Today’s big question is…drum roll please… ¿Is globalization good for you? Let’s take the question apart and see what we can learn.
1) What is this globalization thing we’ve been hearing so much about?
2) How precisely do we measure what is good?
3) And who exactly is “you”?
1) So what the heck is globalization?
Well, let’s start by looking for it right here in front of us. What do you see that is global – in other words, it’s not local or even regional, but probably got here from around the world. What do you see right here that is a good example of globalization?
Now let’s look beyond right here and right now.
Think of the most global symbol in the world. Or let me ask you this way: what symbol, sign, logo, or image is the most easily recognized by the most people in the most places in the whole entire world? Is it a Peace sign? Victory symbol? Thumbs up? The American flag? The Red Cross? A dollar bill? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. The best-known symbol in the world is: The Golden Arches - The McDonald’s logo. Would you like fries with that?
The McDonald’s Logo seems like a great way to visualize globalization, which Mr. Google says, “is the tendency of businesses, technologies, people, and philosophies to spread throughout the world. The globalized world is a totally interconnected marketplace, ideaspace, and migration zone, unhampered by time zones or national boundaries.”
You can witness globalization in a McDonald’s in Sarajevo, Istanbul, Venice, Guatemala, and even Nebraska! And let me tell you something, McDonald’s is definitely unhampered by time zones. There is a McDonald’s in every time zone I’ve ever been in. There is no hampering going on. In fact, McDonald’s is so ubiquitous that in my country, the US, you can’t ever be more than 107 miles from a McDonald’s. Ever. So stop trying! So why don’t you guys do a little research: what is the greatest distance you can ever be from a McDonald’s in the entire world! In fact, McDonald’s is so global it’s local and most people in most places think that McDonald’s actually originated in their country. See, didn’t you?
And globalization, of course, is much bigger than just the golden arches. Globalization has been a big part of my own story. When I was 25 I spent a week in the Guatemalan jungle in a tiny town that had Coca-Cola but not running water. When I was 20 I took a 36-hour train ride across the ex-Yugoslavia, speaking Italian to French teenagers, followed by an overnight on “the Magic Bus” from Thessaloniki, Greece to Istanbul, Turkey where after visiting the Blue Mosque I watched the Blues Brothers dubbed into German in a Turkish hotel with a bunch of Australians. And just a few years ago I sang American folks songs as I rode a Toyota Land Cruiser across the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. And I don’t have to leave town to get global. Just recently I double clicked on pictures of my Filipino friend’s Italian drink posted form Buenos Aires on his California designed phone, which was assembled by Chinese workers. And globalization means that just the other day I had a picnic with a Somali friend cloaked in an abaya, talking on her Korean phone to her aunt in Ethiopia, while I played soccer with her German soccer shirt-wearing brothers. Now excuse me for a sec while I dub this video into Esperanto for my Inuit friend in New Zealand.
So think about it a second: what was your most global moment?
And unless you are Amish or live under a rock, you’ve probably got one because it’s super hard to keep globalization out of your life. It’s difficult to stop the Mc’Googleazonbucksapplecolaicazation of the world.
So now that we know what globalization is, let’s get back to today’s big question: Is globalization good for you?
2) Is it good?
In one way, these are the best times to have lived in the entire history of the world. EVER. On average, in our 200,000 years of human existence, we humans have never lived longer, had more wealth, leisure, or choices of breakfast cereal. In fact, if history started to run in reverse I think that most of us would be seriously disgruntled by our shorter lives, lack of choice in hair products, and zero time to post photos of our lunch. What do you think you’d most miss?
Imagine a time machine that only went backwards. Ding. 986 AD. We’ve arrived. Life expectancy: 35; chance of surviving infancy: low; methods of anesthesia: rock; tooth paste quantity: nil. The time machine model I plan to purchase will only go in one direction: forward so that each stop will leave me more thoroughly gruntled!
Life expectancy is probably about the best measures of a good life. And it’s very clear what’s happened to life expectancy.
That is one tall mountain of life expectancy we’ve just climbed, y’all. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta. For millennia, we were in the baby pool of life-spans, and life expectancy didn’t move a millimeter, until all of a sudden, very recently, it went up, up, up, up, up, and now it’s adult swim, baby! If you look back over your shoulder into the past, it’s a long way down the mountain of life. And if you were driving a time machine, you would definitely want to keep moving into the future. Luckily for us, our own personal time machines called, life moves in only one direction.
