Globalization and Adolescent Health (Event 3-045, with moderator Xinyin Chen and speakers Guillermo Bernal and Robert Blum)

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In this presentation, Dr. Blum gave us an overview of the global context of adolescence under globalization. Dr. Bernal shared an example of the transformative work we can do when fully engaged with a global context, having translated an entire depression intervention, measures and all, for use in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Blum told the story of globalization more compellingly than I have ever heard it in progressive media.  Developed nations aren't having enough kids to replace their workforce and must have immigration to survive.  People move to the cities, and most of the immigrants are young people.  When the economy sours, there aren't job opportunities, so they end up in informal settlements on the fringe of cities (commuting between Manhattan and Long Island, I think I've seen what he's talking about, albeit from an elevated train platform).  Children are surviving at higher rates than ever and mortality from infectious diseases reduced, which has given us record numbers of young people.  We place increasing importance on education, education delays marriage, and delayed marriage leads to long years of fertility before marriage.  This leads to pregnancy outside of marriage, which leads to hard choices of whether to keep the baby, which are not made any safer by anti-abortion laws.

He shared a story of economist David Lam at the University of Michigan (my alma mater) who said the one thing he would do to improve the health of adolescents would be to lower global tariffs.  The case in point for this was an episode where the U.S. raised tariffs on catfish and changed the definition of "catfish" to only what was caught in the U.S.  This put several 16-24 year old catfish farmers in Vietnam out of work.  Then, there was a catfish shortage in the U.S., and the law changed back.  This is just one example, though, of how our policies affect employment prospects thousands of miles away.

Education, he told us, doesn't necessarily translate into jobs.  Lots of people in Vietnam are getting college educations and not getting jobs consistent with those degrees.  However, we're not to worry, because all these educated people will eventually make Vietnam a better place.  This reminisced for me a particularly traumatizing This American Life podcast about Shenzhen, China.  Perhaps we should trust these countries to know what they're getting into.  We need to remember the personal cost, though, of these people moving from their ancestral homes.