Tue, Dec 19, 2006 - Page 9 News List

A new cosmopolitan social class emerges

The term "global village" was first popularized by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, but he could not have anticipated the immense development of direct interpersonal communications media today

By Robert Shiller

I was left wondering why this is happening on such a scale now. Obviously, improved communications technology plays a role. But how much does that explain the impression that the division between cosmopolitans and locals is so much wider now?

One must realize that individuals choose whether to play the role of cosmopolitan or local, and how much to invest in that role. People make a conscious choice to become either cosmopolitans or locals, depending on their own personal talents and the perceived returns from making the choice.

In the twenty-first century, the new information age creates opportunities not just to be cosmopolitan in spirit and orientation, but to forge strong connections with other cosmopolitans. The cosmopolitans have shared experiences -- they are directly communicating with each other across the globe. Many cosmopolitans around the world now also share the English language, the new lingua franca.

The term "global village" was first popularized in the late 1960s by Canadian communications maven Marshall McLuhan in response to the already powerful communications media of that day. But McLuhan could not have anticipated the cosmopolitan class, because he could not have anticipated the immense development of direct interpersonal communications media that allow cosmopolitans around the world to form friendships.

The cosmopolitans tend to be increasingly wealthy, and their wealth helps mark them as cosmopolitan. Thus, economic inequality is felt differently in today's world. Perhaps it is accepted resignedly, as the cosmopolitan class is too amorphous and ill-defined to be the target of any social movement. There is no spokesperson for the cosmopolitan class, no organization that could be blamed for what is happening.

I fear for the future. How will the cosmopolitan class behave as their role in the world economy continues to strengthen? How unfeeling will they come to be about the people who share their neighborhoods? Most importantly, if resentment by the locals emerges, what political consequences will result?

Robert Shiller is professor of economics at Yale University and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, which he co-founded. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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