Even if we zoom in on life expectancy in the US just over the past century we’ll see something remarkable...
Just to personalize these numbers, my grandfather, was born in 1900, my son in 2003. Over little more than 100 years, this country has had a near doubling of life expectancy! I mean, back in the day, a twelfth grader would have been a senior in more than one way! That nasty dip in 1918, by the way, what do you think that was about? Why don’t you look up this little reminder that – two steps forward, one-step back.
But there is this downside of all this living we’re doing. With humans living longer than ever before, we have more time to kill each other, abuse drugs, get depressed, and to pollute, abuse, and destroy our one and only planet. And there’s also just too damn many of us, and we’ve become so successful at eating that for the first time in the history of history, there are more overweight than underweight people in the world! This planet is supersizing so quickly it’ll soon be the McDonald’s of the Milky Way. Would you like fries with that?
Another fun way to measure how we’re doing is to look at GDP – or basically our economic health and wealth. How are we doing there?
Fun fact: we’re rich as hell! The GDP curve is about as vertical as the population curve – it’s downright Alpine!
And both curves started to go up at around the same time. Wow! Why’s that, you might ask! Hell if I know. Go ask your history teacher. Tell them you’ll give them extra credit. But we’re not done; obviously we’ve gotten filthy rich in just the past few centuries, but is richer always better? Some of the richest people I know are miserable and some of the poorest people I’ve ever known are blissfully happy. Maybe they need to meet each other! And don’t ever forget that very often, one person’s wealth comes on the back of someone else. So???? Is globalization good?
Besides the quantity of life, we’d be wise to measure the quality of that life, so let’s look at happiness surveys, that measure incidents of depression, levels of violence, rates of suicide, anxiety levels, and general happiness. I wish I could tell you that in 1324 as Mansa Musa embarked upon his Haj to Mecca that he stopped along the way with his coterie of statisticians and demographers. That, almost certainly didn’t happen, because for almost all of human history, we were so poor and so busy trying to get enough calories to stay alive that there was basically only one job: farmer.
A pollster steps out of his time machine. “Hey, what kind of work do you do?” “I’m a farmer.” “No way.” And you, what kind of work do you do?” “Farmer.” “No way!” “And what about you, what kind of job do you have?” “Farmer.” “And you, what field are you in?” “Alfalfa.”
Thanks to our technological innovations, by the last half of the last century we were good enough at feeding ourselves that we had the time and money to invent other jobs: like pollster. What do you think is one job that we have today that definitely didn’t exist in 1324?
So in 1972, the General Social Survey started asking people really detailed questions about the quality of their lives. And here are some things they’ve found about our happiness:
Over the past half-century or so, there seems to be an inverse relationship between wealth and satisfaction. During the time of the greatest increase of material wealth in the richest country in the entire history of the world – just when globalization really starts to kick in – we find a huge increase in levels of depression, anxiety, and drug (legal and illegal) use. So you be the judge and tell me: is globalization good? Put your answers in the comments section below.
3) And finally, for whom is it good?
Remember, how things are depends on whom you ask. Ask a billionaire and a homeless person how the economy is and you’ll get two different answers. While those of us who live in wealthy countries can expect to live into our 80s, in some poor countries life expectancy is actually declining. And while there are more billionaires than ever before, there are also more poor people than at any time in history. So for some, life is great, while for others it most certainly isn’t! Sure globalization is pretty great for the Russian oligarch on his 128-foot yacht, but what about that poor guy living in the slums of Nairobi? Or even the guy delivering pizza in Toledo in his mom’s ratchet Chevy Nova (translate that to Spanish), and living without health care and seeing all his friends posting the all-time most gorgeous pictures of their shoes on Instagram? And since not everybody is either a billionaire or homeless, we really need to ask how good globalization is for the average person.
So we just made things complicated. Now you do the math, add it up, answer my big question, ask lots of questions of your own, then come to your own conclusions. After we’ve gone through some exercises, grappled with lots of questions and data, and done the heavy lifting of inquiry, then we’ll get back together so you can tell me your answer: Is globalization good for you?
Until then, have fun stormin' the castle!