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May 21, 2001Long Shots in Golf; Tilting at Windmills

The Language of Capitalism. If stately homes and men's clubs in urban centers were the stuff of aristocracy, golf and its accoutrements have become the language of global capitalism. Putting aside his global-angst portfolio for a moment, Thomas L. Friedman shows how golf is springing up by the bucket-full in China (mostly for foreigners) and how it is proof that capitalism is taking hold in the Red Kingdom (see Wit and Wisdom this week). David Owen does a little of the same for Morocco, at greater length and with more humor, in the May 2l New Yorker (also see Wit and Wisdom on Global Province). Of course, none of these courses makes economic sense, unless we are to write them off as marketing overtures to lure businessmen and foreign direct investment from the developed countries into the hubs of the future.

Development's a Tough Game. On the Global Province this week we learn that economic development is a tough game for emerging nations. Often narrow interests inside of poor nations obstruct economic progress, as Virginia Postrel notes for us in the New York Times. Two-thirds of the world's population is poorer than America's poorest 10% (see Big Ideas).

Wind Power. Nonetheless the big, the mighty, the most developed do lose out to lesser nations all the time, and we can expect lots of poor nations to surprise us. Big nations get unfocused and neglect their best ideas. While the U.S. has dithered, little Denmark has surged ahead, generating 13% of its power from windmills (see Agile Companies). Just a generation ago, Singapore (now a world pace-setter) was a struggling new nation whose survival was in doubt. Development for those catching up consists of stealing the right ideas from rich nations -- and this may or may not involve golf.

P.S. Last Friday the Internet sort of went down in San Francisco because a major provider floundered. As California reinvents itself as a developing nation, we will be waiting to see whether it opts for more windmills or some new upper-crust golf courses.


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