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'WORLD CLASS' SLICK, LIMITED VIEW OF GLOBAL ECONOMY.

Byline: Bruce Griffin Special to the Daily News

Title: "World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy"

Author: Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Data: 416 pages, Simon and Schuster; $25

Our rating: Two stars.

"World Class" rides the new groove in our social hard drive that elaborates how information changes the way we experience the world. Groove gurus have writ large its natural law: Information expands as it's used; information is not resource hungry; information has shrunk the world; information erodes hierarchies; information is shared, not exchanged like a thing in transactions.

Technological innovation and the laws of information are causing tastes the world over to converge. "World Class" author Rosabeth Moss Kanter points out that protected markets dominated by national champions are becoming obsolete, with nearly every industry open to some form of competition from outside. The competition is a world class. Euro Disney competes not with the local traveling carnival but with the sunny Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Kanter has seen the globalization and homogenization of Main Street and the mall, of Kuala Lampur and Spartanburg, S.C. She pronounces it good. World-class Americans desire to put quality first in their purchases, she says, arguing against "Buy American as though it was a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to shop." When her teen-age son goes on "outings with peers" to Rome, Sao Paulo, Manila and Jakarta, they play video games at the local mall, while wearing Levi's and eating McDonald's.

Since the information economy puts a premium on the intellectual resources of concepts, competence and connections, she says the significance of place is usurped by the significance of people.

In fact, intelligent cosmopolitans stay packed and ready to move to where the jobs are. Localism is declasse. Locals gas up the corporate jets and serve ice cream cones to cosmopolitans who accidentally alight in Anytown in their search for world-class action.

Cities, too, must become cosmopolitan and open their boundaries to multinational companies, welcoming foreign investment and trade. Local economies must be directed outward, not inward, to become global. The global economy works in cities through thinkers, makers or traders.

Thinkers specialize in concepts. They gain a competitive edge from continuous innovation. After they've innovated to where no one else is, they have a temporary monopoly with attendant pricing power. Boston is a center of world-class thinkers.

Traders specialize in connections. Miami, for instance, has people and companies with trade skills and knowledge who take advantage of the connection with Latin America. Miami International Airport handles the largest amount of international cargo in the country. International passengers constitute 43 percent of the airport's 35 million passengers, and there is more air service out of Miami to Latin America than from all other U.S. airports combined.

Makers specialize in executional competence, they have world-class skills. Kanter cites the unlikely communities of Spartanburg and Greenville, S.C., where the competence of the workers has produced the most highly diversified foreign investment per capita in the United States.

But, truth be told, globalization brings problems. Global culture is - at this point - if not completely foreign to Americans, not exactly familiar to Asians and Europeans; consequently, it provides shelter to no one. Although Kanter welcomes it, the embrace is arm's length, a quick frisk for facts to support her thesis.

Her claim that the German automaker BMW moved to Spartanburg County because of home-grown competence rings hollow. German craftsmen are certainly world-class in their own right; they also enjoy the world's highest wage and shortest work week. German companies regularly threaten German workers with relocation.

Robert Bosch GmbH got work-hour concessions by showing workers plans for a factory in Scotland that would do their jobs. Daimler-Benz negotiated with France, Britain and the Czech Republic before local workers agreed to limit wage hikes. Daimler-Benz Aerospace has announced plans to close plants and relocate 9,000 jobs outside of Germany. This is not a search for competence.

In "Poverty and Inequality in U.S. Cities," William Goldsmith and Edward Blakely claim that, contrary to Kanter's thesis, "restructuring, international competition, and corporate reorganization have combined to reinforce already segmented labor markets, leading to increased unemployment, nonparticipation, and ultimately, lower earnings."

Not coincidentally, Spartanburg (population 46,000) and Greenville (population 58,000) are small greenbelt cities. Goldsmith and Blakely's studies show that although competence can be a factor, the movement to the suburbs can hinge on everything from the large pool of well-educated, low-wage white women to cheap land, tax breaks and weak unions. The urban core continues to rust.

In a "Working Woman" article detailing Kanter's problems as editor of the Harvard Business Review, Joan Vennochi notes her status as world-class lecturer and highly paid consultant. She quotes fellow Harvard professor and current Secretary of Labor Robert Reich: "She is a font of insight into how the economy actually works rather than how theoreticians say it works."

But consultants, at least those who desire to be highly paid, know how hard it is to stand up in a mahogany board room and present all aspects of the new groove. The downside just won't sell to profit-pressured executives who need to dream, just for a moment, of the pretty pink clouds that drift so very far above the bottom line.

Appropriately, "World Class" is a slick presentation. Although blessed by a prodigious accumulation of data and concepts, it is essentially a consultation that explores only the most visible hemisphere of the globalization phenomenon.

And for all the author's expertise in the actual workings of the information economy, it ignores actual rule No. 1: Nothing is for free.
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 21, 1996
Words:932
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