In my post America vs. Europe: A False Debate I said the following:
It’s very hard to attribute cultural exports to a single country or region and thus generalize about its aesthetic vibrancy. The character of cultures is increasingly cosmopolitan. Indeed, the spread of markets and commericalism has not diluted the best of culture, it has instead provided more and diverse choices for citizens. So, I think it’s unproductive to argue America vs. Europe and then especially derive predictions about innovation, a process that will be more and more de-nationalized.
Steve Silberman left a thoughtful, lengthy comment summing up the counter-argument which is probably more widely held: globalization, internationalization, Americanization, etc. haven’t made cultures richer, instead they’ve become more standardized, more plain, less interesting, less unique, and so on.
Steve is right that small U.S. towns probably look more similar now than they did 40 years ago. As I said in my post: "For example, 50 years ago kids growing up in New Jersey and Louisiana would be slightly different (though still very similar) due to being in different parts of the country. Now, the kids would be VERY similar, though their hobbies and career paths could be much different than before due to increased opportunities to learn about other cultures, jobs, etc."
In terms of world cultures, I would argue that citizens anywhere now have more and better cultural choices. It’s easier than ever to listen to Japanese jazz in San Francisco. There are more and better genres of literature, dances, music than ever before. It’s just as easy to get good sushi in San Francisco as it is London or Frankfurt or Tokyo. Yes, those four cities are now more the same because of this common offering, but as people we become different through this greater choice; we can buy high quality sushi OR authentic Indian food, and so forth. Diversity decreases across cities, but increases within cities. A San Francisco citizen now has a richer cultural menu to choose from, even if it looks pretty similar to Tokyo’s.
Chris Yeh opines that we can achieve *both* financial and social/cultural gains — a country should be able to engage in free trade and globalization without losing its culture. He says:
What would you rather do? Live in a quaint European village full of charming shops and restaurants but have no access or communications with the outside world? Or live in Orange County with broadband access to the Internet, Skype calls to anywhere on the globe, and the ability to order the world’s treasures delivered to your doorstep by Amazon and UPS?
I want BOTH — I want the authentic élan of a Swiss village combined with the connectedness of Silicon Valley. And so I think the main question should be: Is globalization doing its best to give us the best of both, or is it unduly promoting the hyper connectedness while depriving cultures of any unique authenticity and flavor? At the moment, I think it’s doing a pretty good job at offering both. But it’s easy to think it’s entirely one-sided.
As Tyler Cowen points, the junk food — the McDonald’s– is all around us. Yet this is a symptom of the riches we now enjoy. You don’t have to buy the junk if you don’t want to. He points out that high and low culture are complements: "Paris and Hong Kong, both centers of haute cuisine, have the
world’s two busiest Pizza Hut outlets."