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Thank globalization for Lupita — and the rest of this year’s Oscar winners

Lupita Nyong'o (Jordan Strauss/Invision via AP)

And the special Oscar on the benefits of globalization goes to ... a Somali, a Mexican, a Kenyan, an Australian and a Brit.

It's of course dangerous to look to Hollywood for any conclusions about the real world. But a fantasy industry is still an industry, and tucked away in Sunday's results – four of six top awards going to non-Americans – is perhaps a lesson about the upside of open borders.

Economists would phrase it in terms of efficiency – that allowing an industry like moviemaking to cluster in one place and draw on a global talent pool leaves everyone better off. Consumers get a better product. Actors – regardless of where they are from – get the roles for which they are best suited. Directors and producers make more money. A host of other people – from the carpenters that build the sets to the caterers that bring the food, enjoy the other works that flows from the center.

You can see the same dynamic in the United States in the tech and software industry, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and other parts of the economy. It's what trade advocates point to as the promise of an open economy: Create the right conditions and people, entrepreneurs, investors and others will start to congregate.

That has long been the case in Hollywood, but this year seemed special in a melting pot sort of way.

Would Barkhad Abdi have gotten where he was 30 years ago – before conflict in Somalia opened the door to immigration to the U.S.

I doubt Alberto Cuaron's success in the United States has anything to do with NAFTA. But if he had been born a quarter century earlier, would he have had the same access and opportunity as he did today?

There is the classic conundrum to consider: How many people with innate artistic or scientific talent have been born, lived and died in countries where culture or economy prevented those talents from being expressed?

When Lupita Nyong'o told the world that "dreams are valid," the unspoken footnote might have been "as long as you can get a visa."



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Zachary A. Goldfarb · March 3, 2014

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