The Real World Market
by Karen Shepherd
Former U.S. Congresswoman Karen Shepherd BS'64 wants educators to do a better job of shaping world citizens. Here's why.
This June, I joined Executive MBA students from the David Eccles School of Business in Frankfurt, Germany, to talk about the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Under the guiding hand of Dean John Seybolt, and in response to a national initiative within graduate business education, the U's Executive MBA Program takes students to either Europe or Asia for a week of intensive study. Business schools were among the first to respond to the growing need of corporations to understand the environment of the global village; and in the late 1980s, the curriculum of graduate business education changed to meet the demand for a better understanding of the world marketplace. As products of this curriculum, these students know what they are learning is important. They are already global citizens taking responsibility for understanding America's place in a complex world market. They know that the business environment of the next century is a global environment, and they understand that the political health of nations is connected to the bottom line of the businesses that operate in those nations. They are interested in the EBRD because they are interested in expanding and emerging markets and democracies.
Too few Americans share the interests of these graduate students, and most don't understand the implications of the drama unfolding as the EBRD works to build market economies and democracies in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, and Eastern and Central Europe. I learned about American indifference to international affairs the hard way in the public eye after I was elected to Congress. Having traveled around the world, and having taught at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, for two years, I had always been an avid reader of current international events. Still, I soon discovered that much of the information I had gathered through the media had provided more stereotypes than understanding of the issues facing troubled parts of the world. Fortunately, the support systems of Congress provided a rich context in which to learn; and when the former Yugoslavia broke apart and the threat of war in Europe put the Balkans in the headlines, I was prepared to respond to the situation.
Explaining the alternatives to constituents was more difficult. Most people, including me, were just learning to pronounce Bosnia-Herzegovina, and only a few could have found it on the map. Media coverage focused on the conflict and the potential danger of sending peacekeeping troops to the area. The strategic importance of the region and the possible outcomes of inaction were less well covered. As the public debate went forward, I learned that the ability of political leaders to make effective strategic decisions is limited by the degree of knowledge held by their constituents. An uninformed public is unable to participate in productive public debate. Instead, it is vulnerable to those who would exploit its fears for political gain, which in turn makes it more difficult for leaders to make sound foreign policy decisions.
As we enter the next century, Americans must realize that part of being a good citizen is being educated and knowledgeable about the world. It's not just business graduate students who need to understand the complexity of global interdependencies. The United States is no longer an island working primarily with its neighbors to the north and south. America is the largest economy in the world, getting the most out of the market the world has to offer. We have much to gain from working to ensure productive world harmony, so it is time that undergraduate and public-school curricula prepare citizens for the future.
National security is the most fundamental task of a government. Securing peace is cheaper than fighting wars, and the global community is discovering that economic interdependence and synergy are fundamental to peace. During the Cold War, nations poured most of their resources into developing weapons too dangerous to use. When the economy of the Soviet Union could no longer sustain this effort, the stalemate was broken, and the world got a second chance at another kind of peace. Now, seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Poland and Hungary are reborn, and 24 other countries have emerged. The Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are each struggling in different ways and against many odds to become economically independent. Once held together by the iron fist of totalitarian rule, these countries are working to put two millennia of shifting borders, ethnic conflict, and mutual distrust behind. Helping them evolve into peaceful, productive market economies requires that political leaders understand their history, and requires Americans to support effective strategic initiatives which reform and strengthen their emerging democracies. To this end, the International Monetary Fund (to ensure macroeconomic stability), the World Bank (to provide structural readjustment loans and programs aimed at reducing poverty), and the EBRD (to build market economies in countries moving toward developing democratic, pluralistic societies that respect the rule of law and basic human rights) work together with other member countries for the common good. With the support and informed input of the American public, their work can go on.
Right now a great public debate, triggered by events unfolding in Europe, with the European Monetary Union, and in Asia, with the crumbling financial markets and subsequent social unrest in Indonesia, is beginning. The outcome of this debate will ultimately define the role America will play on the world stage in the 21st century. If the media and the school systems ensure an educated and sophisticated electorate, America can continue to be a potent force in shaping the environment for continuing world peace and prosperity. Suddenly the world's business is everybody's business. The Executive MBA students studying in Frankfurt know that. It's time everyone learned the same lesson.