Saturday, March 10, 2012

The third wave of globalisation

World advantageThe Institute for Public Policy Research, a progressive UK think-tank, issued a report last week describing how Britain should shape it’s future economy.  It’s interesting reading, and the recommendations probably apply to most 1st-world economies.

Globalisation is the ongoing process by which territorial boundaries and national states lose their hold over economy, politics, and culture.  Luke Martell reviewed the various intellectual camps, ranging from hyperglobalists (States wither away because the movement of money, technology, and media can’t be controlled by political institutions) to global skeptics (National identities have a history and a hold on the popular imagination that global identities cannot replace, even though global products and ideas seep in).  But they disagree only about the pace of change, not it’s influence on modern life.

Nor is there much disagreement that the process has been socially disruptive, in at least four areas:

  1. There is a strong correlation between trade and growth,  trade alone is not enough to guarantee growth.
  2. Trade encourages productivity and drives technological innovation, but also leads to job losses and wage decline.
  3. Globally, trade lifts millions of people out of poverty and reduces global inequality, but locally it leads to increased inequality.
  4. Capital market liberalisation and short-term investment flows can spread risks arbitrage, allocate goods and spur investment, but also cause instability that causes deep global recessions.

The IPPR report notes that globalization and it’s attendant disruption is not new.  The first wave was the voyages of exploration and the rise of merchant states like the Dutch, Portuguese in the 15th-17th centuries.  The second wave was the rise of global military and economic powers, the British and Americans, in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The third wave will see the emergence of emerging markets, like the much-hyped BRICs (Brazil,Russia, India, China) feeding consumer markets in the established economies.

Economies can’t just consume, though: they must create something that other’s want in order to thrive.  The report returns to Porter’s ideas of competitive advantage and suggests that their relative advantages in the third wave parse out like this:

UK comparativeadvantage

Their conclusion is As a relatively highly-skilled medium-sized economy with a comparative advantage in a number of high-value sectors, the UK has the potential to benefit significantly from deep integration with the global economy. In sectors such as financial and business services, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, education and health services, green technology, hi-tech and electronic industries and tourism, increasing global demand can help create jobs and opportunities in the UK.

But, while  Europe can compete in the upper right, the clear winners will lie to the lower right. And, although I agree with the analysis, this is where the recommendations falter a bit.  Is the future really just fashion and music?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Are liberals tolerant?

bradfordAfter a hard day, I zoned out with Channel 4’s Make Bradford British last night.  It’s a simple premise: go to a town with deeply divided ethnic communities (in this case, Bradford, England), select one strident representative from each major group, and lock them up together in each other’s houses for a few days.  Add cameras; hope for conflict.

It’s low-quality fare, edited to heighten the narratives and calculated to tweak viewer’s prejudices.  Still, there were some interesting takeaways beneath it all.

Self-proclaimed liberal Maura was paired with middle-eastern traditionalist Mohammed.  Within a day, the two had humiliated one another and Mohammed left the house, then the show.  The flash point was Maura’s insistence that he should share the housework with his wife, to the point of putting Mohammed into an apron for encouragement. “Some behaviors are just unacceptable,” she shrugged.

Is that a liberal attitude?

I would have said that liberals are, by definition, more tolerant than conservatives.  (Take the Dutch: famously liberal, actively tolerant.)  But if women are being cast into limited roles, children kept out of school, daughters placed into arranged marriages, all based on religion and tradition, would I be tolerant?

No, I would feel strongly that there should be fairness and equality, opportunity and compassion.  I might, indeed, be moved to intervene to achieve that.

The bright lines are still there, we are just differently intolerant?  Disturbing thought.

test resultEqually troubling was the show’s dogged insistence on everyone “Being British”.  In some sense, isn’t that jut replacing one ethnic identity with another?  Why not “becoming a community” or “understanding one another as people”?  I tried juxtaposing the show’s themes onto neighborhoods in Chicago: would there (could there) have been the same emphasis on finding common ground as Americans?

I think that we interpret the melting pot in a different way, traditions blending and strengthening, rather than being subsumed to some dominant identity.

But, especially given the tenor of politics these days, I may be idealistic: tolerance doesn’t’ seem to work as easily in the US or the Netherlands as it once did.

Honestly, the next night I went to hear a folk singer instead.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mr. China

Mr China  After the first few visits, they start to feel more in tune and experience the first stirrings of a fatal ambition: the secret hope of becoming the “Mr China” of their time, the Old China Hand with the inside track in the Middle Kingdom. ..

