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Globalization, one day at a time

Bookcover, Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy

KAI RYSSDAL: Sometimes, the best way to get a handle on an immensely complicated issue is to take it one day at a time. In this case, quite literally, with the immensely complicated topic of the global economy.

Economist Daniel Altman tackles June 15, 2005 in his latest book, "Connected." He's trying to tease out the threads that make globalization work. Or not work, as the case may be.

Daniel Altman, welcome to the program.

DANIEL ALTMAN: Thanks a lot for having me.

RYSSDAL: Let's pick the first event. You start each chapter with a matching set of clocks, and the clocks up at the top of the first chapter are New York at midnight — 12:03 a.m., as a matter of fact — and then Stockholm at 6:03 in the morning, June the 15th. What happened?

ALTMAN: Well, that's when the story came down the wire that Ericsson and Napster were gonna start this online mobile phone music venture.

RYSSDAL: And why is that important? I mean, why does that matter in the global economy?

ALTMAN: Well, what it shows is how companies are working together in the 21st century. You have two companies which sit nine time zones away from each other, in Los Angeles and Stockholm. And they're incredibly different. Napster is this sort of company that started out as an almost fly-by-night, illegal music-sharing business. Ericsson is one of the oldest telecoms companies in the world. But they found something that they could really do in common, which was use the Napster brand to sell music on the Ericsson phones.

RYSSDAL: Ten or 15 years ago, the word "globalization" wasn't really in the vernacular so much. What's it gonna be in 10 or 15 years? When we say globalization, what are we gonna mean?

ALTMAN: I think it's almost gonna be a trite word at that point, because it will be so much a part of our life — not just economically, but culturally and socially as well. It'll just be reality. And so we'll probably stop using the word, and we'll have a bunch of other words for the more specific phenomena that exist within it.

RYSSDAL: Is it a zero-sum game, the global economy? I mean, is there necessarily a winner or a loser, or a couple of winners and a couple of losers?

ALTMAN: It's definitely not a zero-sum game. You have gains from trade. The gains to the winners outweigh the losses to the losers, that's just an axiomatic thing. The question is, how do you spread those gains around so that everybody's better off? It's not always something that government can do, it's certainly not something that government always has the inclination to do. So we have to look out for ourselves a little bit more.

RYSSDAL: That's a pretty tall order for a worker in Iowa or Detroit who's been either outsourced or laid-off because his company's not making enough money because of globalization.

ALTMAN: I think that's true. But a lot of the time, I think all you have to do is pick up the newspaper and read it with a certain kind of eye. Let's say you're reading about rebels fighting in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Well, why would that affect you directly? It does affect you directly, because it affects oil prices. Oil prices are affecting the cost of your commute, the cost of everything you buy that's made with plastics, which come from oil, and the cost of your heating oil, if you have to heat your house. These things all are coming from events, diverse events all around the world. And I think the more you take note of them, the more you can sort of see what's in your economic future.

RYSSDAL: I could flip to the end and figure out what the last story of the day was, but why don't you tell us — how did you end June the 15th, 2005?

ALTMAN: Well, the last bit is actually an epilogue which has Sharon Stark, who works for a financial firm, flying home after a long-day meeting with salespeople all over the country, selling the investment products of her firm. And the idea of the epilogue is to emphasis how important face-to-face, person-to-person contact still is — even in a world where we use so much electronic communications to do our work.

RYSSDAL: The book by Daniel Altman is called "Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy." Mr. Altman, thanks for coming in.

ALTMAN: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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