Monday, March 27, 2006

Globalization For Hipsters

From Hit and Run, I've come across this very interesting 2003 Reason interview of George Mason economist Tyler Cowen. Seeing as I just lost $20 to a friend on a bet against George Mason, a school which (as they point out at H&R) boasts a long libertarian pedigree, a mention of the article seems in order (apologies for the formatting - my browser is acting up):

http://www.reason.com/0308/cr.ng.really.shtml

Among the many dubious theoretical and empirical bones of contention held by opponents of free trade and globalization, one especially useful for its ambiguity is the complaint that the global growth of capitalism homogenizes all cultures, thereby eviscerating the very idea of culture itself. As the argument runs, global trade, monopolized (naturally) by American corporations, subverts human diversity, forcibly and 'world-historically' gathering up every nation of earth into a Starbucksian new world order in which local custom and tradition is efficiently annihilated. If my characterization of the argument sounds unfairly cartoonish, you probably haven't heard Naomi Klein speak. While I've read some of his other writings, I haven't read this book. His insight about culture's fascinating way of remaining an actually different thing from commerce is as solid as the economics of comparative advantage - an idea equally crucial in understanding globalization's economic component and its cultural component. Trade has the opposite effect on culture than what perennial protesters of the "No Label" variety assert. Few economists would strongly disagree that free trade naturally induces a given country to invest its social energy into producing what it can produce more and better than another country - regardless of that other country's absolute advantage over them economically, socially, or politically. In other words, trade promotes and sustains that which is singular and special in a country's economic system (comparatively speaking). What is different about the exchange of cultural goods? If Singapore is evidence that free trade is a good thing economically, then Bob Marley is evidence that it does wonders for the flourishing of cultural diversity.

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