Monday, October 29, 2007

Finding the Next Multinational Neighborhood

by Denis Rhoden, GIS demographic specialist for the Kirwan Institute

Recent posts on the KI blog and articles in cyberspace that I have read devote a considerable amount of attention to the complexity of racial diversity in America. Diversity, in its racial connotation, has a psychological, social and strategic lens, and is used by academics politicians, businesses, institutions and individuals. In a multinational context, we may be missing the point. I believe the efforts to include more perspectives, experiences and education, both formal and informal, is a pillar for future society. With this in mind I ask readers: how well prepared are American citizens to take up a role in a multinational society? Have years of good fortune developed a success bias among all Americans particularly the middle and upper income groups? What implications does this have for our neighborhoods’ competitiveness and quality of life in global terms moving forward?

I will not bore you with many statistics or anecdotes, but I think that these are particularly important in making the case for pursuing multinational neighbourhoods and business. In recent rankings of the world most expensive cities you won’t find New York, London or even Paris at the top–its St. Petersburg, Russia. The New York Times says that the growing flow of money to the London Stock Exchange away from the domestic exchanges is part policy and perception. Business leaders point to Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Patriot Act, and the Department of Homeland Security as evidence that “America does not welcome outsiders.” Another recent Wall Street Journal article shares the globe-changing financial power the “New Power Brokers” possess.

• At $70 a barrel, oil producers have nearly $2 billion of petrodollars to invest every day, and one-fifth and one-quarter of all petrodollars are owned by very wealthy individuals.
• The Chinese central bank, with $1.1 trillion in assets, is the world's fifth-largest asset manager.

So what does this mean to Americans? According to the Wall Street Journal, petrodollars and Chinese Central Bank assets together were sufficient to reduce U.S. long term interest rates by three-quarters of one percent. For many this may not seem like a lot, but I suspect your friends with ARM mortgages and pension funds may disagree. The lower rates of moments past, in part fuelled by foreign capital are also attributed to the “debt binge” which lifted home and stock prices in recent periods.
For the last few months I have been exploring Europe and grappling with the question of how small cities like Manchester, UK could embrace so many cultures. In many respects it has a resemblance to Columbus, OH with a diverse student population, stable economy and rediscovery of its urban core. However, I could point to very few cities in Ohio or any other American city where I felt socially and politically where multinationalism was more than tolerated, but expected.
As the US becomes one of several destinations instead of the destination, in terms of capital flow and in-migration, what are the implications for being ‘behind’ the curve on racial diversity when other nations are learning to be competent in multinational terms? Will America’s need to overcome the structural limitations of race come in enough time to cultivate a generation of leaders in business, politics and society that are multinationally conversant?


  1. Interesting benchmark. “Multinational competence” is important, but may not be the most central issue here. Multinational tolerance and acceptance may be more fundamental. One can be conversant/competent without being ok with the presence those people, about whom they understand so much, in their neighborhood. I agree that the extreme consolidation of wealth in the upper 1% of society is very worrisome, because those elite people tend to use their funds to sustain systems of inequity & division. I think they live in irrational fear. Lots of these business leaders & heirs have outstanding educations, which leads me to believe that they are multinationally conversant. They just don’t care. Their problem is that fear is clouding their humanity. So they don’t donate to organizations protecting the planet or working for integration or healthcare for poor people. They donate to orgs and politicians who vow to support the status quo and to even make the laws more business friendly. Until we create a culture in which these greedy, fearful people can no longer function as they do, we are in trouble.

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