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Mongrels ‘R’ Us

The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge: Picking Globalism’s Winners and Losers
September 1, 2000

The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge: Picking Globalism’s Winners and Losers
By G. Pascal Zachary
PublicAffairs, 336 pp., $26

A relatively recent school of economic thought attributes to ethnically homogeneous nations such as Japan a social harmony and unity of purpose that virtually guarantees them an advantage over more diverse, less disciplined competitors. And in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Japan’s economy seemed ready to trounce that of the United States and racial divisions burned out of control in the streets of Los Angeles, many Americans were ready to agree. Nonsense, says author-and TR columnist-G. Pascal Zachary.

The Global Me is a passionate diatribe for “hybridity,” Zachary’s word for the mixing of racial and ethnic backgrounds within individuals and nations. “Under the right conditions, hybrid societies trump monocultures,” he asserts. When conditions aren’t right-when governments ignore racial discrimination and inequalities of wealth, or when immigrants are tolerated only as long as they take jobs that no native wants-hybridity can be a net drag. But when corporations go out of their way to hire foreign-born executives, or when children of interracial marriages are encouraged to bring both parents’ cultures into their schools and workplaces, the result is greater innovation. One need only look at Silicon Valley-where one-third of the scientists and engineers are immigrants, and Chinese and Indian immigrants alone have founded 2,700 companies employing 58,000 people-to understand the power of hybridity.

Refreshingly, Zachary builds his argument not on dry economic statistics but on anecdotes and mini-biographies. Some of the most delightful parts of the book are the profiles preceding each chapter, about people like Radha Basu, an Indian-born manager of software development teams at Hewlett-Packard. One day Basu is coaching her German subordinates to be less secretive about their progress; the next, she is helping to smooth out misunderstandings between company engineers in Asia and company attorneys in America. “I feel like a global person,” Basu says. “I feel I belong anywhere.” Yet she hasn’t forgotten her origins; indeed, they are the essence of her power. In a nice metaphor, Zachary says people like Basu have both “roots and wings.”

That said, The Global Me is also a very long book that takes a fairly simple argument and hammers it home relentlessly. Zachary is a Wall Street Journal reporter who seems a bit giddy over the relative freedom of book writing, often lapsing into the kind of hyper-serious, pseudo-poetic prose where every sentence is its own paragraph. I wonder whether anyone who is not already a convert to Zachary’s hybridity argument will have patience for it. If not, he at least offers a zippy and probably irrefutable take-home message: “Mongrelize or die!”

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