Do you want to understand how globalization reshapes wealth and opportunity in the world? Look no further than soccer--the sport that everyone in the world (besides the U.S.) calls football. I know, this is not an original idea. There is at least one best seller on the topic, but while it is a readable one it barely scratches the surface of the interesting issues.
Look in particular at how the globalization of the soccer industry has shaped the African landscape. While Africa always produced individual star players, the loosening of the restrictions on the numbers of foreign players in European leagues had a tremendous impact on the number of African players making the move North. So dominant are African players that the BBC's web site even maintains a page devoted to them alone. It is no exaggeration to say that Europe's soccer scene would not be half as exciting without African players such as the strikers Drogba (of Chelsea) and Eto'o (of Barcelona).
So it is beyond question that the globalization of the industry has increased the quality of play for the top clubs, and presumably has increased the enjoyment of their fans. It is also not in doubt that it has increased the earnings of the best African players and widened the income gap between them and their compatriots back home.
But there are also other interesting questions to which I would love to have answers.
Consider that soccer fans have loyalties not only towards individual clubs but also to their national teams. So one question is what has the presence of foreign players in Europe done to the quality of the national teams. Following the disappointments of the English national team in recent games, some have suggested that the culprit is the dominance of foreign players in the Premier League and have recommended reintroducing quotas.
Or consider the quality of domestic leagues in Africa proper. The complaint that the exodus of players has hurt these leagues has been around since the 1970s. But I do not know of any serious evidence on this, and I would love to know.
In any case, it is likely that the globalization of the industry has (a) increased the quality of African national teams relative to European national teams; and (b) reduced the quality of domestic leagues in African leagues relative to club play in Europe. So how do we evaluate these outcomes in terms of what ultimately counts: the enjoyment of the fans?
And one final question that follows from the previous paragraph: have Africans become more nationalist in sports and Europeans less so as a result of these relative changes in the quality of club versus national teams?
And while we are on sports, can someone explain to me why Americans call their national baseball championship the World Series? Did I miss all the Japanese and European teams that were eliminated in earlier rounds?