Posts Tagged ‘globalization’

The Big Picture

December 26, 2014

imagesFor all America’s partisan divisions, we’re in remarkable agreement on one thing: the country is on the “wrong track,” the American dream is struggling, and our children will have trouble equaling, let alone surpassing, today’s living standard.

Each side blames the other. The right sees the left as buying votes with government handouts, fostering a feckless paternalistic culture, while killing businesses and jobs with over-regulation, and out-of-control spending presages financial ruin. The left sees rising inequality, with a corporate conspiracy to control government for its own greedy ends, heartless toward victims and their economic plight.

Both views reflect a generalized loss of trust in the institutions of society, which is not unique to America, but is mirrored all across the developed world – whether countries are governed by the left or right. In truth the difference is mere nuance on the edges of policy.

UnknownTake France (please). Sarkozy (on the right) was elected promising a “rupture” with past complacency. In office he could manage only minimal tweaks, but even that was too much for the French, who chucked him out for an assertively lefty Hollande – who promised they could have their cake and eat it too. Now he’s even more unpopular than Sarkozy, who is attempting a comeback.

Such serial disillusionment stokes the rise of populist third parties like France’s National Front and the United Kingdom Independence Party. This hasn’t happened in America mainly because our two-party system is more entrenched with structural roadblocks for third parties.

images-1But behind it all, what is really happening is that globalization is a hugely disruptive force, breaking down economic barriers and putting everybody in competition with everybody else. For the world as a whole, this is hugely positive, enlarging the economic pie by making stuff less costly, opening opportunities for billions more people to productively participate, and creating a burgeoning middle class in countries where there was none before. Of course there are losers as well as winners, and that’s why the political climate has become so febrile.

images-2But the remedy is not in trying to make globalization go away, demonizing businesses that strive to stay competitive via taking advantage of overseas opportunities; nor by decreeing higher wages or benefits as though the money comes from the sky (or from businesses being less “greedy”); or uselessly whining about inequality. Instead, the only thing that can actually save us is to raise our own competitive game: better products at better prices.

images-3Along similar lines, Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean, reminds us of the “seven pillars of wisdom” that our Asian competitors have imported from the West, in their “March to Modernity” —

  • Free market economics and capitalism (large-scale investment). Sorry, lefties: not by socialism did worldwide average real dollar incomes grow five-fold in the last century – a giant fact that makes pining for an alternative economic system simply silly.
  • Science and technology. The central human story has always been our use technology to overcome nature’s impersonal forces. (Listening to all the anti-frackers you wouldn’t know that fracking has been massively underway worldwide for decades with only minimal problems; it has revolutionized America’s energy picture and overall economic strength.)
  • Meritocracy. China actually pioneered the idea yet pervasively violates it. One facet of a profoundly corrupt social system that bodes ill for realizing China’s full economic potential.
  • Culture of Peace. Russian military adventurism is a grave threat to the world system.
  • Pragmatism.
  • Unknown-2Rule of law (including secure property rights, contract enforceability, judicial transparency, etc.) China’s regime lately has been talking “rule of law,” but that’s a mistranslation. It’s really rule by law – a tool for maintaining control. Not the same thing. Here again, China actually fails to follow Mahbubani’s program.
  • Education – empowering more people to participate more productively in the global economy.

Unknown-1Now you have the full big picture.*

*Someone will say, “climate change.” Not insignificant – but actually a lesser factor in shaping the human future.

Local Food From Cave 73

December 23, 2011

“Buy local,” “Eat local,” and watch your “food miles.” So say earnest people who sincerely want to live responsibly and make a better world, helping both the environment and neighboring farmers.

The general sentiment is admirable. But, as so often, the specific policy is actually misguided.

First, regarding environmental impact, “food miles” are relatively unimportant. Modern technology makes food transport so highly efficient that its cost, and carbon footprint, are not a big part of a food item’s overall profile. Far more important, environmentally, is the manner of production. It’s better to produce a food where climate and other factors are most favorable, and then transport it, than to produce it locally: to grow lettuce in sunny California and ship it to Maine than to grow it in an energy-guzzling Maine hot-house. This is true even if the best production site is half a world away. (One study found it more energy efficient for Brits to buy apples, lamb and dairy items from New Zealand than from British farmers.)

But there is a mentality that simply hates the idea of products coming from all kinds of foreign places; as if it’s somehow lamentable that a car is today made from parts crafted in 18 different countries. Maybe it’s romanticizing a supposedly simpler time when everything you consumed or used came from nearby (and life was pretty wretched, partly in consequence). And maybe it’s the deeply embedded ancestral human xenophobia and distrust of strangers. Thus the hostility to globalization in all its manifestations. Not much anyone can do about it; but the “local food” thing does provide at least one way to strike a blow against globalization.

And, in fact, this strikes a blow against non-local producers – many of them actually poor people overseas – whose poverty anti-globalizers are also always bemoaning (and blaming on capitalism). “Eat local” helps keep poor foreign farmers poor. (And that poverty is far worse than anything in America.)

The locavore movement deems it admirable local loyalty to buy your neighbor’s products rather than others. Likewise do many feel that buying something made in China betrays our own kind, whose jobs are being poached – rather than feeling they are actually helping some poor peon in China become a bit less poor. (Why else would Chinese peons flock to these “sweatshop” jobs?)

Carl Reiner with Mel Brooks as the 2000 year old man

Thus I find the whole locavore and anti-globalist attitude small-minded and ugly. Its tribalism reminds me of Mel Brooks as the “2000 Year Old Man” recalling how cave-dwellers invented national anthems. This (in full; sanitized version) was his:

Hooray for Cave 73!
Everybody else can go to Hell!

It also reminds me of the Biblical injunction, “Love thy neighbor” – which was meant literally, applying only to your own tribe-mates. All other people could be freely slaughtered (as God himself often commanded). Yuck.

The rise of an integrated, globalized world economy is beneficial, for both people and the environment. It’s good when a car’s parts come from 18 different nations. Promoting production in the places where it’s most efficient makes more and better goods available to more people, with actually smaller environmental impacts. And, by enabling more people to participate in the global economy, and to benefit from the resulting efficiencies, it gives the average world citizen a better quality of life.

Sure it’s imperfect and there are downsides; some lose jobs or pay; but the gains of the winners – people in rising nations, as well as consumers everywhere – are vastly greater. Globalization reduces world poverty. Period.

It also helps to overcome the Cave 73 (and Biblical) mentality. Adam Smith commented that an Englishman who’d suffer torments about the loss of his little finger would sleep like a babe after the earthquake deaths of a million Chinese – because he did not know them. Well, today, because of globalization, we do know them. It is making for a world in which we not only trade with each other more, but understand each other better, trust each other more, care about each other more, and help each other more. To me that’s a better world.

Think globally. Act globally. Eat globally. Rise up from Cave 73.