Would a Borderless North America Kill Canadian Culture?

By Dean, James W.; Dehejia, Vivek H. | American Review of Canadian Studies, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Would a Borderless North America Kill Canadian Culture?


Dean, James W., Dehejia, Vivek H., American Review of Canadian Studies


This paper starts from the premise that in the near future closer economic and security integration between Canada and the U.S. is inevitable. The border as we know it could conceivably disappear. We ask whether Canadian culture, broadly defined, might disappear with it.

In Canada, debates around culture form part of a larger national debate on how closely the country should integrate, economically and otherwise, with the United States, and to what extent it should mimic American institutions, be they political, social, or cultural. It is fair to say that in Canada, fears about globalization are more precisely fears about Americanization, in contrast to emerging economies, of either the developing or transition varieties, where cultural nationalists worry about globalization writ large, and not Americanization per se. On the contrary, a healthy dose of Americanization is often seen as welcome relief from the legacies of colonial rule or Soviet-style socialism, or often both, which left economies in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa shackled by over-regulation.

It is important to distinguish globalization from liberalization. By the latter, we mean the freeing up of internal prices and wages, and the dismantling of excessive and burdensome regulation, while by the former we mean the international aspects of economic liberalization, in particular, the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. The two raise analytically distinct issues. Where internal globalization is concerned, most analysts of economies, whether developing, developed, or in transition agree that there was, and continues to be, a need for further liberalization. However, where external liberalization is concerned, the question is more nuanced. Perhaps, rational motives exist for countries, particularly those in close but imbalanced bilateral relationships, to stop short of maximal external globalization. Simply, and particularly where a nation's culture is concerned, optimal globalization, if such a thing can be found, may not be synonymous with maximal globalization. Instead there may exist an optimal extent to which countries like Canada should lay themselves bare to unprotected relations with their neighbors. Determining if, for the sake of a nation's culture, that distinction should be drawn, will be one of the goals of this paper. To make this a question worth pursuing, we assume that a nation's culture is intrinsically more valuable if it is fundamentally distinct from any other. The reader should keep this assumption in mind in the sequel, as the question of a culture's intrinsic value underlies any analysis that discusses its relevance in a society.

Economists studying globalization are notoriously reticent about culture: in particular, about examining globalization's impacts on national culture and the reverse. It is noteworthy that three recent and much-cited books on the subject, by Joseph Stiglitz, Jagdish Bhagwati, and Martin Wolf, have little to say about culture. (1) By contrast, scholars working in the humanities have a great deal to say, often concluding that a nation would be well advised to protect itself from the all-assuming power, globalization. (2) These scholars have long understood culture as a complicated reality, and their understanding of globalization is often conflated with separate political trends such as colonialism, imperialism, Americanization or Marxism. Economists, on the other hand, draw a number of distinctions that separate globalization from these trends in political history, but have done little with this distinction to further an understanding of the interplay between culture and global economics. To perform such an analysis this paper will consider culture in a way that most scholars outside of economics would likely find reprehensible: to wit, as a measurable, consumable good, defined through the products it generates. But first, following in the academic framework established by the humanitarian scholars who will continue to inform our analysis, one must understand the political and sociological stage on which this debate is played out. …

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