Apr 29, 2008

Globalization and cultural convergence

I was at the Trade and Development seminar today at the WTO where the sandwiches were great. Matthias Thoenig was presenting his paper (which is not available online) on how increasing trade flows were reducing the cultural distance between countries. Cultural distance was explained by how differently people were answering questions of the World Values Survey on mutual trust, happiness, religion, and other values that you would want to transfer to your kids, such as respect, tolerance, integrity etc... It stroke me at the end when his conclusion was to control trade because it was destroying cultural differences. Wait a minute.

A convergence of such values was a good thing in my head all along. You can't call the fact that some people are unhappy in certain countries and happy in otehr countries and say that it should remina like that for the sake of culture! Better for it to converge towards happiness. That is human progress. Same thing for mutual trust. It's like saying that countries should stay poor as it is better for tourism!

I would imagine that the worldwide convergence in income be accompanied by a convergence in values. The fact that some countries think it OK to praticse female genital mutilation should not be regarded as a desired cultural difference. Or the fact that you don't want homosexuals as neighbors. As countries become richer, they become more educated and less anti-homosexuals. A convergence in such liberal values is desirable in my opinion. It could save us from a third world war.

And this certainly does not mean that Japanese stop eating sushi, Greeks stop eating Tzattziki and Indians stop watching crazy bollywood dancing over tandoori chicken or that Nigerians stop wearing bubas. It just means that we start accepting each other, or at least understanding and tolerating each other.


Sebastian said...

I agree. In any case does it seem to some extent puzzling to me why eating beans from Egypt rather than Swiss beans could have any impact on my behavior. Yes, maybe - and most likely - trade allows people to escape certain natural constraints in their living environment and thereby allows changing patterns of behavior. But I also thought this is a good thing....In any case lets be serious: Even in the EU, where we might expect convergence to be fastest, do we still see strong national identities and cultural differences. And I do not see them going away in the near future.

T-Viddy said...
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Pierre-Louis said...
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T-Viddy said...

The interaction between trade and cultural differences is quite interesting. Nevertheless I think that there might be some caveats of this study. Data from the World values survey is not the best. I worked with it before and the data provided really depends on the question. Moreover, it would seem to be very difficult to me to actually measure something like cultural values quantitatively.
This aside, I agree with Seb. It seems difficult to believe why international trade would lead to convergence of culture. Even in the case of Macdonalds they have special menus for Vegetarians in India for instance or Halal meat in muslim countries.