Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Specter of Globalization

One of the single most important books I read in graduate school was Clyde Prestowitz's "Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East." The premise of his book was globalization and the rise in economies of countries in the eastern part of the world. Prestowitz starts the first chapters of the book with some interesting statistics on the United States and its economy. He writes: "Go anywhere in the world and people will tell you how much something costs in dollars and will accept dollars without hesitation. Indeed, Americans have a special privilege in this regard: whereas others must first earn dollars in order to buy oil or wheat or Toyotas on the international market, Americans only need to print more dollars. Of the world's 1,000 largest corporations, 423 are American, and the New York and Nasdaq stock exchanges account for 44 percent of the value of all the stocks in the world. The United States is home to the world's finest universities and the overwhelming majority of its leading research centers, and it spends more on research and development than the next five countries combined. It is quite simply, the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen." Prestowitz's numbers are awe-inspiring. He notes that America is so powerful that globalization had been criticized as a euphemism for Americanization. In plain English globalization is Americanization.

Globalization certainly is a plus for the rest of the developing world. Personal experiences from living in a developing country are such that I cannot deny how beneficial the reach of the developed world into most of China and South East Asia are. The transfer of services to India and most of South East Asia cuts costs for many American companies and provides jobs that promise an increase in earning power. However, when jobs are outsourced the brunt of being newly unemployed weighs heavily and invariably affects the economy of the United States. Globalization is good for the developing world especially but it can be quite annoying if you've experienced first hand the stories I'm about to share.

On a return trip back from England in March one of my suitcases did not make the journey back to Atlanta. My mom and I flew Delta Airlines and upon returning home, we began the pesky task of filing claims and making calls to Delta to retrieve the luggage. The experience was nothing short of nightmarish. The first call I made was routed to Bangladesh I believe. The customer service representative spoke to me from a script during our entire conversation. She could not answer any of the questions I asked that were not on the script. At one point she began reading the long monologue and I had to do all I could in my power to keep from pounding my head on the wall in frustration. We had lost luggage with some important items in it. I had almost three pairs of shoes in the suitcase and all I kept on hearing over and over again was "Madam we are doing everything in our power to recover your suitcase. We understand the stress you are under...!" I almost wanted to scream. If you understood how I felt we wouldn't be having this conversation between man and machine. I was at a loss. I made over twenty call in the frame of three days and finally I spoke to a supervisor in Atlanta. The most frustrating part of this episode was they were reluctant to transfer me to someone in the United States. Besides, we were separated by time zones and that did nothing to alleviate the issue.

Now, that was March. Today I called Sallie Mae to make sure all my student loans were still simmering in the cauldron of deferment. I had a lot of questions to ask and needed to get some good responses. The representative helping me this time was in Bangalore. It was yet another painful experience. I had to literally spell almost every word to him. He was very nice and courteous but his service was not excellent. We had a challenge understanding each other and in the end he referred me back to the website. Sure, with time I'm sure his services will improve but right now, it's not at the level it needs to be at.

I am an immigrant in the United States and would be more than happy to see jobs outsourced to my country. However, when it comes to outsourcing services, right choices have to be made. It's not helpful to the customer and the overall bottom line of any company when rendering a service becomes like pulling teeth because there is a communication barrier. I've become so used to my calls getting routed to Asia that it's now easy to tell when a call is been answered in a county other than the United States. The line is always fuzzy and the person on the other end seems to really be on the "other end." Is this really good for us the customers. Is it really good for the United States and its so-called powerful companies?

I am all for making the world a global village. I envision a world where time and space barriers are no longer as challenging as they used to be. However, corporations in the United States willing to cut costs need to cut costs elsewhere. Services should not be sacrificed in an effort to balance the books because everyone suffers in the end. While it's easy to forgive Sallie Mae and Delta Airlines for outsourcing calls to Southeast Asia, no one takes the cake on stupidity as much as the United States government for considering outsourcing the management of U.S. ports to the U.A.E. With terrorism becoming "the" issue post September 11, considering the U.A.E was preposterous. That was a classic case of globalization+outsourcing gone south. I don't mean to berate developing economies or their bid to get a share of the globalization pie, but when issues of national security and in this case my student loans are at stake something needs to be done.

Prestowitz does not leave readers hanging without a solution. He notes that there is a significant rise in capitalists across the globe. He puts their number at precisely 3 billion. If you need evidence of what is to come and the challenges that the United States faces please watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Now if you don't call that the new frontier I don't know what is. Simply put, the comfortable life and security blanket the American skies have given its citizens may soon have holes the size of giant craters. When this happens, Prestowitz notes that we'll need new leaders who are visionary and have the ability to ride the tide and think outside the box. Until then, this capitalists wants my Sallie Mae loans managed at Sallie Mae's physical address!

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