Globalism benefits less urgent when considered at French cafe

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[beaune] Here, deep in the heart of the Burgundy region of France, it's hard to make a case for globalization.

We're sitting at an outdoor cafe, sipping our capuccinos and watching the world go by. The art gallery across the street doesn't open for afternoon business until 3 p.m. (or so), but that is the farthest thing from a problem for us.

Shopkeepers here have the time and patience to stock and arrange, in the most meticulous manner, the kind of pastries and bread we don't see anymore in the U.S. The only ads or banners we come across are the old-fashion ones you can buy on postcards for a couple of francs.

We wander Beaune without seeing Golden Arches. On the contrary, the stonework outside the shops hasn't changed for centuries; on the inside, the shops are full of interesting styles and choices, and some not so interesting -- like a rack of "Bermudas," just about the only English word we spot.

The people here seem to lead a pretty good life, and I don't notice that they are overly concerned about being out of step with a globalized and harshly efficient economic world. They are proud of their language and quite content with their leisurely way of living. Who are we to say they've got to fall into line with the rest of us?

I realize the case for globalization doesn't rest with the good people of Beaune. Poor nations have the most to gain, and I wager they'd gladly trade grinding poverty for a few hamburgers and a place where they could afford a few basic goods.

The Economist made the point the other week that the tide of globalization is not irreversible -- indeed, politicians are caving in to the organized and vocal advocates of slowing down the process. The publication asked if defending globalization on its merits "as a truly moral cause . . . is entirely out of the question. If it is, as it seems to be, that is dismal news for the world's poor."

At the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, in Prague last month, officials seemed to grope for a "third way" to implement globalization -- somewhere between untrammeled anything goes capitalism on the one hand and all sorts of restrictions on free trade on the other. "Our challenge is to make globalization an instrument of opportunity and inclusion, not fear and insecurity," World Bank President James Wolfensohn declared.

What many countries want is to have their cake and eat it, too. They want all the advantages of free trade while at the same time maintaining national identities. Most experts agree Denmark's rejection of the euro doesn't mean the Danes want to go it alone. But, as the International Herald Tribune reported, "Denmark has given a clear signal that `Deep Europe' -- the idea of eventually forging a federal European government and parliament with real authority -- faces severe problems because attachment to national identity is resurgent in some areas."

About the only group that doesn't get it is marketers of global brands. They cling to the idea they can sell the same product, in the same package, with the same advertising approach, to similar consumers around the world. They are siphoning ad dollars from local brands to a handful of "power" brands that have the broad appeal to cross borders and sell in mega-ton lots.

There's no doubt this sort of monolithic approach to brand marketing will save millions and millions of dollars for the giant purveyors of the world's "power" brands. But there's scant evidence the consumer will benefit.

More than any other "evil" of globalization -- sweatshop labor, environmental harm, financiers profiting from wild swings in currency, etc. -- the one most visible is marketers' efforts to treat the world as one homogeneous marketplace, where retailers and brands look the same.

Can you imagine all those charming pastry shops disappearing in Beaune or Blois, where young Joan of Arc girded for battle in nearby Orleans, or in Avignon, to be replaced by Gaps and an avalanche of dishwashing detergents?

The world shouldn't be the sole property of the marketers, I muse idly, as I order another cappucino and wait for the art gallery to open.

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