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Sunday, September 1, 2013

My 1st Online Class: EdX, Age of Globalization

This post comes from my first online class at EdX, a free online course offering taught by John Hoberman on Globalization. This is what I think globalization has done at the intersection of my life and times.


When I was born, Mao was still in high regard and control in China. Japan had begun to creep up the ranks of industrialize nations, still lagging, but about to take advantage of the first oil crisis. Europe was still split; not yet the Union that makes for a greater economic power, but also, greater risks enhanced by long existing turmoils still not quite healed. The United States had matured to stand as the superpower that made things; created economic policy in the free world; drove innovation through its consumer-based desires than require at home creation and the virtues of free trade abroad.

By 1978, I was just six - but the world was evolving quickly before my eyes. Cable TV was taking hold in the United States, even as hostages in Iran became a nightly occurrence from my immature viewpoint. Apple and Microsoft, just infant companies, would grow exponentially in my lifetime to reach the pinnacle of business: the stock market's most valuable company. Star Wars and Star Trek projected possibilities too in technology, as video games took off, and by the early 1980s, I plunked quarters aplenty into Ms. Pacman or Defender or Space Invaders. Home systems - Atari platforms - brought technology to a new level for U.S. consumers.

Abroad, Mao was dead. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, cultivated an open economy to undo the damage of 25 years of Maoist tendencies to sacrifice the people willingly for the sake of ideological desires, often to catastrophic results: The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s being but one example. Deng visited the United States in 1979, to discuss primarily, business and creating a way for China to catch up with its neighbor, Japan. Japan was now an industrial power, having built Toyota and Honda from smaller car and motorcycle manufacturers into competitors of the Big Three - GM, Ford, and Chrysler. So well that the oil crisis of 1979, in driving interests rates skyward, had also drove Americans to look at the smaller fuel efficient cars of Japan.

Meanwhile, Chrysler was bailed out on the cusp of Carter's departure and Reagan's entry into the White House almost in mirror to the release of the Iranian hostages as Carter literally left the office. These particular events point to a turn in America's once assured dominance: the faltering of a manufacturing giant; the growth of a WWII rival to supplant them as "innovative" and "successful"; the business leg up given to the backward and Communist-led Chinese. It also reflected a world becoming more connected - as my parents, grandparents, and other relatives saw their checks disappear in the 1981 recession - and Unions and Big Government being blamed for these problems by Free Market Reagan Administration.

The financial and credit boom in America launch one abroad. Money pumped into the financial system, growing technology, computers and the early attempts at connectivity, began to shape a more unified world, global events intertwined. The ease of information and financing created opportunities never seen abroad - investment fuel from Americans leveraging their personal assets, homes and jobs, to garner more credit - created industrial plants in low-labor cost countries, and allowed Americans to believe they were still living the American Dream, for another 25 years. The Wall Street man found a best friend in Reaganomics, and the nerd, in Bill Gates, that would soon underscore the transformation of people's daily lives. By then, I had begun to employ Microsoft products, save files on diskettes, saw the fall of the Berlin Wall opening Europe to a new economic and integrated world. The TV showed a widening world view - MTV colored - and computer offered more chances to reach out and touch people in far flung places.

"Whether a cat is black or white makes no difference. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat." said Deng Xiaoping. He was speaking, at least, to the idea that the political stripes a country has no bearing on the economics of what the country does. His country was still 15 years away from surpassing the Japanese Miracle, when Xiaoping died in 1997. Nevertheless, the vision was there in his mind.
The internet was rising and fueling more speculation and what-ifs than seemingly all the Industrial Age offered before it. My adventures in college led me to employ the internet for dating a woman 1,000 miles from my location. The internet led me to my first post-college job. It, the net, had all the answers, even when the questions were roughly formed - it would still spit out an answer.

By the aughts, A second Bush presidency meant more free money - this time - Americans leveraged up their newly bought homes without equity. The Wall Street barons relied on their Internet Age physicist-created pricing models, and innovative financial products to keep the boom going. The Asia Miracle - including Australia, India, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, China, and now, a struggling Japan - was battling the United States and the European Union for economic rights. Oil and energy, money and technology, food stuffs and water (Africa usually left out, Brazil, Russia, and the Middle East, not completely left behind) formed battle grounds across the globe. Internet connected them together, often by the ebbs and flows of financial trading. A collapse, like the 2007-2008 U.S. housing bubble, triggered a worldwide panic, that only faith in U.S. money, and the printing of it, allayed fears until the next big boom-bust cycle.


At my own home, my mother and aunt shared a home that was refinanced during the bubble. A difficult financial stretch caused an eventual foreclosure. Brain cancer and dementia resulted in my mother's death. My path through corporate America has seen 2 bankrupt businesses (car part maker), a dying industry (newspapers), and a choice to give college another try. This globalizing trek has been exhausting and yet could be potentially beneficial, depending on what day, year, or decade the wave hits your shore, and whether, you are prepared for the outcomes.
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