A global potluck

For those who oppose globalization, one of the biggest concerns associated with the concept is Westernization, or worse– Americanization. One of the arguments that seems to surface every time the dirty G-word is mentioned is the hell that will ensue if globalization continues and every city in the world has a McDonald’s at one end of the street, a Starbucks at the other and a Gap sandwiched in between.

Although I almost like the idea of being able to get a Frappucino, a Big Mac and a cute cable knit sweater without travelling more than a block, I can see how there would be objections to the idea of transforming every city into Anytown, USA. However, this sort of large scale homogenization is unlikely to occur.

Each city and town will always retain its unique flavour, no matter how many American owned storefronts line its streets. More importantly, the integration of American culture is being looked at from a one-sided perspective all too typical in the western world.

Our culture is being integrated into the lives of other countries and cities because it has something to offer that people accept and support with their wallets. Are we so egocentric to think those half a world away have nothing to offer in return?

We only have to look at our own culture to see how other customs, foods and fashions have become a part of our daily lives. Why is it a cause for concern that McDonald’s is in almost every major developed city in the world when you can also find Chinese food, a nice Greek souvlaki or a romantic Italian restaurant a stone’s throw away?

Globalization is a concept that goes both ways. We have taken little bits of other cultures as surely as they have taken ours.

Remember the henna fad a few years back? The huge popularity of Chinese herbal remedies like acupuncture and decorating ideas like Feng Shui? The male readers out there will have thanked the Brazilians at least once for their unique (and incredibly painful) contribution to female grooming, while the females among us have cursed the Germans at least once for inflicting the all-too-skimpy male Speedo upon us.

This is a simplification of a much larger problem, but it illustrates something that needs to be understood. Globalization, with all its positives and negatives, goes both ways.

It hurts everyone involved when jobs are contracted overseas with cheaper labour, those forced to work for pennies a day in sweatshops and those in the Global North who lose their jobs because minimum wage isn’t quite minimal enough.

On the flip side, it also benefits us all when the lines of technology and trade allow insight into countries which may otherwise remain closed to Western interest.

This isn’t a zero-sum game we’re playing. Progress is inevitable and an isolationist foreign policy results in a backwards state unable to provide the latest in care and commodities to its citizens. There are definite problems with the concept and the way it’s being carried out today.

I don’t think anyone–except those who carefully watch the bottom line–approves of child labour or the cyclical nature of exploitation which seems to be occurring in the Global South. The theory itself, however, has a solid foundation and, if executed in the right way, will result in a basically positive outcome.

The smaller the world gets, the closer we will feel to those being exploited and the more likely and willing we will be to give them aid. No one should forget that in capitalist countries we vote with our wallets. What is fiscally unprofitable will eventually be replaced.

Ergo and henceforth, if it becomes unprofitable for major companies to use cheap child labour because of product boycotts in the West, I would wager the tiny amount left in my bank account that the conditions for many Indonesian and Malaysian children would improve exponentially.

Reach deep into your memory and pull out the grade eight concepts of supply and demand, because they’re the processes by which our society functions. By choosing to spend or save you have the power to influence the market and therefore the multinational corporations and make a difference in the way they carry out their relations.

Perhaps things will eventually change and the G-word will be safe to say aloud.

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