Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Elevator Speech #3--Globalization can be good AND bad

Producer vs. Predator globalism

There is probably no intellectual concept that scares people more than the subject of globalism—the idea that large international institutions both public (example, the United Nations) and private (example, Goldman Sachs) can make decisions that affect their lives in powerful and often negative ways.  People SHOULD fear such concentrations of power—even when they are absolutely necessary (example, coordination of atmospheric pollution standards.)  But fear cannot be allowed to impede actions necessary for the survival of humans on the planet.  So the question becomes—are there good and bad forms of globalization?  And if there are both kinds—how do we know the difference?

The Producer forms of globalization happen when people of good will decide to cooperate across international borders to solve a problem that cannot be solved alone.  The international agencies dedicated to weather forecasting and international air traffic control are excellent examples of the hundreds of similar sorts of agencies that do critically important work every day.  When globalization is defended, it is these people and their work that gets trotted out as positive examples.

The problem is that the same tools of cooperation that work so well in weather forecasting turn extremely sinister when they are used to benefit a tiny minority at the expense of the rest of us.  Dangerous Predator global institutions include the Bank for International Settlements, The International Monetary Fund, and the yearly gathering in Davos.  The number of people who actually benefit from such institutions is tiny while their victims can number in the billions of people.  And there is no part of planet earth isn't terrified of these organizations because they have had unpleasant dealings with them.

So while the international efforts that benefit us all should be encouraged and those that benefit the few should be regulated and watched closely, there is a form of global awareness that we Americans should practice much better.  Let me explain.

One of the really cool things about folks from small countries is how outward-looking they are.  They speak many languages but even better, they view the rest of the world as possible holders of ideas they think they should try.  By contrast, here in USA, there are many, MANY people of all income levels and educations that thoroughly believe one thing "USA is #1 and the rest of the world is scrambling to become just like us."  Anyone who believes they are #1 is probably NOT looking around the world for ideas on how to improve the way we do things.  And even IF the pet slogan had been true in say, 1962, it certainly is no more.  For example, NO ONE is trying to imitate our overpriced, under-performing health care system in 2010.

There is no greater impediment to progress than the mistaken belief that "We're #1."  It is as ignorant as it is arrogant and it keeps us from taking advantage of the experience of others.  Since the problems we face are so grave, it is the height of stupidity to reject the learning of others through pure bigotry.

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