Image courtesy of Archie McPhee at www.mcphee.com/blog

Snowglobalization

Shake vigorously for best results.

During the mid-90's I worked for a large investment bank (didn’t everybody, one way or another :-) and I remember absorbing the core concepts and intellectual fashions of the industry at that time. I enjoyed learning the mindset. I also remember my first moment of disenchantment with a basic building block of that mindset, which I had until then accepted as dogma: the unquestionable benefits of globalization to the individual.

This discouraging experience came about as I pursued my desire for some new consumer electronic device. I shopped around, but the prices in the country I was living in at the time were disappointingly high. The cost appeared to reflect the collective opinion of a culture which emphasized holding inflation in check rather than in making expensive new toys cheaply available to its citizens. Go figure.

Wait, I thought, what about this whole “globalization” thing I had been hearing about? Where economic advantages are to be had by all as the marketplace transcends national borders? Where consumers are empowered to access better, less expensive products from wherever they may be produced? Being a sophisticated world citizen, I can use the power of the nascent world wide web to find the same or similar product in the US and the reduced purchase price will cover the shipping costs, surely!

Well — no, it would not, not by a long shot. Not only would the shipping costs more than offset the purchase cost savings, but there were customs charges as well, and, hey, the exchange rate isn’t so favorable now, is it? On top of all that, the prices were only offered for shipment in the country of origin, i.e. I could only get the (slightly) better price if I lived in the US. This all did not sound very “global” to me. I would need to have not only the currency of the country on hand, but an address there as well. Harumph!

I bought my little must-have gewgaw locally and life went on, but the sheen of global capitalism in relationship to the individual had been tarnished for me.

Now, many years later, it has been so blackened, for everyone, by the folly and avarice of a small sub-culture of exceptionally greedy and short-sighted men that one need not argue the point at all, one must only refer to the countless examples of manipulation and malfeasance in the market place to make it clear that what was meant by globalization was better understood as snow-globalization. A contrived landscape, sealed off from the outside world, liquid but static, with fierce storms we are to imagine only the quick and brave survive — but which, when you stop shaking it, subside completely, revealing a lifeless fantasy world, not dangerous but dreadfully boring, interesting only seasonally, if at all.

“Shaking it” is what the finance industry calls “product innovation” and what the financial press calls “objective reporting”. It is CDOs and LBOs and capital gains chicanery and off-shoring and inversion and the torrent of inane chatty voyeurism depicting it all as necessary and inevitable. It is any activity which makes the current model look exciting and open and free flowing and the best we can do. But in a world where less than .17% of the population controls or dominantly influences 80% of the wealth, I think most of us will feign our interest in watching the little flakes float around for only so long before it is time to settle.

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