very foundation of the United States, about the special Providence that exempts the U.S. from the rest of the world's nasty political conflicts, I mean, this proves incredibly tenacious, and people are still clinging to this in the 1990s, when it's absolutely clear that the U.S. had never been more connected to the rest of the world. It couldn't just be economic globalization. Inevitably, globalization would have a political dimension. And that is what 9/11 was about.

My American Experience

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • Rosalind P. Walter
  • New York Times
  • The Overbrook Foundation