The Global Schoolhouse

Part 3 of 3: The Global Schoolhouse

[M]any critics of globalization make America the wicked villain in the tale. They portray the U.S. forcing Nike, McDonald‚Äôs and Baywatch down the throats of the unwilling world, shredding ancient cultures for the sake of empire and cash. But […] Multinational corporations are just that, multinational; they don‚Äôt represent American interests or American culture. Just as much as they changed the tastes and economies of other countries, they have tried to change the tastes and economy¬†of the United States.

‚ÄĒFranklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World

To begin Part 3, let’s review: The world is a schoolhouse; the global economy is its schoolyard; the game being played is economics/commerce; the schoolchildren who compete in¬†this game are individual countries; their social¬†cliques are based largely on history and finances; and multinational corporations? Well, they’re schoolchildren, too (but in a whole new way).

Multinational corporations are the¬†younger siblings of our schoolhouse nations. They are smaller, have learned from the mistakes of their older siblings, and are more skilled at the schoolyard game of economics.¬†Corporations share geographic, cultural, and historic parents with their older siblings¬†(like Amazon with¬†the United States), but that’s where the similarities end.

Just like younger students, multinationals¬†have fewer¬†obligations than their older counterparts‚ÄĒfewer classes to take, fewer¬†school dances to attend, fewer¬†extracurriculars. They have fewer¬†distractions, in general. Instead, corporations¬†mostly spend their time playing out on the schoolyard, focused on one thing‚ÄĒtheir game, how to efficiently make a profit.

This focus is what allows for a new paradigm, one of inclusion rather than exclusion. As we discussed in Part 2, nations have a tendency to favor their “in-group” clique. This leads to discrimination¬†on the grounds of¬†historical allegiances, rivalries, or economics.¬†¬†Corporations, on the other hand, have different goals. They¬†require¬†outsiders (emerging markets), in order to continue growing. They want as many participants playing on the schoolyard as possible.

In the book¬†The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker cites “commerce” as one of five reasons¬†why we cooperate with one another instead of act aggressively. Multinationals understand this; it’s why they exist, why they are multi-national.¬†It is in our economic best interest to cooperate globally. But commerce does more than give developing countries a chance to participate.

In November, The Wall Street Journal ran an article¬†titled, “Netflix, Amazon Take Divergent Paths to Reach Indian Audience.” It was a quick read but highlighted this shift from traditional¬†exclusion to emerging¬†inclusion. The brief piece described Netflix’s cost-effective strategy to keep¬†content production¬†“in-house” at their California studio. The idea being that if the shows they make have¬†multinational¬†appeal, then Indian audiences, as well as other countries, will watch (in turn, saving the studio money). Conversely, Amazon has set up shop in Mumbai creating content in India with Indian actors and an Indian audience in mind.

The story of¬†Amazon’s strategy¬†in India¬†is a hopeful one. It’s hopeful because in an attempt to grow, they are seeking a competitive advantage‚ÄĒto truly learn and understand their audience’s perspective. As we discussed in Part 1, all people want respect, and for the first time,¬†those countries previously shut out of the established economies clique are starting to receive some.

If respecting the diversity and richness of the world’s cultures creates¬†a competitive advantage for businesses, then there is hope for the billions of people within the developing world. Binge watching television may be a waste of time, but the Netflix-Amazon example shows a broader trend.¬†Regardless of the business,¬†the point is this: Emerging markets are finally¬†being¬†included in the game (if only as¬†consumers to start).

Before we get carried away with the salvation¬†of commerce, it’s prudent to acknowledge the elephant in the room‚ÄĒunbridled capitalism.¬†The subject is a heavily debated one. Even the Pope has weighed in. ¬†But rather than taking a Marxist view of inherent failure¬†or Wall Street‚Äôs¬†belief that ‚ÄúThe Market is always right,” let’s assume for a moment that capitalism, like most things, has an equilibrium point.

Commerce cannot answer the world’s woes alone. While the inclusive strategy of multinational corporations may lead the charge, countries still need to decide for themselves that cooperation trumps aggression.¬†It may feel ironic that a game that¬†creates overpaid mega-CEOs could¬†equalize the global divide, but perhaps it could. ¬†Perhaps commerce can help create more global balance. There is an equilibrium point between corporations and nations that could¬†help both to be successful‚ÄĒto learn, mature, and graduate from the global schoolhouse.

The Global Schoolhouse

Part 2 of 3: The Global Schoolhouse

Last week we¬†set up the metaphor of a global schoolhouse with nations acting more or less in the same manner as schoolchildren. The G20¬†was used as our analogous “Classroom G,” divided socially along economic lines‚ÄĒdeveloping countries on one side, developed on the other. Next week we will discuss another group¬†in the global schoolhouse‚ÄĒmultinational corporations‚ÄĒand how organizations¬†that transcend¬†geographic boundaries may be the answer to the developed-developing divide. But for now,¬†let’s move from the classroom to the schoolyard and discuss¬†the¬†psychology of cliques‚ÄĒthe psychology of global discrimination.

As a social clique, the “Western Powers” have played on the schoolyard relatively unopposed for the past 100 years. They generally make their own rules and exclude most newcomers. Sure, the West may have included nations like Japan or Korea, but only because of economic parity‚ÄĒcommon¬†developed status. Financial prowess is the¬†basis for in-group membership.

Sociologist would call this discrimination “in-group favoritism“‚ÄĒthe concept that people positively view their own group’s members¬†while looking upon outsiders with contempt. In-group favoritism,¬†social identity, stereotyping, system justification‚ÄĒthese are¬†what¬†fuel discrimination at all levels, and discrimination has¬†been a part of¬†the global schoolyard for centuries.

