jueves, abril 15, 2004

Cultura y Comercio Internacional

Cuando un economista discute con un activista que se opone a la globalización, suele ser un dialogo de sordos. El economista afirma que la apertura comercial aumenta la producción y, por ende, las posibilidades de consumo gracias a la mayor especialización. Por medio de las ventajas comparativas, incluso los países menos productivos se benefician.

El activista puede incluso aceptar esto, aunque enfatizará que la apertura genera perdedores, pero la base de su oposición es otra: el comercio internacional destruye las culturas nacionales, sobre todo de los países más pequeños.

En efecto, parecen ser argumentos totalmente distintos, pero en realidad no lo son. Sin duda, las identidades y culturas nacionales se definen, entre otros factores, por ciertos patrones comunes de consumo de bienes y servicios. Al mismo tiempo, los propios habitantes de un país pueden valorar positivamente el grado de uniformidad cultural: si a mi me gusta la música mariachi, tengo más oportunidades de escucharla y compartir mi pasión por ella con otros si a mis compatriotas también les gusta.

En ese sentido, la apertura comercial puede causar profundos cambios, ya que altera por definición los precios relativos de los bienes y servicios y, por tanto, causa cambios en los patrones de consumo. Por ejemplo, si reduce el precio de los bienes culturales importados con relación a la de los bienes culturales típicamente nacionales, más personas consumirán a los primeros, debilitando la "uniformidad cultural".

En un caso extremo, el impacto negativo de la pérdida de homogeneidad cultural en términos de bienestar podría ser mayor que las ganancias en cuestión de posibilidades totales de consumo. Claro, esto depende de muchos factores: que haya una fuerte preferencia por la homogeneidad, que en efecto se reduzca la demanda global por los bienes culturales de un país, etc.

En otras palabras, la diferencia entre el economista y el activista reside, fundamentalmente, en que el primero considera que lo importante es que se pueda consumir más, sin importar qué se consume. En cambio, el segundo le asigna más importancia al patrón de consumo más que a la cantidad.

Toda esta discusión parte de un artículo teórico (bastante técnico) que leí recientemente. No está de más hecharle un vistazo (esta aquí).

Un par de reflexiones finales. Fuera de contados casos (Bélgica, Canadá), es claro que los pueblos del mundo sí valoran, hasta cierto grado, la unidad cultural. Lo que es más difícil definir es qué factores, y en que proporción, la determinan. Yo estaría entre quienes afirman que los patrones de consumo tienen poca importancia en la definición de la identidad nacional, pero es claro que muchos piensan lo opuesto.

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