The First Globalization Debate

Author: 
Craufurd D. Goodwin
Publication Number: 
2010-03

Early in the 18th century, before the birth of political economy as a discipline, two of the earliest

novels in the English language were published: Robinson Crusoe (1719) by writer and economic 

entrepreneur Daniel Defoe, and Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by the cleric and political adviser 

Jonathan Swift. The first was widely perceived as an entertaining adventure story, the latter as a 

pioneering work of science fiction. Both contain indirect comment on the foreign policy of 

Britain at the time. When viewed from the perspective of the modern economist, however, the 

works appear to be expressions of opposing positions on the desirability of a nation pursuing 

integration within a world economy. Crusoe demonstrated the gains from international trade and 

colonization and even the attendant social and political benefits. He explores the instinct to trade 

overseas, stages of growth, and the need for careful cost-benefit calculations. By contrast Swift 

warned of the complex entanglements that would arise from globalization, especially with 

foreign leaders who operated from theory and models rather than common sense. He makes a 

case for economic autarky.