But, in the end, it’s an illusion.

The book is Mr. China, an account of trying to open China to Western business in the early 90’s.  It’s a period piece, at the cusp of China’s opening to the West when tradition and Maoism still juxtaposed with ambition and capitalism.  It’s also an expat tale, relating how Tim Clissold, Cambridge trained in physics and London apprenticed in finance, spent two lonely years studying Mandarin in Beijing before joining a private equity team eager to modernize the Chinese. His story captures both the difficulty of understanding a foreign society around him (but not really) and trying to bridge it back to his own countrymen (but not successfully).  It highlights the challenges and contradictions of expatriate life; the difficulties of leveraging expatriate experiences.

When I left the Corporate Parent, I thought I had it all figured out: I understood the Dutch, how the system worked, how to live on my own.  I was ready to bring overlooked Dutch expertise, underappreciated Dutch markets, to na├»ve US businesses.  I was ready to be Mr. Netherlands.

I was wrong.  Of course.

I understood, perhaps, 10% of what I needed to know to live in the Netherlands and to do business there.  It was harder to create, finance, and build a business across cultures than I could have imagined.  Today, three years later, I’m well up the curve but far from being an insider.  I’ve made my way, found a niche, grown in the role but, humbler, I know the illusions.

Someone once asked me how long it took before I stopped feeling like an expat. “About two years,” I suggested.  I can’t believe you get jaded that quickly!  But two years was the time that it took to feel comfortable in, and part of, the neighborhood.  After two years, I know where to find things, the words to describe what I want: the merchants and I smile and know one another.  If I reflect a moment, I do still marvel at being part of it. If I step out of my neighborhood, I can still get lost and surprised.   But today I do feel, generally, like I fit in.

And maybe becoming an insider in my own mind is as close to being Mr. Insider as any expat ever becomes.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

…and back to Europe (and more snow)

I’m starting to think that I am dragging the bad weather around with me.

It was an uneventful flight back to Heathrow, early morning out of Seattle, early morning arrival into London, with a 3-hour layover in New York.  I was traveling much lighter this time, fewer laptops, fewer gifts,after dropping everything off at the clinic and into the mail. It makes dragging through the Tube stairways easier, although I still tend to set both bags down, eyeball the flight of stairs, sigh deeply before I grab handles, left and right, and start the climb.

The week felt more rushed than usual.  In part, I’m used to being 8 hours ahead of everyone in the US; this week I was 8 hours behind everyone in Europe.  So I’d wake up to find the Dutch finishing their day, the British midway through.  Phone calls would have to be done by 8 am, when Maastricht called it a day: I couldn’t get up early enough to keep up.

Still, we accomplished a lot.  Dave and I spent two days preparing for the start of the clinical trial, revising protocol documents, securing approvals from Quorum, practicing electrode positioning.  By Thursday, we were ready to engage with RCRC to start enrollment.  Our study nurse picked up the techniques and protocols quickly, and we enrolled our first two patients that afternoon.  The ABS prototype performed flawlessly, the data quality was excellent: we’re off to a great start on this phase of the project.

It was very good to get some time with family and friends as well.  The political circus of the Republican primary didn’t seem as deafening from within the US as it seems from outside.  Maybe the only US news that makes it into European papers is the more outlandish stuff, Santorum’s ranting, war with Iran, mortgage meltdowns, religious extremis, the 1% divide.  The US media takes a more measured view, apart from the extremes of Fox and MSNBC.  In fact, there’s a sense of optimism, like the economy and jobs situation has turned a corner and life is improving again.  It’s not a sense that the Europeans have of America (or, indeed, of themselves).

Unfortunately, it was a bad week for the Dutch practice.  I’m finding that I have about two discretionary hours each day.  It can do my “daily Dutch”, but if I go to exercise (which I’ve done all week), then there’s no time for language training.  The blog and letters to friends also compete for that same window.  Multitasking, reading the FD on the exercise bike, doesn’t work well: productivity on both tasks falls off sharply.

The week ahead looks challenging: two full days of class activity at Cambridge, investor meetings for CamStent to closed the funding round ahead of the Board meeting, analysis of the data starting to flow in from Seattle, billing and invoices, end-of-the-month accounting.

And jet lag.  And, by the look of the skies and the sleet on my windshield, more snow.