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Wanted: elected leaders with international experience

To solve today’s global issues, politicians need what the private sector has.

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As the world's leaders prepare for the G-20 meeting to discuss the economic meltdown, international cooperation is key if we are to find the road to recovery. Analysts get that. Unfortunately, many of the world's politicians don't seem to.

Why?

Part of the reason is that politicians are used to working for votes; noncitizens don't vote. Therefore, unlike corporate executives with customers, suppliers, and shareholders from the four corners of the world, politicians tend to focus narrowly. Another factor is that while global companies are free to recruit executives from many nationalities, national governments and bureaucracies limit themselves to citizens of their own country. They're just not built to think globally.

Recent decades have seen a dramatic internationalization of business elites throughout the world. So there is hope for politicians if they follow the private sector's lead.

It starts with education. More and more, corporate executives have received part of their schooling abroad. The first wave of this process brought young foreigners to America for professional or graduate degrees, but it has grown to include studying in numerous other nations. American students, previously fairly immobile, are now actively encouraged to study abroad and work overseas.

The private sector itself has evolved rapidly. Though multinationals have been around for centuries, major corporations are far more international than a few decades ago. Managers are more likely today to have been stationed overseas and to have firsthand experience working with different cultures. This is particularly visible in the United States.

Into the early 1980s, many Americans in industry, finance, and corporate law could aspire to reach the top of their organization without having to set foot outside the US. Today, ambitious young men and women in American business and law schools are to acquire international credentials.

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