Developing¬†countries have many obstacles on the road to equality, let alone¬†dominance. Not only do they struggle to improve their skills of the game (economics), they are often closed off from making the rules or even playing in the first place.¬†The popular kids on the schoolyard may justify this exclusion by citing past support¬†or inclusion of Eastern countries like Japan, but ultimately they will continue to exclude. This justification is called “moral licensing.”

Moral licensing is defined loosely as, “being good frees us to be bad” or more specifically, “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic.” This¬†principle is¬†behind the justification for¬†bad behavior occurring time and again throughout history.¬†

Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell popularized moral licensing ¬†in the¬†first episode of his¬†podcast¬†Revisionist History. In the episode, Gladwell¬†recounts the story of the¬†19th century British painter, Elizabeth Thompson, who¬†sought¬†entry into the most elite group of English artists of the era‚ÄĒthe prestigious Royal Academy,¬†thought to be made up of the forty¬†most preeminent artists of the time.¬†The problem was that the Acadmey¬†had never had¬†a woman member.

While the 19th century Royal Academy felt a moral obligation to allow the most talented artists into their club, they didn’t want a woman to be such a person.¬†Elizabeth Thompson’s fellowship¬†was put to a vote shortly after her painting¬†The Roll Call (1874) rose¬†to fame, and Thompson narrowly lost the majority required for induction. But almost‚ÄĒthe fact that she had been seriously considered (proven by the narrow margin)‚ÄĒwas close enough to morally justify¬†nearly¬†50 more years of male-only membership.

Much like¬†the 19th century Royal Academy was largely shaped by historical precedent and pseudo-supremacy, so too are the ‚ÄúWestern Powers‚ÄĚ of today. China and other emerging markets¬†are said to be symbols¬†of the global¬†shift in power from established G7 economies to rapidly developing¬†nations; however, like¬†Elizabeth Thompson’s denial of acceptance,¬†social barriers still loom over the future of developing countries.

While this seems like a bleak reality for the¬†majority of the world’s nations, perhaps social norms play only a small part in¬†the success of a rising nation. For there’s another role to be played in this schoolhouse, a role that transcends traditional schoolyard games. As a relative newcomer in history, multinational corporations¬†may be the answer to global discrimination‚ÄĒa new paradigm to counter¬†the old. And that’s where we will leave off until Part 3 next week.


Merritt, Anna C., Daniel A. Effron, and Beno√ģt Monin. “Moral self‚Äźlicensing: When being good frees us to be bad.” Social and personality psychology compass 4.5 (2010): 344-357.

The Global Schoolhouse

Part 1 of 3: The Global Schoolhouse

Individual countries have always seemed like individual people to me. With their unique quirks, countries have all the idiosyncrasies of humans. They have distinct personalities, see themselves differently than outside observers, and judge their behavior based on intent while judging others based on action. Some countries are quiet, some loud, some big, some small, some fashionable, some plain (the comparisons continue).

To be clear, the collective “country” is distinct from the diverse collection¬†of its¬†citizens‚ÄĒthe whole is different¬†than the sum of its parts. That being said, countries are still like people, and what do all people want? Love and respect. Blatantly disrespect even the mousiest members of society and their blood will¬†boil. Bullies are a product of overcompensation, self-image deficits, and¬†lack of perceived respect. This universal need for respect helps explain much in global affairs.

As an obvious global bully, Russia simply wants the respect it feels it deserves. Seeing itself as a bastion of aerospace¬†development, scientific research, military prowess, historical richness, Olympic champions, and cultural mainstays like art, ballet, and architecture, Russia may think, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre one of the greatest nations on earth. Why are we not given the relative level of respect that our status deserves? Let’s annex Crimea, then they’ll respect us!‚ÄĚ Similar reasoning can be found in the seemingly antisocial behaviors of all sorts of global policies (not least, those of the United States). Self-centered, emotional, overly competitive, unaware, and simplistic‚ÄĒcountries are not just like any people; they‚Äôre like¬†school children.

There is one classroom that fits¬†this metaphor well (although the teacher is nowhere to be found). The¬†classroom is the G20‚ÄĒa group of the world’s twenty largest economies who get together to discuss global matters.¬†Within “Classroom G,” as we‚Äôll call it, there are all the features¬†of a stereotypical schoolhouse. There are poorer kids, richer kids, extroverts, introverts, troublemakers, class clowns, slackers, bullies, brainiacs, and everyone in between. There are also social cliques (some even with labels).

Jocks, Preps, Nerds‚ÄĒthese are unknown titles in Classroom G. Instead, the most well-known cliques¬†go¬†by other¬†names (NATO, BRICS, G7, G4, and so on), but the¬†most “popular”¬†group is known historically as The Allies. The paradigm of World War I and II has continued for over¬†100 years and has evolved to roughly include an¬†alliance between the world’s largest economies‚ÄĒthe popular kids of the class (although, they are often not very popular with the rest of the students).

The in-group’s membership has changed many¬†times throughout the decades.¬†Where countries like Russia, China, Japan and Germany were once historical outsiders, they now have a seat at the table (but not¬†officially¬†in certain circles‚ÄĒthe¬†Group Seven or Permanent Five, for example).

There is an oversimplified explanation for this elite group of students: The trend-setting  group in Classroom G is a clique of develop-ed countries on the inside and develop-ing countries on the outside (with a few choice exceptions). Economics supersedes historical alliance. And as trite and ill-defined as the terms developing and developed may be, they serve as the arbitrary (but necessary) boundary in which our classroom creates a status quo.

It is important to point out, however, that Classroom G countries are not teachers, but peers. Their authority is social in nature, not hierarchical. Therefore, we could hypothesize¬†that international relationships conform to the same social and psychologic theories that humans do… ¬†But more on that next week.