American Exceptionalism, My…
Globalization is one buzzword we have all heard for the last decade or more. And with the development of faster travel and innovative communication technology, we are living in a more universally connected world than ever before. Well, maybe not, according to Jeffrey David Sachs, American economist and scholar, who believes humanity has always been globalized. 
Sachs penned The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions as a historical and economic analysis of various stages of cross-continental humanization. Calling them “Ages,” the economist examines seven distinct periods of change that fundamentally altered human migration and connection:
- The Paleolithic Age (70,000–10,000 BCE): human foraging
- The Neolithic Age (10,000–3000 BCE): transition to human farming
- The Equestrian Age (3000–1000 BCE): domestication of livestock, written communication, and trading
- The Classical Age (1000 BCE –1500 CE): development of empires
- The Ocean Age (1500–1800): expansion through sea conquest
- The Industrial Age (1800–2000): development of the industrial economy
- The Digital Age (Twenty-First Century): the entire world in instantaneous interconnected digital data
Tackling the entire expanse of human history, over 70,000 years, is no small task. Sachs zeroes explicitly in on the role of natural resources (hunting to gathering, plow to precision agriculture), information (petroglyphs to alphabets, printing press to AI), tool innovation (stone tools to bronze, engineering to digital networks), transportation (foot to horses, sail to virtual space) and institutionalization within each of these ages. “
Sachs believes that by looking back at our history, we can better understand the three significant issues of our time: (1) Our willingness to choose a path of shared prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability; (2) How we organized global governance in a post-Anglo-American age; (3) Developing an accomplishable model of human understanding and ethics. 
As a “Red-Blooded American,” I was raised on the infallible notion of the United States’ supremacy. Living into the promises of Manifest Destiny, American supremacy bathed our social studies and history textbooks as a whitewashing of history only perceived U.S. righteousness throughout every major conflict, including the invasion of foreign soil and the commandeering of its resources by any means necessary. The innovation and world-altering developments from the continents of Asia, Africa, and South America were never mentioned without their connection to European colonization and imperialism.
Sachs’ The Ages of Globalization challenges the notion of American supremacy and calls readers to examine the implications of these notions as one of several cautions behind the world’s challenges today. Moreover, he looks at the culmination of Western capitalism as it bears great shared responsibility behind the world’s climate challenges. He stated, “These planetary boundaries are threatened mainly by greenhouse-gas emissions, poor agricultural practices and diets, chemical pollutants, and inadequate waste management. All of these problems have technological and behavioral solutions that can raise or sustain output while lowering environmental impacts.”
Through this book, Sachs offers insight into how societies developed and interconnected over 70,000 years and how we might learn from each other to resolve the problems of today and the coming decades. What this requires is an empathetic and humble approach to listening and learning from one another, understanding that each context and culture brings something significant to the table of globalization. As Western and Garcia put it in Global Leadership Perspective, “These gaps we believe have led to a failure to grasp and account for the diversity in how leadership manifests itself and is practiced across the globe, influenced by local and regional histories, traditions and cultures in different regions of the world.”
As organizational leaders in a highly globalized society, Sachs provides incredible insight into understanding the context, culture, and history behind how we are all connected. So much of leading through and after the pandemic has been the art of guessing while practicing adaptability. However, when we can look back over several ages of human civilization, understanding that dynamic change is inevitable, we can begin to prepare ourselves and those we lead to experience it together with varying and insightful perspectives.
Sachs provides a historical analysis of globalization, assesses the world’s current and future challenges, and points readers to strategic steps for our future interconnectedness as a species sharing the earth. He noted, “The successive ages of globalization have expanded our outlook and interdependence. We have learned to think globally. By understanding our common history, and our common vulnerability, we can also grasp our common interests and values. In that way, we can also find a path to shared prosperity and peace.” 
 Sachs, Jeffrey D., The Ages of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 189.
 Western, Simon, and Éric-Jean Garcia,
Global Leadership Perspectives (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2018), 3.
 Sachs, The Ages of Globalization, 31.
6 responses to “American Exceptionalism, My…”
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Andy, I really enjoyed this blog post. Well done. You key on some excellent concepts from the book.
As you think about this, and what we can learn as Red Blooded Americans, what challenges, encourages, or affirms you in how you will apply (or not) these principles?
Again, great post.
That’s a great question. The first lesson is to learn to listen first rather than speak. For the longest time, Americans have framed leadership as the wise sage, you know, who has an answer to everything. While the American culture has made a tremendous impact on the world, past and present, that idea can be turned into blind arrogance.
Let’s take issues of racism. It’s a tall tell sign that we have only read about it from the perspective of a token black American that disagrees with the Black Lives Matter perspective. However, we would be better suited to shut our mouths and listen to the experience of those who finally have a platform to express the suffering of Black Americans.
Andy, I enjoyed reading your blog and liked how you contextualized it to your American context. You have mentioned how Sachs’s historical perspective of globalization helps you to appreciate the nature of global connectivity and interdependence. Through these words, you have quoted from Sachs, “We have learned to think globally. By understanding our common history and vulnerability, we can also grasp our common interests and values. In that way, we can also find a path to shared prosperity and peace,” he is prescriptive of an ideal globalization dream; do you think this is practical?
I think so. I listened to an interview recently with an international space station astronaut who spoke about his most significant lessons from the experience. He said that distance from earth showed just how futile our self-imposed differences are, especially concerning politics, domestically and internationally. We have more in common than we realize, but we allow the global self-interested leadership to dictate our divides.
Andy: I also picked up on a connection with Western and Garcia’s look at leadership styles around the globe. These books are great, it’s why I joined this program. It is always good to have our horizons expanded. Nice analysis.
Andy, great and challenging post. I appreciate your connection of this book to Western and Garcia. Cape Town gave us a front-row seat to amazing non-American leadership at the Desmond Tutu museum. Serving in Utah has me interact with many LDS folks. Part other cultural dynamic here is a sense of superiority by the LDS, often voiced as “God’s special people.” In several conversations when people have pointed out a sense of arrogance, the reply by LDS folks often says, “I don’t know one arrogant person.” In other words, self-awareness can be a big challenge. I like your challenge to American exceptionalism. How do you think America can gain self-awareness in order to overcome arrogance/pride that is never helpful regardless of the situation?