Invited Essay: When Global Is Local: The Great Plains, Globalization, and the World Economy
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Invited Essay: When Global Is Local
The Great Plains, Globalization, and the World Economy

The Plains now boasts some of the healthiest economies in terms of job growth and unemployment on the North American continent . . . [and] enters the 21st century with a prairie wind at its back.

j. kotkin, the rise of the great plains, 2

As the global economy has developed and advanced, controversies over its relative advantages and disadvantages have often taken center stage. Such controversies were, for example, a significant feature in the 2016 election cycle in the United States, with candidates and voters of both parties devoting time and attention to concerns over such issues as trade and immigration. In May, according to the Pew Research Center (2016), a plurality (49%) of the American public held negative views of US involvement in the global economy, believing that it lowers wages and costs jobs. Economists, on the other hand, are mostly united around the conclusion that economic globalization—especially in terms of trade—has net advantages that outweigh its costs, even as it produces winners and losers between and within countries.

How have the states of the Great Plains fared as the global economy has broadened and deepened? This essay examines the processes and effects of the merging of global and local factors and forces on economic, social, and political characteristics of Great Plains states, focusing on the areas of global economic and labor markets. Interestingly, in the Great Plains states, globalization has taken a surprising turn. Long regarded as a backwater area of marginal importance to both the US and the global economies, Great Plains states have experienced significant changes in the face of the forces of globalization. I argue that, contrary to many expectations, the global-local connections of the world economy have been accompanied by economic growth but have created policy challenges and social changes in the Great Plains that have fueled tensions. After establishing the context of the globalizing economy and Great Plains connections to it, I present key evidence on economic and social trends for the region, and then highlight the Great Plains state of Nebraska as a case study. I conclude by considering the effects of these trends and their implications for the future. [End Page 1]

Figure 1. Trade as a percentage of world and US GDP, 1960–2015. Source: , .
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Figure 1.

Trade as a percentage of world and US GDP, 1960–2015. Source: World Bank (2016),

Globalization and the World Economy

Globalization refers to the increasing integration of global society through economic, technological, political, and cultural means. In terms of economic globalization, while trade has long tied states together, these connections have become stronger in recent years, making states and peoples more interdependent on each other than ever before. Globalization means transnational and international interactions are easier and far more commonplace. As a result, distinctions between what is foreign and what is domestic become harder to discern. As markets and societies have grown increasingly connected and the economies of countries have increasingly become embedded in and dependent on the global economy, lines between global and local have blurred.

After World War II, three central factors contributed to the development of the global economy (Frieden 2007; Gilpin 2002; Stiglitz 2003). First, the establishment of the Liberal International Economic Order (LIEO) promoted and spread free trade and encouraged market economies that worked together, and it established international institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (institutionalized as the World Trade Organization in 1994) to tie states together and help them cooperate. The LIEO also created the foundations for nonstate actors such as multinational corporations and private financial institutions to operate more freely across borders and to extend their operations to more and more countries. Second, along with the LIEO, the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1989 further spread capitalism and markets as the dominant form of economic system and drew many more states into the post–World War II order. Finally, the revolutions in transportation and information technology—especially the digital revolution of the late 20th and early 21st centuries—provided a major impetus to the development of the global economy...