Globalisation - happening at a mall or apartment block near you - now !
Globalisation. Now there's a word to conjure with. But how to come to terms with it, eh ? Do you know the TV programme ' The World's Strongest Man' ? Time was when great swathes of early evening BBC time through the dog days between Christmas and New Year were given over to it ( it then began to ricochet around the further reaches of cable and appears to have reached a sort of equilibrium with Channel 5 - if by any chance you have been missing it). Tended to be peopled by chunky chaps from Finland or the Baltics whose necks seemed to be even wider than their shoulders.
Well one of the feats of endurance used to involve wrapping the arms around huge spheres of concrete then lolloping along for as many metres as possible.
Well you might think that globalisation is a bit like that - impossible for the average person to grasp and offering the threat of a massive hernia of the brain if you even tried.
Now I promise I am not going to take the worlds strongest man analogy any further - I am already a little dizzy under the weight of it myself, to be honest - but there is a view that globalisation is somewhat extreme and unnatural, grave risk both to itself and everyone else ( and perhaps best kept on Channel 5 where it can't bother too many people.
The real fact of course is that globalisation isn't new at all - its as old as trade and doing business. Though perhaps it tended to be seen as once and for all movements of people or production from one side of the world to the other. The implications for investment and employment here that the sales of Jaguars and Landrovers in China are having are well understood - as are customer service centres in India.
However, Its newest manifestations show up rapidly and in unexpected places and might even be quite short terms movements - though with material economic impact.
By way of an example I spent a day last month with a group of Chinese parents, teachers and young people who were here exploring the scope for cultural exchange activities with local counterparts. They were also shopping with an energy and enthusiasm which would gladden any retailer's eye and heart. And strikingly, their commitment to this went beyond an avidity for the legendary big labels and included several visitors each making purchases of several hundred pounds at one of our leading health food chains.
(This Chinese attitude to shopping here results for the fact the purchase taxes on many foreign goods back home in China can be as much as 100%; there are big savings to be made from buying here to the extent that I am told the basic aim of many visitors is to ensure that they 'lose' the cost of travel and accommodation in these savings).
Another unanticipated dimension to globalisation comes in the UK housing market. Leave to one side Russian plutocrats with £5 million or more to spend in Kensington or Chelsea Harbour. Property people tell me that the overhang of city centre apartments that the mid -noughties boom created here has been largely winnowed away by the requirements of international students. Chinese post-graduates studying for MBA or master's degrees in finance are seeking ( and are able to pay) for something a little more salubrious than the standard Selly Oak offering.
This newer globalisation is about the movement of people as much as the movement of money. Focusing again on China the UK's own ambassador in Beijing recently said that our immigration authorities were presenting a 'fortress Britain' impression that making the UK a less inviting tourism destination than France or other parts of Europe.
In the wake of the first wave of post Olympic exuberance the Culture Secretary proclaimed his aim of tripling the number of Chinese visitors and modifying visa requirements to achieve this - a leaked letter from the Home Office made clear the profound objections to this proposal in that quarter. (The Home Office also revealed a touching belief that it was Britains scenic beauty that drew Chinese tourists - some confusion I fear as Chinese tourists largely want to be where Burberry is sold rather than where it is seen - see above)
The issue associated with student visas at London Metropolitan University this week throw up just another dimension to the tangled issues about the flow of people and of money that underpins all of this.
The new globalisation may well be about short terms moves than we have been used to - and with off-shoring, near-shoring ,re-shoring and the rest this applies to production as well as to people. Controlling and merely coping with this fluidity may be the real challenge of the next decade or so.