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Globalization, 30,000 feet!

March 10, 2006 10:16 IST

Let me take you back to early 1993 for a moment. I was in my 3rd year of engineering programme and, like everyone else, I too was pondering on my next course of action. Surely GRE, GATE and CAT exams were in my mind.

I still vividly remember it was a pleasant morning in Bangalore. On my way to college, I was involved in one of those usual traffic light conversations with a friend of mine who was senior at college. Believe me; Bangalore traffic wasn't that bad then. He mentioned that he had an offer of Rs 10,000 per month from Infosys. Incidentally, this was the first time I heard the name 'Infosys.'

I asked him again: "Rs 10,000 per month?" He reconfirmed, "Yes, Rs 10,000 per month." I thought to myself, Infosys must be in some kind of a shady business to offer such a ridiculous salary or that my friend was flat out lying.

However, over the next few weeks, I not only realised that my friend was being truthful but such high salary offers were turning out to be a norm. And here I was still thinking about my next course of action.

Sure enough, my GRE, GATE and CAT plans were temporarily on hold and I set out with a new agenda -- 'A Rs-10,000-per-month job.' This was my humble beginning to a global world that would change my life forever.

Now let's fast forward to 2006. Today, India Inc is gaining more momentum than ever before. Jobs are a-plenty in the service sector and starting median salaries have doubled or tripled from a decade ago. The salary gap with the West is closing fast.

On the other end, the government is addressing concerns with respect to infrastructure and all-inclusive growth -- i.e. to include other industry segments such as agriculture and retail in this success story. In the meantime, debate is going on at the World Trade Organisation with respect to opening up the markets to more countries. Each country is playing its game to what suits best for its people.

For instance, if India opened its markets in retail we would see our old 'mom and pop' shops give way to big multinational retail shops but at the same time giving consumers access to high quality and competitively priced products. It's a delicate balance and trust me this is not going to be an easy ride.

Families who aren't prepared for this change will be put through tremendous hardship as the western world is going thru now. The government wouldn't be able to support a mass segment financially on a sustainable basis. They will let you ride the roller coaster!

Now let's move to the western world, where the action begins. A day doesn't go by without the mention of job (manufacturing and service) outsourcing. Outsourcing is not only an important economic topic but a political one as well. Traditionally, only blue-collar jobs have been outsourced and with less pain.

But lately, service sector and white-collar jobs are being outsourced too. This is happening at a time when global economy is weak and rich nations are laying off jobs without much thought to the new unemployed force. A layman from a host country sees only hardship and no benefits from outsourcing.

Let's step back and ask ourselves a set of questions. In simple terms, what is happening to this world? And where are we headed? Is this as fancy as the dot-com bust but on a massive scale?

To answer these questions, one needs to understand the purpose of globalization and the challenges before it. I call it 'Globalization, 30,000 feet' -- a metaphor that enabled me to analyze the world from a global (higher) perspective with no emotions attached.

Globalization doesn't mean one rich nation and one poor nation; it's about one rich planet where everyone gets to play a role in wealth creation. It's about allocating the world resources efficiently and maximizing our materialistic wealth.

Unfortunately, that remains a distant dream. The reality is that we're still divided as rich and poor nations. The question remains how to transition from poor to rich to richer.

For that dream to come true, resources across the world need to be allocated efficiently. There needs to be shift in balance in the way, what and where we work. Either outsourcing or import of workers is just one stepping-stone.

Both have its implications in our endeavour to have a free flow of goods, capital and labor across the globe. However, the shift in balance doesn't come without any pain. The challenge in front of us is: Can we really mitigate that pain?

You see, as human

beings, we constantly think of ways to improve our lives in terms of standard of living. Your forefathers only wished for faster transportation. But yesterday, you flew in a fast plane. Tomorrow, you will wish if you could travel faster than a plane. The day-after, you wish if you could travel with a click of a button.

In other words, as human beings we challenge ourselves continuously and at the same time we are naturally inquisitive. It's this combination that enables us to move up the value chain or improve our standards of living. Some call it 'innovation,' others dub it 'discovery.' To me, it's just about improving the standards of living. No matter whether you call your society a state, country or continent, the goal still remains the same: improving the standards of living.

Unfortunately, this is when the complexity begins. To improve one's standard of living, one needs to work hard and not be complacent. This is for our self-interest. Moreover, education and training will need to be revitalized.

Remember, when blue-collar jobs were being outsourced, there was no hue and cry. This was because we were able to move up the value chain. But now the white-collar jobs are being targeted, we feel the pinch. Had training or education been a continuous process, we wouldn't have had to face this situation. We chose not to upgrade ourselves. We chose to be complacent with our current achievements. We chose to ignore global changes.

Then to the mix, add one more layer of complexity -- differences in culture, religion, monetary system, government, legal system, business practices, language and so on.

With these challenges, we're neither a global world nor an independent one. We're at a junction where everyone is questioning destiny. They see only violence, poverty, sadness and uncertainty everywhere. They ignore the bright side. Countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Singapore, and many others are on the world economic map today. Many are enjoying the prosperity and more are joining in everyday.

Ideally speaking, the transition to a global world would have been much easier had we had the same foundation to begin with and jobs distributed based upon comparative advantage. Thereafter, the only remaining challenge is the mobility of work force based upon the demand of a skill-set.

All right! I know it's overwhelming and I know you're tired. And yes, some have already given up globalization for these reasons. The symptoms can be seen in terrorism, regional conflicts, and anti-global government policies. But, for a moment, just imagine the bright side of globalization. A world where there is no poverty or sadness or violence. Children around the world are healthy and playing.

Moreover, imagine no more national or international boundaries. You're free to travel where you want, live where you want, work where you want -- the birthright you're entitled. Won't that be amazing? It's all global. The definition of a country and patriotism will not the same anymore.

The Euro economic union story is a good beginning but not the end. We chose the global route because all other available routes failed. It's worth the risk. For me, it all started with that Rs-10,000-per-month job.

I leave you with this thought from a famous philosopher and economist Adam Smith:

"Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.'

'Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

The author is an MBA from Wake Forest University and currently works as a financial analyst for Wachovia. The views here are personal.

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Ram Nanduri