There is a line from an old Simon and Garfunkel song called The Boxer (supposedly about Bob Dylan) that has forever stuck in my head: “…a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.” There are many versions of this popular truth in use, such as “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or “The world is as we see it,” or perhaps even Descartes’ philosophical koan, “I think, therefore I am.” (Although I have always thought that this made more sense in reverse: “I am, therefore I think.”) They all suggest that truth, rather than being a fixed commodity, is created by the way we think about and perceive things.
The reason I bring this up is because Claudia, the editor of The Source, recently sent me a piece from the International Herald Tribune (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/25/opinion/edamelio.php) which contradicts the economic world view that most of us probably have at the moment due to the collapsing dollar, high oil prices, and the dramatic surge in our cost of living. The article, entitled “Interconnected We Prosper’, is by William J. Amelio, chief executive of Lenovo, one of the world’s largest personal computer manufacturers. In it he reports a surprising conclusion by The World Bank that “poverty is receding at a rate unsurpassed in history.” Apparently some 407 million Chinese citizens rose out of poverty between 1990 and 2004—roughly one third of the entire population of the most populous country on the planet and almost twice the World Bank’s previous estimate. Rather than fearing this will take away from our own standard of living, Amelio suggests that, instead, “This is cause for global celebration: The world's riches are being opened to all of its citizens, who in turn are contributing new value and advances that will propel the world economy to greater heights of shared prosperity.”
According to Amelio the reason for this unprecedented rise in prosperity is the flow of information across national borders and the interconnectivity being created by web technology, which he calls “Global 2.0”. Globalization initially, he says, meant the West retooling the rest of the world in order to provide cheap labor for its products. Now it is binding the world together into a truly global economy where prosperity reaches everyone not just the privileged few, and he believes that “the power of the emerging dreamers, thinkers, tinkerers and innovators worldwide have only just now begun to transform our world”.
John McCain’s friend and economic advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm, was recently widely criticized for saying that the current downturn is all in people’s minds and that everyone should stop whining (who needs enemies when you have friends like that?) Of course, he was referring to the fact that he and all his super rich buddies are doing fine so what are y’all complaining about? But he may inadvertently have hit a kernel of truth.
Perhaps, as Amelio says, things are better than we think, but in order to appreciate this we need to change our perspective and become a little less self-centered about our assessment of how we are doing. In today’s highly mobile world, national, cultural and racial boundaries mean a lot less. The old adage “The world is my family” is becoming truer every day. In the West, we have had a great run of prosperity and material comfort, often at the cost of other less privileged peoples. Maybe now it is time to open our hearts and minds (and wallets) and share our wealth with the rest of the world.
Rather than worrying about what we may lose as other nations rise in prosperity, maybe we should be looking forward to what we all may gain together.