The way of the world

The threat of globalization is not that it raises expectations of us too high, but that we may give up trying to compete in this world and set our standards too low.

Russia's first McDonald's opened in Moscow in 1990, with a lot of positive coverage and commentary about the inevitability of commerce and personal choices to open doors, smooth international tensions, etc. Everyone seemed to be encouraged that an ordinary activity like eating lunch could be so significant, and the happy crowds seemed to be a vision of what "globalization" was meant to be.

Recently, a survey of McDonalds' patrons worldwide found that most of these people find the predictable atmosphere and recognizable food to be a relief from the unknown surroundings and unpredictable selections. That revelation might further inflame the angry mobs that smash and trash McDonald's to convey their "anti-imperialist," or other simplistic messages.

This isn't a comment on McDonald's, but it is a good way to illustrate my belief that "globalization" (and similar terms) has become the explanation or justification for every change, good or bad, in our lives. If a movie is a hit, it's because of global ticket sales. But, if a plant closes, it's because of global competition. This doesn't tell us much about how good the movie is, or the products of the plant. What does it tell us about the global market? Should we accept changes just because "globalization" makes them inevitable, or try to preserve some things for the sake of national, or corporate, or personal standards?

Before resolving that, think about what it means to be "globalized." Everything is linked. Inquiries and responses, payments and purchases are made instantly. Information flows and production never stops. With satellite and cellular technology you can buy from, or sell to, anywhere.

Now, think about all that's required in order to satisfy global standards. Responses must be made promptly. Market demand must be served. Quality must be certified, and costs must be contained. No one is unavailable, ever. Security must be verified over and over again. Passwords must be supplied, and access must be verified. It's possible to feel both the anger of those anti-globalists who sense that too much change is being forced on them, and the exhaustion of those travelers who just want to escape the stress.

If this too abstract for you, consider the effects of the global market on forging operations. Raw materials suppliers, competing producers, and buyers of forgings are located all around the world. As such, issues of price, availability, scheduling, and delivery are more critical to the success of the operation than they are in a regional or national market. But, trade laws have less influence as suppliers and customers adopt global standards and organizations.

Also, forgers and other manufacturers are increasingly the object of global investment strategies. This means that performances are measured against a global standard set by low-cost operations and advanced high-tech systems, regardless of the actual circumstances at work. It is more difficult to prove the value of something, not because the value has changed but because the metrics have changed.

So, the dilemma isn't whether we should resist globalization, or give in to it.

The threat of globalization is not that it raises expectations of us too high, but that we may give up trying to compete in this world and set our standards too low.

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