Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Globalization: a Counterargument based on Love and the Individual

I have always supported globalization, but with caveats--including that the process from old to new not only consider, but protect the ones left behind.  Furthermore, government spending drives much of the modern economy, and its inefficient allocation of tax revenue has created mega-cities, which are easier to control and influence, but which do not necessarily increase individual or marital happiness.  Such inefficient spending almost forces established politicians to focus on larger cities rather than small ones, creating opposition from newer players in smaller cities who feel left behind and who have little incentive to cooperate with existing players.  Somehow, globalization has made it easier for international megacities to cooperate with each other than larger and smaller cities in the same state or country.

Even with this disconnect, why aren't people in developed economies happier? Part of it must be due to the lessening influence of the individual, and the individual's difficulty in actualizing the power of sincere and selfless contribution as cities grow larger.  Another part is more basic--the difficulty of finding compatible relationships.  I recently watched La La Land (2016)--a wonderfully bittersweet movie based in L.A.--and realized yet another issue with prevailing forces in developed economies: people, especially men, must often choose between careers and love.

Why do I focus on men? I suppose it's because women may not necessarily find true love, but they are rarely alone if they choose not to be.  Men who want to be fathers, on the other hand, seem to have resigned themselves to conforming to a world where their productivity and agreeableness are prized over their own self-discovery and needs.  Other men who see their roles diminishing on all fronts have decided they won't go gently into that good night and have found succor within fringe political groups.  Others just opt out.

In short, the 21st century is in danger of becoming a tragedy by forcing most of the most idealistic people to compromise their ideals to fit in or to find companionship.  Interconnectedness is breeding contempt and dissension as more people realize principles matter less than someone else's overall end goal. When individuals are not supreme--even if right--a sense of decency becomes too readily sacrificed on the altar of reasonableness.  Such compromise, if done by fiat, renders the populace prone to rebellion--first in small ways, then in larger ways that finally become too noticeable for the mainstream to ignore. At that point, as if by design, the disenchanted men and women, the ones left behind by forces outside their control, flee to places where they can feel free--or worse, they stay and withdraw.

In La La Land, the Ryan Gosling character drives away his true love and attempts to get her back, only to lose her again.  He ends up successful but alone.  The Emma Stone character ends up successful and married, but not with her true love.  No one has fled anywhere, but the moral seems to be that large cities force people to choose between being broke and idealistic, or settled and compromised.  If this is a reflection of modern love in America, it's time for a change in the economic system, which requires political changes.

Governments are realizing that happiness might not be easily measured in officially reported data, but tax revenue is often driven by whether people feel as if they can achieve their relationship goals in x rather than y city.  Indeed, taxpayers don't need to leave to new countries to disengage--they can simply move to other areas within the same country, up-ending local economic projections drastically, as so many cities--burdened with debt--depend on sales and other taxes requiring constant economic growth or at least a non-declining working population. Those new high rise condos going up in every major city? Who will buy them from existing and secondary owners without a steady influx of younger workers?

Economic projections, once disturbed, require more debt and thus fewer choices, or pit existing players against younger and newer ones, such as immigrants.  Worse yet, taxpayers who don't leave and who stay in areas that don't reflect their values tend to disengage emotionally from others not within their own groups, decreasing the positive impacts of diversity and dooming efforts to create cohesive communities.  Without community, what is the point of working 60 hour weeks or taking out $50,000 in student loans?

How governments interact with each other will determine whether worldwide prosperity is merely academic well-wishing or the next stage of cultural evolution.  Since it's obvious more ideas result from greater rather than less interaction, my wager's already been placed--as have the bets of trillions of investments and debt.  Democratic governments are quickly learning that if they desire to help their citizenry stay in their current globalized trajectory, they cannot ignore the individual, and they cannot talk down to those who do not share their opinions.   To protect continued migration of people and ideas, the future requires empathy as much as productivity.  Which countries will be up to the challenge?  Which ones will win the battle to create a place where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's characters meet, fight, fall in love, and stay together? 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2017)

Bonus: "We are an urban species. Homo urbanis is actively reshaping geopolitics, economics and climate action in the 21st century. And with good reason. While the world’s cities cover just 2% of the earth’s surface, they account for 55% of its population. What’s more, they generate 80% of the world’s GDP and over 90% of its patents. Yet they are also responsible for 75% of all energy consumption and 80% of CO2 emissions." -- from World Economic Forum, Katherine Aguirre from the IgarapĂ© Institute, and others from the Global Parliament of Mayors and C40. 

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