The bitter pill of globalization

By Nicolas-Eustache Maurin in 1821, this scene depicts the yellow fever epidemic in Barcelona that year and evokes images reminiscent of the plague in earlier centuries. It was the most serious episode of yellow fever in Europe and caused widespread alarm. However, the danger posed by the epidemic to other countries was probably exaggerated, partly in order to justify the French military cordon around Spain and the subsequent invasion which restored the Bourbon dynasty.

Image of Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease
Author: Mark Harrison
Publisher: Yale University Press (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 400 pages

The thing that makes it possible for you to have a cup of coffee made from beans grown in Costa Rica or Ethiopia, or to wear a shirt of Egyptian cotton that was made in Indonesia also brings with it some downsides.

Like flu pandemics, SARS -- and if you go back in history far enough -- the plague.

Mark Harrison says during the first outbreaks of plague in Europe, the locals knew the sickness had something to do with the arrival of merchant ships, even if they didn't know the biological causes behind it.

But it can be tricky to balance economic needs with public health safety. Harrison says, "It's hard to quantify how much trade is lost but it's clear that trade is adversly affected by quarantines of all kinds."

There's no undoing globalization. It's all about risk management.

"I think we can do that in a way that doesn't disrupt the international economy as much as it does at the moment." Harrison says current policy of quarantines and sanitary embargoes leave much to be desired both when it comes to public health and when it comes to trade policy.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease
Author: Mark Harrison
Publisher: Yale University Press (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 400 pages

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...