Monday, March 23, 2009

Internationalizing the Politicians

Shakespeare once famously remarked that the way to begin to improve the world was to “kill all the lawyers.” In today’s world, we might say, a bit more humanely, that the place to begin is to “internationalize all the politicians.”

That’s the argument in today’s Christian Science Monitor from Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus in Tokyo, and Andy Zelleke, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and codirector of its Center for Public Leadership.

While business elites have long recognized the value of thinking and acting in global terms, Dujarric and Zelleke say, American politicians are still creatures of the “all politics is local” credo that former House Speaker Tip O’Neill coined so many years ago.

If our politics are to be reformed, they say, study abroad will have a major role in play in changing the thinking of the politicians:
It starts with education. More and more, corporate executives have received part of their schooling abroad. The first wave of this process brought young foreigners to America for professional or graduate degrees, but it has grown to include studying in numerous other nations. American students, previously fairly immobile, are now actively encouraged to study abroad and work overseas.

The private sector itself has evolved rapidly. Though multinationals have been around for centuries, major corporations are far more international than a few decades ago. Managers are more likely today to have been stationed overseas and to have firsthand experience working with different cultures. This is particularly visible in the United States.

Into the early 1980s, many Americans in industry, finance, and corporate law could aspire to reach the top of their organization without having to set foot outside the U.S. Today, ambitious young men and women in American business and law schools are expected to acquire international credentials.

But politicians, in the U.S. and throughout the world, have been left behind. If they dream of getting into politics from a young age, many see spending a year or two abroad as a waste of time, preferring to invest their energy in the university chapters of political parties. Upon graduation, they tend to look for positions at home where they can seek the favors of powerful domestic patrons and campaign contributors.
The piece raises another provocative point for debate: By law, politicians must come from the citizenry they represent. But doesn’t that encourage the kind of insular thinking that ultimately harms a community’s ability to act in a global world?

What if we allowed non-Americans to hold staff positions or even run for office? Yes, I realize that raises all sorts of loyalty and security issues. But isn’t the concept of loyalty undergoing change in a postnational era?

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