There is fierce debate among scholars about when globalization began. The debate stems partly from the lack of a precise definition of the word. Some argue that globalization as a phenomenon began with the earliest human migratory routes, or with Genghis Khan's invasions, while others view it as far more contemporary. Many view globalization in its current form as a modern phenomenon, beginning no earlier than World War II. The term itself has been in common use since the 1980s.

Confusion also stems from the word's use as both a description of a practice and a political ideology – the latter is frequently used in a critical sense. Globalization is also frequently used as a synonym for the solidification and continual creep of American dominance throughout the world.

Multinational Corporations

One view states that globalization cannot be backdated past the late 1940s – the post-war era when the United States established itself as the most powerful country in the world. This definition of globalization argues that it is largely the work of powerful multinational corporations that have created a far-ranging set of consequences, both positive and negative, as they spread across the world. The unprecedented ease of travel around the globe and the development of modern communications are used to support this view of globalization.

Others argue that parts of the world have always influenced other parts, and that the current state of affairs is a natural progression from earlier stages. However, this idea of globalization fails to take into account the unprecedented modern global integration of financial markets, which has only been made possible by the creation and development of 20th-century electronic communication technologies.