Thursday, April 15, 2010

Celebrating Diversity

The rise of the global community brings many opportunities and challenges. In the past, community members could communicate with each other, trade with each other, and share a common culture. In the future, communication, trade, and culture will become much more global.

Opportunities for learning will be greater than ever. "Global connectedness" means that we can interact in a way that leads to rapid and positive learning. More information, however, does not necessarily lead to better decisions. Leaders are now hard pressed to make decisions because they have too much information. Hence, editing and accessing relevant information are vital.

We can't assume that instant information will lead to long-term quality of communication. Today television addiction is a huge problem. In the future, media addiction (including the Internet) may well pass drug addiction and alcohol addiction as a social problem.

The advantages of global trade are well known. Increased global competition leads to higher-quality products and services at lower prices. Consumers can have access to an incredible diversity of goods that may have been produced anywhere in the world. Poor countries, which have lower labor costs, can "catch up" by doing labor-intensive work that would cost much more in wealthy countries. As the poor countries become more efficient, they gain the purchasing power to buy more goods and services from the rest of the world. The removal of trade barriers leads to an increasingly efficient market.

While, in theory, global trade will create greater product diversity, in practice it sometimes creates greater homogeneity. The "shopping streets" in major cities around the world now look much the same. They tend to have the same clothing, music, and even food. While the stores may have products from more countries, they are becoming the same products. People worldwide are buying the same global brands that are globally advertised, marketed, and distributed. Another cost of global trade may be an increased lack of loyalty and identification with a larger whole.

Increased access to information means that more cultural opportunities are available to more people. Cultural access leads to a better understanding not only of art or music, but also of people. Repressive regimes that encourage hatred for others restrict the flow of communication. But by communicating with people of diverse backgrounds, we quickly learn that negative ethnic stereotypes are invalid. Open communication can lead to a world where diversity is celebrated and the ethnic hatred and violence is reduced.

While the global culture has great potential benefits, it can also have great costs. People around the world are much more likely to look alike, act alike, and sound alike. We are becoming as concerned with "cultural extinction" as we are today with the extinction of plant and animal species.

Attempts at stopping the flow of communication, trade, or culture may produce short-term successes but are doomed to failure for two reasons:

1) the Internet is global, and so information that is censored in one country will be quickly duplicated in another country; and

2) almost all brilliant young people who are developing new technology believe in the free flow of information, do not like censorship, and are not intimidated by government edict.

Attempts to protect noncompetitive industries or workers produces a short-term benefit but does not stop the development of better and cheaper products. Attempts to force trade restrictions on unwilling partners are destined to fail. Attempts to restrict access to any product often leads to greater desirability.

Life is good.

Marshall

My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

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