Monday, April 29, 2013

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

Most everybody knows Jimmy Buffett's song "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude" where he talks about the joys of traveling and experiencing the world.

But not everybody shares that joy.

I met a man the other day who was quite proud of the fact that he never traveled outside his home state.  In fact, he rarely travels more than 25 miles from his Carolina home.

As someone who works on international trade policy, among other things, and as someone who has been fortunate enough to have traveled the world on business and for pleasure, I felt he was missing something good.

When I talked about other countries, as well as the rest of America, he said he didn't really trust much of anything outside his local area and he wasn't really interested in learning.

Looking at our conversation from a policy perspective (kinda weird, I know), I wanted to ask his views on trade.  I suspect if I had asked directly, his view would have been negative -- maybe he would have talked about outsourcing or China.

Instead, while talking about US-made goods and the Carolina textile mills shut down long ago, I asked if he thought US companies should be able to sell more of their products overseas.  He said, "Of course." 

I decided not to press the issue and point out that the inexpensive Asian-made t-shirt he was wearing would probably have cost him $25 or more if it had been made in one of now shuttered mills he spoke fondly of.  And I decided not to point out that many South Carolina workers were making more money at the BMW and Michelin plants than they ever made in the mills.

I just couldn't get Jimmy Buffett's song out of my head. 

My new friend is quite comfortable at home, and who am I to judge.  But in most cases I believe if people can change their latitude and see more of the world and its people -- either by traveling in person or via the internet or other media -- then we will see more demand for other countries' products and services and more sales of ours, and everyone will be a little better off.

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