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Monday, April 28, 2008
Closing of global mind bodes ill for future of globalization
By NORIKO HAMA
"The Closing of the American Mind" is a book that no doubt many readers will be familiar with. As an indictment of higher education and the corrosion of the intellect in 1980s America, this book caused a sensation and earned well deserved acclaim. I am reminded of this title because we seem to be suffering from something of a closing of the global mind these days.
The J-Power versus TCI incident has shown where the Japanese government's mind lies regarding inward foreign investments. For all the declarations of the need for greater openness toward incoming investments, the shutters come down all too easily when things like electric power are at stake.
To be sure, protecting electric power from foreign intrusion probably has greater legitimacy than shutting foreign investors out of yogurt production. And Japan is certainly not alone in coming to the defense of its industries in the name of national security. That said, though, it is a pity neither J-Power nor the government had the guts to meet activists head to head in the business arena.
Divide and rule may be the maxim when in pursuit of military supremacy, but include and rule may prove to be just as effective, if not more so, when the battle ground is the global economy.
After all, outsiders can be as nasty and dangerous as they like so long as they remain outsiders. Consider TCI's parting shot at J-Power, saying all investors had better stay away from Japan until it gets its corporate governance in order. Had TCI been invited to join the club, it would have had to play by the rules and both J-Power and the government would have been able to keep an eye on where its activist mind was likely to go.
It is a sign of weakness to close the gates whenever potential enemies appear on the horizon. Who knows, they may be talked into becoming friendly insiders yet.
While the Japanese mind closes itself against incoming investments, food-growing countries are closing their gateways to outgoing shipments. Supply shortages and rampant price increases have driven many farming countries to impose export restrictions on their crops. Their concern is an understandable one. When it comes to a question of looming food shortages, people cannot be blamed for wanting to hoard. Yet what is globalization supposed to be all about if a siege mentality is allowed to reign supreme the minute something goes wrong with supply and demand?
The closing of the food growers' gates has prompted Japan to go in panicky pursuit of greater food self-sufficiency. Again an understandable reaction. But again, piteously defeatist.
Of course food security is a basic concern. Always has, always will be. But in a globalized world, is there not a more clever way to share and share alike among the global market's participants? Is there no way in which Japan can become such a vital part of the food growers' economies and, indeed, their minds, so that there will always be somebody willing to keep their warehouses open to sustain us in an emergency?
What is the point of living in a globalized world if everybody retreats into their separate bunkers when the chips are down and trouble threatens to erupt?
As naive as all this may sound, it is nonetheless a point that our minds need to address. Otherwise, the closing of the global mind will very quickly become a reality rather than a threat. That would be rather frightening.
The global jungle may be a fearsome place, but it is still better than a global desert devoid of all human contact. Don't you think? Would you mind?
Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.